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Difficult Verses 4: 1 John 1.9

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Well, thanks to the people who suggested this verse as a difficult verse they want an explanation on.  I will do my best to help you grasp what this verse is saying.  The verse says this:

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)

And it is a difficult verse because it seems at face value that it contradicts the wealth of New Covenant Scriptures that we are forgiven because of the work of Jesus, not because of anything we do: that we are saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2.8-9), that the way to salvation is through believing in the work of Christ (Acts 16.31) and not by our works (Romans 4.16, 24).  If our forgiveness is dependent on our ability to confess, then we are in trouble – you don’t remember all your sins, and nor do I – so how can we possibly confess them all.

This verse is initially so difficult to reconcile with the New Covenant that some people actually seek to remove it from Scripture.  I have heard that, against all principles of letter-writing and grammar, that 1 John 1 was written to non-Christians and 1 John 2-5 was written to Christians.  I will give you three reasons why this cannot possibly be true, but firstly let’s just realize this: if your theology has to rip a New Testament letter to the church in two to avoid a verse, you are letting your theological system have more weight than the Word of God has.  That can only be reading into the text, not reading out of it.  

There are three clear reasons this verse applies to Christians today:

  • There is no chapter break between 1 and 2 in the original text.  You have to rip a letter written to the church into two to make this idea work
  • John uses first person plural pronounsin the verse: “we”, “our” and “us”.  Now if John says “we”, “our” and “us” he is including himself.  You cannot argue that this verse is not to Christians unless you want to make the case that John was not a Christian.  If this verse applies to John, it applies to you.
  • People haven’t thought through the implications of what they are saying.  For people who claim this verse isn’t for Christians, they have to then accept it is for non-Christians.  Some people say it is for all non-Christians, others have a special group of non-Christians that 1 John 1 is apparently written to (again, against all possible logic and grammar!).  One prominent teacher tells us that this first chapter of 1 John 1 is written to the Gnostics.   Now, let’s just ignore the fact that there were no Gnostics around in the 1st century when this letter was penned, and let’s just say that if it is not written to Christians then it must be written to someone!  Do the people who think that it written to non-Christians think that non-Christians (whether all of them or just a special group of them) think that non-Christians have to confess all their sins to be righteous?  Do they believe that for a certain group of Gnostics the normal rules of salvation by faith don’t apply?  It’s just not been thought through. 

I appreciate the passion people have for Christ and the complete work, but ripping verses out of the Bible, or relegating them to a secret group of people who no longer exist, because they are difficult to understand is not the way to honour the Word of God.  We have to engage with the Word and find out what it means.

So what does 1 John 1.9 mean?  Well, firstly, we have established that it is definitely written to Christians.  It is written to born-again, righteous, pure, holy, redeemed people.  John includes himself in the recipients of the letter – so it is definitely written to Christians, even mature Christians and leaders and elders!  Let’s just be honest – sometimes Christians, whether they are new Christians, older Christians or even church leaders – sin.  We get caught up in patterns of sinful behaviour and we need to get out.  This verse actually gives us a powerful route out of sin, and to relegate it to a 2nd century cult or rip it out of the letter is to do Christians a great disservice because this verse is powerful and will help you when you rightly understand it.

The first thing we need to do to find the meaning of the verse is examine the words that make it up.  Let’s start with the word “confess”, which in Greek is homologia.  Homo- means the same as, and logia means words, and homologia means to “say the same words as”.  It doesn’t mean we have to ball and squall on the floor and weep and wail about all our sins.  It isn’t talking about an emotional experience, although sinning, dealing with sin and making declarations can be emotional at times.  It is talking about you saying the same thing as God about your sin.  So what does God say about your sin?

Firstly, God says that sin is sin.  So stop calling it something else.  It’s not your personality type, it’s not a bad habit, it’s not my oopsie. It’s sin.  Gossip is sin.  Stealing is sin.  Outbursts of rage is sin.  Looking at a woman with lust in the heart, watching porn, is sin.  Sex outside of marriage is sin.  Cursing Christians is sin.  Pride and arrogance is sin.  Call it what it is.  Face up to the issue – man up and own your sin! Say out loud: “I have sinned.  This action I have done is sin, and I want to be free!”  Let’s exercise some responsibility.

