If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 ESV
This article explores scripture to see if 1 John 1:9 requires a believer to ask for forgiveness for their daily sins to maintain their salvation after being born again - John 3:3, 3:7.
It should be noted that the author is against all sin and not against a believer going to their heavenly Father and asking for forgiveness. We go boldly into the throne room of grace knowing that we are already forgiven in Christ.
We are simply examining this specific verse to debunk the teaching that a failure to ask for forgiveness can lead a person to lose their salvation and end up in hell. It is the only verse in the New Testament that appears to tell believers, God will not forgive them and they will be unrighteous if they do not ask for forgiveness for all their sins.
There are basically Three Options with this verse.
1) This verse is saying, if a believer does not ask for forgiveness when they sin, they are no longer forgiven by God. They have lost their salvation and are unrighteous like they were before they accepted Jesus.
2) This verse is talking about family forgiveness, father to child. People are forgiven of their past present and future sins and do not lose their judicial forgiveness by sinning, but fellowship with God is broken when you sin. Therefore, a believer goes to God asking for forgiveness to restore that fellowship.
3) The verse is not written to believers, it is written to Gnostic’s who were already infiltrating the church with a heretical teaching that included there is no sin and Jesus did not resurrect/come in the flesh. The book of first John as a whole was written to a mixed group of believers and Gnostics who had joined them, possibly to spread their message. John is trying to correct their errors and does so in Chapter one and other places in the book of first John.
Examining the three beliefs about 1 John 1:9.
Option Two: I find that most people are essentially option two believers. Probably because it is a middle of the road verse between one and three, and makes them feel more comfortable. They believe 1 John 1:9 is written to believers, but when you sin as a believer you do not lose your salvation; you just break fellowship with God. While I see nothing wrong with going to God to ask for forgiveness when we sin, clearing the air and our conscience. In my opinion, this specific verse cannot be used to support simple family to child forgiveness. Additionally, no specific verse divides forgiveness in this way, judicial and familial forgiveness. There may be other verses I am unaware of where this can be interpreted and used to support this line of thought, but this verse is not one of them.
1 John 1:9 is very clear that if one does not ask for forgiveness they remain unrighteous and unforgiven. IF it is talking to the believer, this verse tells us a believer would not end up with God for eternity if they fail to ask for forgiveness for even one sin. They would be required to ask for forgiveness for every sin they commit after they are born again and before they die.
In 1 John 1:9 the Greek word “adikias” is translated unrighteousness. In the following verse in Luke the same Greek word “adikias” is translated as “workers of evil”:
But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ Luke 13:27.
In this verse in Luke, Jesus in the final judgment is telling the unrighteous to depart from him. If 1 John 1:9 is talking to believers, those who forgot to ask for forgiveness for a sin, would be included in the unrighteous people Jesus commands to depart. I do not see any way around this fact based on the wording of the verse option two is not possible.
This leaves us with our first and third options for 1 John 1:9. Who is this verse spoken to, believer or non-believer? Is this a verse warning believers, or a salvation verse for unbelievers? Let’s start by reviewing some verses that talk about what happens to a person when they place their faith and trust in Jesus and are born again.
The Born Again Believer
Below are a just a few of the many verses in the New Testament that make it extremely clear once a person believes the gospel 1 Cor 15:1-11, and places their faith in Jesus as their righteousness for salvation, they are declared righteous by God. Righteousness by faith is the only way anyone was ever declared righteous before God – Read Here. This righteousness is imputed to them solely because of Jesus obedience at the cross. Jesus who does not lie, tells us himself that those who believe (just believe no works or law keeping) have eternal life. Paul tells believers using the past tense that believers are already righteous, sanctified, perfected and made holy by Jesus single sacrifice once for all.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, Eph 1:7
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, Eph 1: 13-14
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:28
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 1 John 5:11
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph 2:8-9
so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Heb 9:28
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Rom 5:18
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Rom 5:19
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them. John 3:36
For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day." John 6:40
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; John 11:25
It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Rom 3:26
but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. Rom 4:24
Since, therefore, we have now been justified (Made Righteous) by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Rom 5:9
According to Stongs HERE, the Greek word for justified in Rom 5:9 is used 39 times in the New Testament. It is translated as righteous, righteousness and justified.
