Believers—Sinners Who Need to Repent

The CDC website has this statement on its main COVID-19 web page: “COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are extremely high across the United States. To decrease your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19, CDC recommends that you do not gather with people who do not live with you at this time. Attending events and gatherings increases your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. Stay home to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.” But here’s what the CNN website reported this week: “Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday he’s lifting the mask mandate in Texas… ‘It is now time to open Texas 100%,’ he said.” How can our leaders be so diametrically opposed; surely somebody’s right, and somebody’s wrong. Or, perhaps there are nuances that we haven’t considered, such as Abbot’s inclusion of stipulations in the event of the Covid-19 pandemic worsening. Some issues are thorny, without simple solutions, so we must examine the evidence to come to the correct or most reasonable assessment. My friends in Texas all have different physical issues, business and ministry considerations, and vaccination statuses. So we have different ways of responding to the CDC’s and governor’s stands. But some things are sure—the pandemic isn’t over, it’s still spreading, and it’s still killing people; its effects have been felt in every sector of life. The vaccine is a blessing, and more people are being vaccinated every day. But that does not alter the fact that the virus is prospering. 

There are difficult doctrines in the Bible, about which we also must use careful discernment. Some Christians in the early Church were in danger of thinking that they weren’t sinners or that because they were in Christ, their sins somehow didn’t count or matter. Some Christians believe that today, but nothing could be further from the truth. As we mature in Christ, we should have fewer sins as we confess and cooperate with the Spirit’s sanctifying work in us. But we also see our sins more clearly. The only way we will continue to grow, to be less sinful, is by continuing to confess our sins for repentance and its fruit. “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 1:8-10) God forgives and cleanses us from ungodliness when we admit and confess our sins, but this does not alter the fact that we are still sinners. We need to embrace the truth that we are still sinners who need to repent regularly, to be forgiven and cleansed by our faithful, just, forgiving God.

Apparently, some Christians thought that once they were regenerated, their sins somehow evaporated. I’ve heard some professing believers say the same thing today—“once saved, we’re cleansed of all sins.” We are, in fact, no longer condemned for our sin. We are covered in Christ’s righteousness, to be saved from the final judgment to come. But John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (v. 8) “Sinful acts arise out of the sinful condition that we inherit in Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12-20). Though Christ has paid the penalty of sin for His people, forgiven them, and made them part of a new creation, and though He enables them to grow in godliness, they never become perfectly righteous in this life. Consequently, they continue to battle their fallenness until they are completely sanctified at the end of the age. True, Christ paid for both their pre-conversion and post-conversion sins, which means God’s just penalty has been satisfied, however, to deny that one continues to feel the effects of one’s fallenness and still breaks God’s law is deceitful and falsely implies that there is no need of Christ’s sacrificial death for post-conversion sins.” (1) Verse 8 speaks to a condition of habitual sinfulness and verse 10 to specific sinful acts, according to most commentators. Either way, “we deceive ourselves [if we deny that we are sinful believers]; such persons must be ignorant of themselves…thinking themselves to be something when they are nothing; flattering themselves what pure and holy creatures they are, when there is a fountain of sin and wickedness in them; these are self-deceptions, sad delusions, and gross impositions upon themselves…it is a plain case the truth of grace is not in such persons, for if there was a real work of God upon their souls, they would know and discern the plague of their own hearts, the impurity of their nature, and the imperfection of their obedience; nor is the Word of truth in them, for if that had…worked effectually in them, they would in the light of it discover much sin and iniquity in them; and indeed there is no principle of truth, no veracity in them; there is no sincerity nor ingenuity in them; they do not speak honestly and uprightly, but contrary to the dictates of their own conscience.” (2) God’s forgiveness is a precious treasure that saved sinners should not neglect; regular repentance reminds us of his special mercy to us through Christ.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (v. 9) God’s justice is the basis for our forgiveness, based on his Word in us. “When we repent and turn to Jesus, we are objectively forgiven. Our sin is covered with His perfect righteousness, and we do not stand condemned any longer. This objective reality, however, does not always mean that we feel forgiven subjectively. Often our guilt feelings do not go away even though we know—at least in our minds—that the problem of our objective guilt before the Lord has been solved in Christ. What, then, do we do if we have repented and yet do not feel forgiven by our Father in heaven? The only solution is to keep turning back to what the Word of God teaches about the reality of our forgiveness in Christ. If the Lord says that we have been forgiven in Jesus our Savior, we have no right to question Him. In fact, it is a sin to doubt God’s promises, including His promise to forgive. So, if we do not feel forgiven, we may need to repent for not believing God’s sure pledge to pardon our sins when we confess them.” (3)

“If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (v. 10) “Through Jeremiah God declared, ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more’” (Jer. 31:34). Clearly, if God had spoken such promises and then had refused to forgive sin, he would have been unfaithful. But he is not…What will be true of the individual if God is actually the light of his life? Obviously, the light of God will be doing for him what light does. For one thing, the light will be exposing the darkness so that the dark places are increasingly cleansed of sin and become bright and fruitful places for God’s blessing. This does not mean that the individual will become increasingly conscious of how good he or she is becoming. On the contrary, a growth in holiness will mean a growth in a true sensitivity to sin in one’s life and an intense desire to eliminate from life all that displeases God. Instead of boasting in his progress, the person will be increasingly ready to acknowledge sin and seek to have it eliminated. (4) Personally knowing that God forgives and cleanses us from ungodliness when we admit and confess our sins, why would we not desire to recognize our sins, confess them, and ask the Lord to help us repent? Do we behave as if we’ve come through the wide gate, rather than the narrow one provided by Christ? (See Matthew 7:13-14.) “Here, everybody is in such a rush to make money or to enjoy some pleasure it is difficult even for Christians to keep their hearts and minds in the best of order. Here, one must be very prayerful and exceedingly cautious, or one will be led or pushed out of the straight and narrow way, and give the Enemy the advantage in the battle for men’s minds.” (5) Rather than adopt others’ opinions about current events, let’s be vigilant to examine the issues and embrace a biblical worldview toward others who may have different opinions. Seeking God’s help to confess regularly will humble us in a  prideful society. But “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)

Related Scripture: Proverbs 28:13; Jeremiah 2:35; 31:34; 1 Corinthians 15:34; James 3:2; 1 John 3:4-10; 5:18.

  1. The Reformation Study Bible, 1 John 1:10, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015. 
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 John 1:8 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1john-1.html
  3. Ligonier, “Receiving God’s Forgiveness,” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/receiving-gods-forgiveness/
  4. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” on 1 John 1:5-10, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  5. Thomas, James, Bunyan, John, Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English, p. 227, Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition.

March 5, 2021

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