Secondly, God says that your sin has been paid for on the cross.  It has been dealt with.  2 Cor. 5.21 tells us that Christ became sin with your sin so that you could be made the righteousness of God.  So your sin has been forgiven and you have died to sin.  Sin is not your master anymore because you are under grace (Romans 6.14).  Now you have accurately diagnosed your problem as sin, and are not hiding behind an excuse start to declare that you are free from sin, that you are forgiven, that you are redeemed, that you are righteous, that your spirit is pure and holy, that you are born again.  Start to declare this outloud.  That is confessing your sin – saying what God says about it.

You see you can only have God’s remedy for your problem when you admit God’s diagnosis for your problem.  Keep denying it is sin, keep blaming the other people for making you behave like that, you start to distort the world.  Your thinking darkens and you become corrupt.  Admit it is sin, declare it is sin, then you can declare God’s solution to sin: the blood of Christ and the cross of Christ.

So now you have confessed your sin, we find out that God will do two things.  Not because He is merciful and kind (though He is!) but He will do these things because He is faithful and righteous.  You see if you have sinned, and you have confessed that sin, then you need to know that God isn’t going to do what He does next because of His goodness but because of His righteousness and faithfulness.  Christ died for your sin because of God’s goodness, but now that Christ has paid the full price for sin, it would be unrighteous for God not to help you in your sin!

How does God help us?  Well, the Scripture says He forgives us and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness.  This again causes problems for us complete work people, we read this and go “well, I am forgiven” and “I am righteous” so what is this about?  Let’s just look a little deeper and find out.

Firstly, God forgiving us?  Aren’t we forgiven because of Jesus at the cross, rather than because of our awesome confession?  It depends what you mean by forgive.  The Greek word for forgive is also equally translated as separate, and even as divorce a couple of times.  It means to firmly and deliberately separate two things.  This verse isn’t talking about God forgiving us because we finally said sorry – I know it’s been preached that way, but God is not waiting for an apology!  Forgiveness is rooted in the cross, not our apology.  It’s talking about the fact that God will separate you from your sin – when you start declaring what the Bible says about your sin, you find that sin loses it’s power to tempt you, to control you, to hold you.  When you start declaring that you are free from sin, and sin has no dominion over you because you are under grace not law, that sin loses its power to con you into thinking you have to obey it.  That is what 1 John 1.9 means by forgiveness – it’s about being free from that sin.

Then the cleansing from all unrighteousness.  Look, we all should know that our spirits are righteous the moment we get born again. You are totally righteous in your spirit.  Therefore, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this Scripture is not talking about our spirit! Then it shouldn’t be too difficult to realize it’s talking about our souls.  Your spirit is righteous, but your soul – not so much.  If you had an x-ray machine that could see spirit and soul, and you were standing next to Jesus and you set the machine to spirit – you would not be able to tell the difference between you and Jesus.  You are one spirit (1 Cor. 6.17).  That’s awesome – your spirit is the righteousness of God.

But if you turned the dial on the machine and set it to soul – to thought processes, to how we think and respond and feel.  I am guessing it wouldn’t be that hard to work out which one is Jesus and which one is us!  Our souls are not yet fully renewed and not yet fully restored – we are a work in progress in our souls.  But when we start declaring the Word of God and what God says about sin – confessing our sins – then God, in His faithfulness and righteousness – starts to cleanse our souls from that unrighteousness.  Our thoughts start to line up with His thoughts, our ways subsume into His ways.  It’s awesome!  You see now why the power of this verse means that it should not be relegated to non-Christians or Gnostics or ripped out of the Bible!  It’s part of grace!