(dik-ah-yo'-o) Short Definition: I make righteous, defend the cause of, justify Definition: I make righteous, defend the cause of, plead for the righteousness (innocence) of, acquit, justify; hence: I regard as righteous.
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Rom 10:9
Giving thanks to the Father, WHO HAS QUALIFIED YOU to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Col 1:12-13 ESV
… but you were washed, but you were sanctified (Made Holy), but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor 6:11 NASB
…we have been sanctified (Made Holy) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Heb 10:10 NASB
The Greek word for sanctified is “hagiazó” (I make holy, treat as holy, set apart as holy, sanctify, hallow, purify). It’s the same word used in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:2 for Hallowed, meaning holy.
For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Made Holy). Heb 10:14 NASB (Note: Some translations of this verse say “being sanctified” or “being made holy”. The word “being” was added by the translators and does not appear in the original Greek manuscripts. The Greek says either “those who are sanctified” or “those who are holy”.
And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Made Holy). Acts 20:32 NASB
You can read many more verses HERE about eternal salvation by grace through faith alone.
In my opinion, the above list of verses are very clear that a born again person is already righteous, sanctified, perfected and made holy by Jesus single sacrifice once for all. This is only a partial list of verses that communicate this truth. Righteousness is imputed to believers as a gift solely because of Jesus obedience at the cross. It has nothing to do with our efforts according to scripture.
We are now left with options one and two for this verse. We can settle the entire matter if we can discover who this verse is written to. If it is to believers, then we must ask for forgiveness for each and every sin we commit or lose our salvation.
Option One: This option is actually the least chosen option by believers. Most do not believe they will lose their salvation if they forget to ask for forgiveness for just one sin. This places the burden for a person’s salvation on their confession as opposed to Jesus one act of obedience Rom 5:19. While it could be many sins they forgot to ask for forgiveness for, we must acknowledge that according to the Bible, it only took one sin to separate man from God. The sin forgotten could be what man calls a big sin or it could be worry, fear, something not done in faith, gossip, white lies, doubt of salvation, not keeping man’s laws or trying to earn salvation under the law because what is not of faith is sin.
The sin could be violating the spirit of God’s laws while keeping the letter - HERE. The Pharisee’s did this quite often and angered Jesus. He healed on the Sabbath and they argued he should not do this because he was breaking the law. Jesus heart was broken because of their hard hearts. While they were keeping the letter, they were violating the spirit of the law and thus sinning. The Pharisee’s actually used the letter of the law to kill the author of the law – John 19:7. There are also many other sins man considers small but Gods standard is perfection Matt 5:48.
…For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Rom 14:23
But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them. Gal 3:12
If a person claims a believer can lose their salvation for not confessing their sins, they cannot rationally pick and choose the sins they think require confession. The verse itself does not give us this option. It simply says if you confess your sins. To pick and choose sins to make this verse fit theology or personal lifestyle would be acting as the Pharisee’s did. This is why Jesus called them whitewashed tombs full of dead man’s bones. They lowered God’s standard to give the outward appearance of keeping it.
If confession of sin for a believer is required to maintain salvation, the truth would be that a lifelong believer could sin by speeding, get in a car wreck in the process, die without asking for forgiveness and thus lose their salvation. A person could entertain sinful, lustful, jealous or anger filled thoughts about another, have a stroke and die without asking for forgiveness, and go to hell. If 1 John 1:9 is talking to believers there is no way around the fact that it would be talking about any sin and just one sin.
If 1 John 1:9 is spoken to believers it would be very hard to know for certain you have salvation. One sin forgotten and unconfessed would lead to the loss of salvation. In contrast, John assures believers they can know they have eternal life: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13
Another point to note is that there is only one unforgivable sin according to the Bible and it is unbelief – Go HERE. That said, 1 John 1:9 cannot be written to believers. If it were, not confessing your sins as a believer would take the place of unbelief as the one unforgivable sin. This would mean unbelievers would be saved and believers who failed to confess their sins would be lost.
The claim that a believer can lose their salvation for not confessing a sin definitely goes against the teaching of a very large number of scriptures. Verses that clearly state salvation and eternal life are a free gift paid for in full by Jesus, and that a born-again believer is already righteous, sanctified, holy, justified and forgiven in Christ.
