What about 1 John 1:9? Do we need to confess our sins daily?

Perhaps the single most misunderstood verse in the New Testament is 1 John 1:9. This verse has caused centuries of believers to doubt whether they were really forgiven. Even though there are dozens of verses that speak of our total forgiveness in Christ, this one “proof text” has confused many of us. And I believe once we look at the context of this verse, we will discover that the truth always sets us free. 
The common understanding of 1 John 1:9 is that we confess our sins in order to receive forgiveness from God. Within this statement lies a few problems. The first problem is a contradiction in Scripture. If only blood brings forgiveness, how can confession over the life of a believer bring forgiveness? Further, if confession of every sin can bring forgiveness, then why did Jesus have to shed His blood? 
The other problem is the impossibility of confessing every sin. We sin millions of times, and a good Christian might confess thousands of them, but what about the ones they forget? Not only that, but John relates confession of sin to fellowship, which to John is equivalent to salvation. Does this mean believers have to confess each sin in order to stay in fellowship with God and to stay saved? This would create another problem—salvation by works. 
As we will see, 1 John 1:9 is a verse directed to unbelievers in hopes they will recognize their need for Jesus. 
The Audience 
1 John 1 is dealing with people who do not have fellowship with God (1:3), and it is John’s goal for them to have fellowship with God. For John, to have fellowship with God is to be saved. To not have fellowship means you are not saved. These people are therefore not saved, and not true believers. Scholars suggest they were either secessionists—those who thought they were sinless, or they believed in Docetism, which are those who reject the incarnate Son of God.
Not every verse in the Bible is written to believers. There were both believers and unbelievers in every church, which is why context is crucial in understanding Scripture. 
Throughout John’s writings, and the New Testament, light and darkness are two opposing metaphors. They are used as good and evil; life and death; God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom; and the place of the believer and non-believer. People in the New Testament are either in the light and saved, or in the darkness and not saved. 
As we look through 1 John, it is crucial to understand that John uses “us” and “we” as a rhetorical device in order to reveal that if any of his readers fulfill these descriptions, they are in need of confession. 
The conditions found in verses 6, 8, and 10, are in direct contrast to what the rest of John reveals about believers. For example, John says, believers are forgiven (2:12), have the word in them (2:14), and know the truth (2:21). This is in contrast to the audience in 1 John 1 who walk in darkness (1:6), do not practice the truth (1:6), do not have truth in them (1:8), and do not have the word in them (1:10). It is clear, the audience of 1 John chapter 1 is not believers. 
Bar of Soap?
Now that we know 1 John 1 is not about believers and their need to get more forgiveness. We can clearly see that 1 John 1:9 is not meant to be used as a “bar of soap” for daily cleansing for the believer. Instead, context will reveal that 1 John 1:9 is an invitation for unbelievers to believe in the gospel. 
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him     while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” 1 John 1:5-6 
John proclaims to them that God is light and in Him there is no darkness (v. 5), which is the theme John will unpack in verses 6-10. The term “those who walk in darkness” (v. 6) does not refer to believers who sin, because we all stumble in many ways (James 3:2), but those who reject the truth, and reject their need for God. 
“But 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. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:7-10
In the same way, those who walk in the light (v. 7), are those who accept Jesus, and recognize their need for God. Although those who walk in the light may sin, they have already been cleansed by the blood from all sin (v. 7). Verses 6 and 7 are the same structure as verses 8 and 9. They are contrasting each other to show the difference between an unbeliever and how to be a believer. These verses are not contrasting two different believers. 
Those who walk in darkness say they have no sin (v. 8) and say they have not sinned (v. 10), which implies their rejection of God—blasphemy—the only sin that cannot be forgiven. John affirms that these people are not believers by saying the truth is not in them (v. 8). For this reason, John says they need to confess their sins so that God can forgive them of all unrighteousness. Therefore, 1 John 1:9 is a verse meant to lead ‘sin deniers’ to acknowledge their sin in order to be saved. 
To be clear, confession does not mean the verbal listing of every sin, but an acknowledgment that one has sinned. God promises to both forgive and cleanse, which, these verbs, “being aorist subjunctive in form, portray forgiveness and purification as complete, rather than ongoing actions.” And that is why 1 John 1:9 says all unrighteousness, not just some unrighteousness.