Now you sin and most of the time, you can pick yourself up again.  This verse isn’t saying to confess all our sins, it’s talking about those times where a sin or group of sins just seems to be having the victory over us and our life.  Sometimes, and it happens to all of us, a certain sin just seems to get the better of us.  It seems to be winning.  In those cases, here are the 4 steps to victory:

  1. Agree with God that it is a sin.  Stop making excuses or blaming the others, or your DNA, or the situation.  It is sin.  Confess (declare) that your actions are sinful.  This is the diagnosis that allows the remedy – if you can’t make the right diagnosis, you won’t take the right cure!
  2. Agree with God that sin has been dealt with on the cross.  Start to declare and agree with God that sin has been dealt with.  That you died to sin, that sin is not your master.  Read Romans 6.1-14 out loud.  Declare that it is for freedom that you have been set free.  Declare that your spirit is righteous, that you are pure and holy.  Confess (agree with God) that this sin has been dealt with on the cross.
  3. God will then forgive (separate) you from your sin.  You will find as you declare and agree with God what He says about your sin that it’s power is dethroned.  Your confession gives you authority and wisdom.  It dislodges the sin from your thoughts, and God jumps in and separates you and your sin.
  4. God will cleanse you (your soul) from all unrighteousness.  He will start to help you renew your mind and think God thoughts.

The Christian life is not just health and wealth, it’s also manifest righteousness.  It’s living free from sin, living free from selfishness.  Never having to lose relationships because of your selfishness is one of the best blessings about living the Christian life.  And confession of sin, as defined Biblically – not culturally or dogmatically – is one of the most powerful tools in the Christian life.  Don’t follow the people who because of the misusers of this verse have become non-users of this verse!  Become a user of this verse and learn how to live a life free from sin today. 

The Deception of Hypo-Grace

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Hi there,

As the pastor of Tree of Life Church, we are unashamed of the fact that we are a grace church.  Our heart beats with the sound of God’s unconditional, unmerited, undeserved, unending, unfathomable, unbeatable grace.  Paul said that it is by grace we are saved (Ephesians 2.5) and that it was the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 9.8) that led to Him making the monumental decision to become poor and accursed so we could become rich and blessed.

Now, when I read articles like the one doing the rounds at the moment called “The Deception of Hyper-grace” I am interested.  I am interested in what the Bible says about grace, and although the article was clearly arguing against what I teach and what the teachers who have been my spiritual fathers and leaders have taught, I still tried to read with an open mind.

Unfortunately, the article does not seem to start off with an open mind itself, but starts with the strongest of hyperbolic language.  Now I am one for using colourful, polemic language myself – I believe part of being a preacher and a teacher is to create mental images in people’s minds to help them grasp the truth – but tell me: is it open minded to start off by referring to grace teaching as the vomit of satan and a flood of the enemy?  Instantly, any opportunity for helpful and constructive dialogue is lost.

And the reason being is that it is clear as the article is read further along that the intention of the author is not to engage in a dialogue, but to put grace people in their place – as heretics.

Firstly, the author claims that the grace people are arguing that it is a religious spirit that would tell someone to do good deeds.  I am not sure who the author is arguing against or listening to, but I have been listening to those that teach the complete work and would be considered the leaders of the grace movement since 1998.  As the pastor of one of the fastest growing and most international grace churches in England, I have many of these speakers come and minister in our church, and we have for the last three years shut down our church and all gone to the Grace and Faith Family Conference in Telford.

I have never ever heard anything that even comes close to anyone saying that Christians should not do good works or that God’s Word should be hated.  That’s a false argument.  It’s what is called in debating terms a straw man: the author has invented an argument just to knock it down.  It isn’t what grace people teach.  If they did teach that the Word was evil and that Christians shouldn’t live right then I wouldn’t be interested in that message, and nor would my wife and family, and church leadership.

I have no doubt that the author could find an individual who goes to a grace church who believes that Christians should sin and that anyone who says “live right” has a demon, but it’s not what the leaders of the movement teach or preach.  And let’s face it – the grace teachers are not teaching in a bubble.  Joseph Prince and Andrew Wommack are on TV, Arthur Meintjes has hours of free teaching on his website, Duane Sheriff gives away millions of CDs.  The messages are there for this author to engage with – but sadly he hasn’t, and has resorted to what is essentially fear mongering to scare people away from the grace message without ever considering the message of Scripture, the heart of Christ and the love of God!

