One of the most comforting verses for the Christian is the promise found in 1 John 1:9 where we read,
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
As we walk through this life, we sin often and that sin affects our fellowship with God. And this verse demonstrates how our relationship with God is restored. We simply confess our sins and God does all the rests. Now the verb “confess” is ὁμολογέω and many believers actually struggle understanding what the verb means. Some believe that to confess our sins is to feel sorrow over them. While sorrow should always be present when we sin against God, the verb ὁμολογέω does not mean this.
The best way to understand what a word means is to see how it is used in other uses of a similar time. In this case, we have 25 other uses in the New Testament and of those, 10 are used by the apostle John (John 1:20 (2x); 9:22; 12:42; 1 John 2:23; 4:2, 3, 15; 2 John 2:7; Rev. 3:5). What we see is a verb that basically has the force, “to acknowledge” or “declare.” In none of these examples is John using the verb in terms of “confessing sin.” For example,
And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20).
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22).
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world (1 John 4:2, 3).
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 John 7).
And in the rest of the New Testament we see similar uses:
“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ (Matt. 7:23).
For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all (Acts 23:8).
Other renderings into English in the NASB are “give thanks” (Heb. 13:15) since confessing his name with one’s lips has such a force as well as “admit” in Acts 24:14. The word ὁμολογέω has a very narrow semantic range with the glosses “confess,” “acknowledge,” “declare,” and “admit” all being very similar in force. In other words, we could substitute all four terms into 1 John 1:9 and we have the same meaning:
“If we confess our sins…”
“If we acknowledge our sins…”
“If we declare our sins…”
“If we admit our sins…”
The greatness of 1 John 1:9 however is not in what we do. We simply agree with the charge: we have sinned. We sign a confession that we are guilty of the charges. We admit our guilt. It is God who does the rest. He forgives our sins; he cleanses us from the unrighteousness. And why? Because he is “faithful and righteous.” He is faithful (πιστός) to his promises that he will forgive. He is also righteous or just (δίκαιος) in that since Christ paid for our sins and offers forgiveness, forgiveness of sins must follow. Spurgeon notes,
God will deal with you in faithfulness. His nature is mercy, and you naturally expect that if you confess your sin to a merciful God, he will deal mercifully with you and be faithful to his nature; and he will be so. But he has also given a promise that if the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts and turn unto the Lord, he will have mercy upon him; depend upon it he will be faithful to his promise. The blood of Jesus Christ has made a full atonement, and God will be faithful to that atonement. He will deal with you on the grounds of the covenant of grace, of which the sacrifice of Jesus is the seal, and therein also he will be true to you.