John goes on to reveal that 1 John 1:9 was written to unbelievers, by opening up chapter 2 addressing his audience—believers—as “my little children.” And he says if they sin, they have an advocate (1 John 2:1). 
Now, if confession of sins for forgiveness was God’s way of forgiving the believer, why wouldn’t John say, “if we sin, we can confess and be forgiven”? He does not say this because 1 John 1:9 is not for believers. Believers are forgiven people.
That is why John goes on to say, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake” (1 John 2:12). For John, the believer’s forgiveness is not in doubt. It is a done deal. Believers are forgiven.
This is why 1 John 1:9 is not meant to be used for daily cleansing for the believer. Nowhere in John’s writings or the rest of the New Testament is confession used as a prayer to God, but as a public acknowledgment. John is trying to get these people in the church to openly confess their need for Jesus so that they can have fellowship with them. 
Some argue that since the verb confess in the original language is in the active tense, then it means believers must continue to confess their sins. But it is clear that verse 9 is not speaking to believers, but those who fit the condition of verse 8 and verse 10. Verse 9 is saying that whenever you (the sin denier) wants to confess, you can, and God will forgive you. 
Further, the reason the verb confess is in the present tense is that the phrase “if we” is in question. Therefore, John is unsure if they will confess but is saying that the offer is always on the table. 
Compare this with verses 6 and 7. If we were to go by the traditional teaching that verse 9 is meant for believers as ongoing confession and applied that same logic to verse 7, then is the believers’ cleansing and fellowship based on their ability to walk in the light like verse 7 says? Absolutely not! This would be another form of works-based righteousness. 
If we could be cleansed and brought into fellowship with God by what we do, then Christ died in vain. The Cross would be pointless. Instead, John is comparing verses 6 and 7 by saying if you believe in Jesus, are a child of the light, and thus walk in it, then you are cleansed and do not walk in darkness. In the same way, if you have confessed your sin, then you are forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness. 
         In summary, 1 John 1:9 is about acknowledging that one has sinned, needs a savior, and through faith in Christ can receive forgiveness. It is not our confession of every sin that brings forgiveness. It is the blood of Christ that brings forgiveness. It is not our confession of every sin that brings us into fellowship with God, it is our one-time confession that we have sinned and need God that brings this about. 
         Some may object and say this verse means that we only need to confess the big sins or the ones we remember. But there is no blood being shed when believers confess their sins to God, therefore there is no forgiveness happening. Furthermore, is our theology “God forgives the sins that we forget,” and that He automatically forgives the “little sins” but we need to make sure we fess up to the “big ones?” Let’s respect the work of Christ and trust that it was enough. If believers need more forgiveness from God, then the Cross did not work. 
         Everyone agrees that at salvation, all sins to that point have been forgiven. But the problem is those same people say after salvation, it’s up to us to maintain our forgiveness. In other words, not only does the system for forgiveness change, but according to them, the gospel gets worse! 
         However, the gospel is good news for every single day. And the gospel is that Jesus has forgiven us of all our sins, forever. 
         There is only one system for being forgiven—blood. It is Jesus’ shed blood and work that I am trusting in, not my memory, confession, or work. 
         Let’s trust that the Cross actually worked!
The Role of Confession
If believers do not need to confess their sins in order to be forgiven, then what is the role of confession for the believer? As we look at the rest of Scripture, we see that confession of sins to God is healthy. Talk to Dad. Be open and honest with Him about your struggles. 
         I have found that sharing my struggles with God allows me to remember my once-for-all forgiveness and cleansing. I can talk to Him with confidence knowing that He has forgiven and forgotten my sins. We do not have to hide from Him or be scared. He loves us. He is crazy about us. And He knows how to help us in our weakness with His all-sufficient, comforting grace. We can run to God with confidence because the Cross worked.
         We do not have to have the fear of accidentally missing a confessed sin. We have the choice to confess. God just wants to talk to us, to help us, and to comfort us in our time of weakness. 
         Additionally, confession to one another is healthy for the believer. James 5:16 tells us to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Find trusted friends that you can share your sins and struggles with. There is freedom in being able to share your sins with other believers who love you. 
         The freedom in sharing your sins with others is they are able to remind you that your sins are forgiven and forgotten. In sharing, you rip off the mask shame and guilt has given you, and you allow yourself to be loved. You allow yourself to soak in the total forgiveness Jesus has given you.

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