It is hilarious how the author then reminds us that Paul had to rein in the Roman church and say “What shall we continue in sin then?  God forbid” and now is frustrated that the church today needs the same reminder.  The fact is that the gospel Paul preached in Romans 5 is so outrageously good and shows that God’s love for us and favour on us has zero to do with works and everything to do with His grace, that Paul needs to remind the Romans that grace is not a chance to go and do all those sins because sin is destructive!

The problem in most churches is that the reminder to “sin not” is unnecessary because the gospel that is taught in most churches is so diluted, polluted with legalism and divorced from the truth that we are made righteous freely by God’s grace and have peace with God because of what Jesus did, not because of anything we did (Romans 5.1) that people don’t need the reminder not to sin because they are still being told law not grace.

The fact that a church may need the same reminder to “sin not” as Paul needed to give the Romans isn’t a bad thing, it is proof that that church is finally teaching the same good news Paul taught!  The author shouldn’t be decrying that this is happening but celebrating it.

Then we have the crux of the matter.  Two issues that grace teachers are teaching that the author has a problem with.  Firstly:

Those proponents of the hyper-grace message will tell you that since your sins past, present and future have all been forgiven, there is no longer any need of repentance for the believer.

Wow.  So the author of the article does not believe that all sins are forgiven because of Jesus.  When you plow through the rhetoric and name calling, and depiction of grace people as libertines on the hunt for religious spirits – the spew of satan – and get through the article this is really the big theological point.  The author does not believe that all sins are forgiven.

Now this is a big deal if the author is correct.  If the cross does not provide forgiveness of ALL sins, which ones are missed out?  Which ones are not forgiven?  If the source and basis of ALL forgiveness of sins is not the cross, what assurance could we ever have that sins are forgiven at all?

You cannot add to the cross.  You cannot take away from the cross.  It is perfect.  The Greek word for perfect means a masterpiece that adding anything to, or taking anything from, destroys it’s uniqueness and beauty.  I remember watching an interview with the creators of the Office (the UK version which was 12 episodes, not the American one) and they said they felt to write one more episode, even a brilliant one, would destroy the integrity of the series that they had created.  Even a good thing added to it would be a bad thing because of how good the thing was as a whole!  You may or may not like the Office, but I hope you can see the point.  You cannot add to the cross – even with good things.  Our salvation, our forgiveness, our righteousness has to come 100% from Christ alone – not Christ and our work.

If I sin tomorrow (those who know me would probably rather I said “when I sin tomorrow”), the confidence that this sin has already been dealt with on the cross once and for all, is the only basis I have to believe that I am forgiven!  My confidence is not in Jesus AND my flesh, not in Jesus AND my ability to live right, not in Jesus AND my ability to bring the sin to the cross, not in Jesus AND anything: it is in Jesus ALONE.   Only His grace has forgiven my sin, and if you think that is too much grace you have not yet understood the gospel.

It always concerns me when people say “the cross hasn’t dealt with future sins” because every sin I ever committed as a believer and unbeliever was AFTER the cross.  The truth is that every sin was dealt with on the cross because 1 Peter 3.18 tells us that Christ died for sins ONCE AND FOR ALL.  If Christ only died for sins once, then it is safe to say that they were all dealt with.

To call this hyper-grace is to fail to appreciate the beauty of the cross.  On the cross, Jesus became sin with our sin, so we could be made the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.21).  He took all your sin, all my sin, all the sin of the millions and billions of people on the earth into His own body and died in agony.  Then after rising on the third day, He arose a life giving spirit and now can freely pour His righteousness, life and peace into anyone who believes.  It’s that simple.  It’s a done deal.

Sin is not and will never be a barrier to our relationship with God again.  Any sin you have committed, that you are right now committing or will commit in the future – that was laid on Christ on the cross.  The cross reaches across all of time and space and drew all judgment for sin onto Jesus so there is now no more judgment for sin – no matter if you did it yesterday or today or tomorrow.  It is dealt with.  Jesus was the propitiation not just for our sins, but for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2.2)!

