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What Does It Mean That God Is Just To Forgive?

God is just

“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

“God, I screwed up….”

Do you realize what wonderful glory you are accessing when you utter those words from a penitent heart? Your confession is connected to the character of God and it leads to action from God.

He is faithful…He never fails. He never lets down. He never fails to respond consistently to our confession. He always applies His great and wonderful promises of grace and mercy to our humble confession. Always.

This is where we typically put an emphasis on this verse. We rightly note how God’s loving and merciful character leads to his action of forgiving us and cleansing us of unrighteousness. God is faithful to respond to your confession with His cleansing grace.

But John wants us to connect these actions to another aspect of God’s character; namely, He is just. This means that God is righteous in forgiving a penitent sinner. It is consistent with His character and it is the right thing to do. It is right for God to cleanse the one who asks for cleansing.

He will forgive you, and it’s right for him to do it.

He will cleanse you, and it’s right for him to do it.

Consider the implications of this, though. This means that it would be unjust for God to withhold forgiveness from you when you confess. It also means that the righteous character of God also works to remove the stain which accompanies that which we are confessing.

If you have confessed your sin, live as if it’s been cast into the ocean to be seen no more. If you have confessed your sin, don’t be surprised by the scrubbing that’s coming. God doesn’t just forgive, he also cleanses. He un-dragons us.

But this also means—and you can see the connection here with verse 8—that it would be unjust for God to forgive and cleanse you apart from confession. It would be unrighteous for God to grant forgiveness to someone who desires to continue in rebellion.

I believe understanding this verse helps us to also understand how to faithfully apply Ephesians 4:32. In the same way that God forgives, so also do we. It’s unjust for God to forgive and cleanse apart from confession. So what does this mean for us?

This speaks nothing of our desire or posture of forgiveness. As in 1 John 1:8-9 it appears that God’s faithful character means that He is ready to forgive upon confession. But if we foolishly continue in our lie and say “we have no sin” (or “we have nothing to repent of”), then we are withholding this forgiveness and cleansing from ourselves. This would have massive ramifications for how we evangelicals typically treat those who are caught in sin.

I believe this misunderstanding is connected to our propensity to shame victims and protect perpetrators. We are quick to talk about our need to forgive the wrong-doer and we labor to cleanse them of the consequences of their actions and often this is without any evidence of confession. This is not just.

Let us be bold in confessing. And let us be bold in living in the forgiveness and cleansing purchased for us by the Lord Jesus. Let us lean into the truth that God’s justice executed in the shed blood of Jesus requires that penitent sinners are forgiven and cleansed. And let us fully acknowledge the necessity of a life of repentance*.


*I realize that some could take these words here to develop a theology which would be contrary to the gospel. What I mean is that some could assume that this verse (or my words here) are teaching that if you have any unconfessed sin upon your deathbed then you will be unable to access forgiveness and cleansing. I don’t believe such a position is defensible. We are united to Christ upon faith and repentance and we are united to the whole of Christ and the whole of His work. I believe what 1 John is talking about here is how to consistently live out this eternal gospel. This is why I chose that phrase “a life of repentance.” That is what is consistent with redemption.

This article originally appeared here.