Option Three: The book of 1 John could have been written to a mixed audience of believers and non-believers. Option three people like myself, believe 1 John 1:9 is written to non-believers who have fallen prey to Gnosticism. Gnostics then and today claim that Jesus did not come in the flesh and that there is no sin. If this is the case the entire issue is settled. Let’s examine the case for this argument. Here are some links to writings by early church fathers about the heresy of Gnosticism,
If 1 John 1:9 is speaking to believers, it is the only Bible verse warning Christians that if they do not ask for forgiveness for every sin, they will no longer be righteous and forgiven. They lose their salvation. That does not make much sense since a simple warning to ask for forgiveness by every writer would suffice. I want to point out, one of the primary rules in the study of scripture is to not build an entire doctrine on one verse as some have done with 1 John 1:9.
Paul’s letters were primarily addressing sin in the Gentile church. Yet not one time in all of his letters does he tell them to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness or lose their salvation. If it is required, Paul did his converts a huge disservice. Peter, James or none of the other New Testament authors warn us to ask for forgiveness or lose our salvation either. Why not?
Now let’s read 1 John 1: 1-10 and see if there are signs that it is written to address the Gnostics. Remember that Gnostics do not believe in sin or that Jesus rose in the flesh. My comments are in bold.
1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2the life was made manifest, appeared and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest, appeared to us (To this point John is obviously stressing that he and others had seen and touched Jesus, he came/rose in the flesh.) 3that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.(Verse 3 clearly appears to be a plea to non-believers to believe as John believes so they could have fellowship with God as John and other believers do.) 4And we are writing these things so that oura joy may be complete.(John’s joy would be complete if they believed and were saved.)
5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.(These verses deal with the Gnostics claim that there was no sin. John is saying they are walking in darkness and if they would only acknowledge their sin they could be forgiven.)
Do you think the apostle John would contradict himself in the same book?
Another point that tells us that 1 John 1:9 cannot be written to believers is that in the same letter, John emphatically tells us Christians cannot sin or that a person who sins is not a Christian.
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 1 John 3:9 NASB
No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 1 John 3:6 NASB
We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 1 John 5:18 NASB
In these three verses, John is clearly telling us that those born of God cannot sin. Yet some want to say that 1 John 1:9 is telling Christians that they must ask for forgiveness when they sin. Do you see the contradiction there? If you cannot sin as John writes, why would you need to ask for forgiveness for sins? Here is another article that digs into the above three verses: The Bible Teaches Christians Cannot Sin.
I have personally come to the conclusion that 1 John was written to a mixed group of believers and some Gnostics within the group. 1 John chapter one is addressed to the Gnostics in that group as are some other points in other chapters of 1 John. 1 John 1:9 was written to non-believing Gnostics based on the evidence. Here is a synopsis.
1) If this verse is written to believers, it makes it very clear that believers must ask for forgiveness for every sin they commit or they remain in unrighteousness and unforgiveness. Due to the wording in the verse itself, this verse cannot simply be talking about some lesser form of forgiveness between God and man. It cannot mean simply father/child forgiveness.Therefore, option two is ruled out.
2) Jesus who does not lie, tells us himself that those who believe (just believe no works or law keeping) have eternal life. Eternal life is only eternal if it is eternal.
3) Paul an Apostle to the Gentiles, is very clear when he tells believers using the past tense that believers are already righteous, sanctified, perfected and made holy by Jesus single sacrifice, once for all. This perfection is imputed to those who believe solely because of Jesus obedience. If 1 John 1:9 was addressed to believers then the burden of our salvation is upon us and not Jesus one act of obedience.
4) The debate about this verse really relates to the question: Are we forgiven of past, present and future sins? To that I would say, we had better hope Jesus/God can forgive sins before they are committed because Jesus died and paid for every one of our sins long before we committed even one. The Bible tells us that Jesus our High Priest forever, is now seated on the throne at the right hand of God the Father in the Holy of Holies. The Bible also tells us that believers are seated in Christ. In the earthly replica of the Holy of Holies, there was no place for the High Priest to sit. Jesus being seated now indicates the forgiveness is fully complete. We are to rest in His Righteousness - Read HERE.
5) The Bible clearly states there is only one unforgivable sin and that sin is clearly unbelief. If this verse is spoken to believers, it would make non-confession of sins by a believer unforgivable and the second unforgivable sin. Since there is only one unforgivable sin, this cannot be possible. Cannot be spoken to believers.