If it is hyper-grace to believe that all sin has been dealt with on the cross, then guess what: I am hyper grace.  Hebrews 9.28 says that Christ cannot come and deal with sin again.  Why?  Because the original work was so perfect, so wonderful, so complete.  It once and for all dealt with all sin in all people at all times in all places.  It’s a done deal!  It’s complete!  It’s done!  This needs to be shouted from the rooftops and should not be muffled because someone misrepresents grace and says (without any Scriptural warrant) that Christ only died for SOME sins!  Ignore those who seek to minimize the cross, and preach what Paul preached: our hope, our life, our forgiveness, our healing, our power comes from Christ and Him crucified – and not our works!  Now you will have to make the same course correction that Paul made and remind people sin kills, but if you never have to clarify that, you have not preached the New Covenant gospel ever!

But only does the author fail to grasp the full magnitude and greatness of the work of the cross, they also fail to grasp what is necessary to benefit from the cross, saying:

Repentance, they claim, is the acknowledgment of a sin that has already been forgiven. Why put back in the ledger what has already been erased? So the reasoning goes.

So, the second problem the author has is that grace people fail to recognize repentance.  For the author repentance is feeling sorry for your sin and also – as stated clearly in the article – that repentance is necessary for forgiveness. In other words if you don’t say sorry for your sin – and say sorry and mean it – then you will not be forgiven.  The author leaves it to our imagination as to whether that means that the Christian who does not say sorry for their sin ends up in hell, or just a dark place in heaven, but the point is made: the author thinks it is wrong to say that sin is automatically forgiven.

To be honest, that point of view is so far from the New Covenant, it is hard to work out where to start.  Our salvation does not depend on our ability to say sorry.  That is a lie.  The complete forgiveness of our sins is based on His propitiation not our sorrow, not our repentance, not our ability to craft a well-intended, well-meaning sorry.  The prodigal son never went home because he felt bad for treating his father so terribly, he went home because he was hungry and fed up.  When his father sees him, he does have a well-rehearsed apology, but the father doesn’t care.  He is just so happy to see His son, He rejoices and killed the fatted calf.

That is the nature of our Father.  The moment we believe the good news that Christ paid the whole price for our salvation and our peace with God, He turns on the jukebox, puts on a happy songs and starts dancing over us and rejoicing over us.  He paid the price so we could be free and at peace, not so we could grovel on the floor before him thinking of the right words and hoping we were sad enough and strained enough for Him to find pity on us enough to let us into the kingdom.  That is a total under-estimation of how good grace is!  That’s why I called this article the deception of hypo-grace.

Hypo- and hyper- are both Greek words, and they are actually exact opposites.  They are both prepositions which mean that they go before words to alter their meaning.  Hypo- means to go under (a hypo-dermic needle goes under your skin), and hyper- means to go above (a hyper-active child has above average activity!).  The author thinks we have made the mistake and are hyper-grace, when the truth is that he is hypo-grace because he erroneously believes that grace is not enough: it needs our pitiful, half-hearted attempts at an apology and our fiery insistence that we will live right to activate it and make it work.

Did you know that Peter’s sins were forgiven before he even sinned them?  Jesus prophesied Peter would sin and betray him, but in the same prophecy (in Luke 22.32) Jesus also tells Peter that when he is converted (i.e. after the sin) that he must strengthen his brothers.  From Jesus point of view the sin was totally forgiven before Peter even committed it!

Hypo-grace people can’t grasp that.  Their picture of grace isn’t big enough.  The idea that Peter would deny Christ and seven weeks later preach at the biggest Christian conference that had even happened at that time is anathema to them.  Their picture of grace isn’t big enough.  They are hypo-grace people, and because their picture of grace is too small, they keep polluting grace by adding our works, our effort, our holiness.

Paul wrote to the Galatians who were trying to add circumcision to the grace because the Galatians were hypo-grace Christians.  They thought you started in the spirit and continued in the flesh – Paul said that was witchcraft!  Paul is saying here that if you believe that Jesus forgave your past, but that His grace hasn’t forgiven your future and you have to do that in your own work then you are preaching and teaching witchcraft.  That’s strong stuff, but it is exactly what Paul says.  That’s why I am raising the bar here and making this point.  For those of you who think that language is too strong, remember the article I am responding to started off calling grace people the vomit of satan!  I am just using the language Paul used for the Galatian church!

And as for Paul, the question we have to ask is this: was Paul a hyper-grace person – an abundant, more than enough grace person, or was Paul a teacher of hypo-grace, that grace was not enough.

Well, we find his answer in 1 Tim. 1.14 which says “And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant”.  If you dig into the Greek, when Paul says that the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, the Greek word is hyperpleonazō, which translated means above-abounding, or overflowing, or overabundant.

Paul saw that grace was hyper.  It is more than enough.  It is above and beyond anything you could ever dream of.  It has forgiven you already, even for the sins you haven’t even committed. It doesn’t need your works, your sorrow, your effort, your strain and your passion added to it to make up for it’s shortfalls – it has no shortfalls.  Grace needs nothing added to it; it simply needs to be believed and received.

The Death of Conscience

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The Death of Conscience By Rebecca Hagelin

(from: http://www.worldviewtimes.com/article.php/articleid-5224/Brannon-Howse/Rebecca-Hagelin)

Our teenagers are more sexually active than any generation of youth before them. They also are consuming more pornography and compromising basic moral standards more often. It seems that many of them have lost not only their innocence, but their conscience, too.

The plethora of negative and immoral behaviors glorified by a media world that’s gone stark raving mad — combined with graphic, non-judgmental sex education and a highly sexualized culture in general — causes many of them to lose understanding of what is wrong and what is right.

When a young child’s sensibilities are constantly violated, and he begins to ignore the natural pangs of guilt after yielding to cultural pressures, he can end up being miserable, and begins to develop a hard heart and weak spirit.

If we as parents blindly turn our own hearts away from them because we’re scared of confrontation, or because we’re too lazy to do “the hard stuff” like fight for their integrity, we have a hand in dooming their young spirits to inner torment. And, ultimately, if the pattern continues, to the loss of basic decency and sensitivity to evil.

In chapter 32, the Psalmist reflects on the misery that comes with ignoring a guilty conscience:
“When I kept things to myself, I felt weak deep inside me. I moaned all day long. Day and night you punished me, my strength was gone as in the summer heat.”

Do you really want your child to live that way?

It’s critical as a parent to take control and do everything in your power to make certain that the culture does not molest your child’s young mind. Setting standards for media consumption can help avoid a lot of regrets, especially when it comes to the evil of pornography. But since we are all sinners, we also need to learn to recognize when our children might be feeling uncomfortable and guilty — and offer them hope and a way out of their despair.

Talk often about God’s miracles of forgiveness, redemption and restoration. These concepts are foreign to our modern world, yet they are as tranformational today as they were for the Pslamist and when God offered his forgiveness to a sinful world as he sent his son to atone for the sins of all who would accept him.

I John 1:9 promises: “When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Our children experience the beautiful gifts of wisdom and grace when we help them develop their conscience and teach them how to respond to feelings of guilt. We need to be bold about sharing with them the life-giving power and joy that comes with confession. Tears of repentance over wrongs done makes our hearts strong, yet maleable in the hands of a a loving God. Ignoring our sins turns us into desperate, weak souls with hearts of stone.

In Psalm 32, the author actually begins the passage with what we can look forward to when we confess our sins to the loving and merciful God:
“Happy is the person whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs have been pardoned. Happy is the person whom the Lord does not consider guilty, and in whom there is nothing false.”

The forgiveness and joy that comes with sincere repentance is the  best news mankind has ever heard! Have your own children heard it?‬

Church in the 21st Century… (William Booth)

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William Booth (Founder of The Salvation Army) when asked to comment about the issues confronting Britain at the turn of the century said:-

* There will be religion without the Holy Spirit

* There will be Christianity without Christ

* There will be Forgiveness without Repentance

* There will be Salvation without Regeneration

* There will be Politics without God

* Heaven without Hell...  Selah.

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