6) If it is a requirement for believers to confess their ongoing sins to be forgiven, this indeed would be a very serious matter that all should be warned about. Since Paul and the other New Testament writers never mentioned it, 1 John 1:9 cannot be talking to Christians. There are no other New Testament scriptures that give us this requirement that I am aware of.
7) Christian doctrine should never be built on a single verse that is contradictory to many other verses as is being done with 1 John 1:9. If that were an acceptable practice, what would a Christian that knows from numerous scriptures that we are saved by grace through faith alone, do with this single verse: You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. James 2:24
8) This point is actually the most powerful. Believers are no longer under the law we are under grace. (Rom 6:14) Where there is no law, sin is not counted against man. Asking for forgiveness can still be done if a believer feels led but it cannot be mandatory if sin is not counted against a person under grace.
9) In my opinion, it would be ludicrous to think that our perfect, loving, heavenly Father who sent His only begotten Son to save us, would refuse to forgive His children unless they asked for forgiveness. If He did, He would be harboring an awful lot of unforgiveness. Worry, fear and doubt are all sins too. When is the last time you asked for forgiveness for these?
For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. Rom 4:15
for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Rom 5:13
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 This verse tells us clearly that sin is breaking the law. If you are under grace and not the law, while what you have done may be wrong, you have not broken the law. You would not need to ask for forgiveness. Also if you are under grace and not law, not asking for forgiveness cannot be counted as a sin against you.
Here is a very liberating and detailed article on the truth that a Christians sins are not counted against them.
I hope this article helps those who have been brought under condemnation (Rom 8:1) and fear (1 John 4:18), struggling with this verse. The Bible is very clear that if your faith is in Jesus as your righteousness (Rom 5:12-21), he paid for all of your sins before you were ever born, you are forgiven, sanctified, holy, righteous, perfected (Heb 10:10, 14) and have eternal life in Christ (John 3:16). Your salvation is secure (Rom 10:9, 1 John 5:13) and your heavenly Father is awaiting your return (Luke 15:20). When you do sin and feel led to go to your Father in your time of need, do so boldly and without fear (Heb 4:16) knowing that he sees you in the perfection of Jesus (Gal 3:27). You are the righteousness of God in Christ (1 Cor 5:21). Go to your Father with gratitude that he has made you righteous and totally forgiven because of Jesus one act of obedience (Rom 5:19). Talk to him about helping you in your time of need. He wants a close relationship with you and this is why he brought you near to him by placing you in the perfection of Christ.
Critical Importance: This is a very important matter for believers to have settled in their hearts and minds. The Bible is clear that only those who understand God’s great love for them and believe they have been forgiven much, completely forgiven, will love much. Love is what fulfills all of the law Gal 5:14, Rom 13:8-10. God the Father loves a believer as much as he loves Jesus - John 17:23. However, if the believer does not believe God loves them or that their sins are totally forgiven – HERE, they will experience guilt and condemnation and will live and act as though they still owe God a debt for their sins, often running from God instead of to God.
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47
It also tells us in 2 Peter 1:9 that the following fruits will not manifest in the life of a believer who is uncertain about God’s forgiveness for them: …virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:5-7
For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 2 Peter 1:9
Luke 7:47, 2 Peter tell us that only when we each realize how much we have been forgiven will we be able to love as God so loved the world. Therefore, love is the Spirit of all of God’s laws and fulfills all of God’s laws. Our understanding of our full forgiveness by God is paramount to producing the fruits in 2 Peter, Luke 7:47 and 1 Cor 13 that will transform us more into the image of Christ.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Gal 5:14
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Rom 13:8-10
These verse tells us how crucially important it is for us to love. The preceding verses tell us that the way to love much is for every person to believe the truth that they have been forgiven much. No person has been forgiven little and God the Father loves each and every believer as much as he loves Jesus (John 17:23).
In Romans 14:17 it tells us that the Kingdom of God is righteous, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The peace and joy it is talking about will never come until a person understands that they are totally righteous (right with God) in Christ alone. This is why Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS not our righteousness.
The ONE unforgiveable sin.
Can a Christian Lose their Salvation by Sinning? NO
Find more articles about the New Covenant HERE.