Category Archives: Bible Study

Test 2 – Recognition of Sin 1 John 1:8-10

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10

We’ve been working our way through a study of 1 John on this blog as a way to make additional usage of the notes and expositions I’ve used in teaching this book of the Bible.  The previous 3 posts are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.  In this post, we come to the Apostle John’s 2nd test, again a moral or ethical test, though this time on the recognition of sin.  As we discussed in the intro to 1 John, the likely heresy of the age that John was confronting was a form of Gnosticism.  It has been suggested that those who seceded from the churches in Asia Minor were Gnostics and had come to believe that the “trivial” or everyday sins of the people no longer effected them, in essence they believed they were capable of being without these sins.  It’s to this erroneous notion that John directs his second test, a recognition of sin.

John begins this section by confronting the belief that a person can attain sinless perfection.  Gnostic beliefs, while varied and numerous, included a warped and unbiblical view of good and evil.  Fundamentally, they had a flawed view of believer’s sanctification, so some began to withdraw themselves from society in order to help promote a higher level of sanctification, perhaps living more of an ascetic lifestyle.  Others took the opposite approach believing it didn’t really matter how one lived, resulting in loose or lacking moral values.1 Still, others believed “to have reached such an advanced stage in spiritual experience that they were ‘beyond good and evil.’ They maintained that they had no sin, not in the sense that they had attained moral perfection but in the sense that what might be sin for people at a less mature stage of inner development was no longer sin for the completely ‘spiritual’ man. For him ethical distinctions had ceased to be relevant” 2  It’s likely this latter group are those that John is addressing as he states, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  John again presents the negative aspect of his test and adds a stinging indictment that those who claim to have no sin are self-deceptive and lack the truth.  In verse 10, John reemphasizes his argument by adding “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”  As though saying those who deny their sinfulness practice self-deception and lack truth wasn’t harsh enough, he goes on to say that by doing so they actually are calling God a liar and they possess not His word.  Boiling that test down, those who say they have no sin lie not only to themselves, but call God a liar and are not His children.  God’s word clearly states the sinfulness of man (see Romans 3:10-18.  Not only that, but passages such as Genesis 8:21 and Jeremiah 17:9 explain that man’s sinfulness is beyond deeds, such as do’s and don’ts but actually extends to the nature of who man is.  At his heart he is sinful.   It therefore goes without saying that to argue a point contrary to God’s Word is calling God Himself a liar and that’s the very position that John stresses to his readers.

In addition to a failure to recognize sin, it’s remarkable how few professing believers understand the necessity of confession of sin to God on a regular basis.  If it’s even done at all, it seems all too often that repentance is believed to be a one-time event, whereas in this passage we see John emphasizing believer’s confession.  Just like it would be absurd to say that a believer in Christ could stop having faith in Him and still have salvation, the opposite side of the same coin is also true, it is an unbiblical, even absurd, idea that confession of sin to God should cease at any point.  We see this sandwiched between the two negative applications of John’s moral test as he adds an evidence of genuine salvation, i.e. confession of sin, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This is an oft-quoted passage, but I fear it’s one that is rarely deeply considered or one that’s read in its context.  Notice the links in the statement John is making, believer’s confession of sin magnifies 2 aspects of God’s being: 1) The character of God, i.e. His faithfulness and justice and 2) The actions of God, i.e. His forgiveness of believer’s sins and cleansing from all unrighteousness.  It seems clear that in this verse John views the actions of God as an outworking of His character.  It would serve us well to explore this relationship a bit more deeply. 

How are we to understand God’s faithfulness and justice?  Well, through His forgiveness of sins and cleansing from unrighteousness for starters.  God’s faithfulness is inextricably linked to His promises made to those who repent of their sin and place their faith in His Son, Jesus, namely he offers them forgiveness and removal of sin.  As Matthew Henry points out, “God is faithful to his covenant and word, wherein he has promised forgiveness to penitent believing confessors.”3  Remember in the last post where we looked at the significance of Christ’s blood poured out in the New Covenant for the forgiveness of sins.  We see this again in a passage from Colossians, He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13-14 God is faithful to His promise for those who seek forgiveness through repentance and faith.  He has promised forgiveness of sins for those who repent and place their faith in Jesus.  If God were not faithful to that promise, He would not longer be God.  But indeed He is faithful and He is most certainly God, a forgiving and merciful God for those that seek Him.

The second attribute of God’s character that John mentions here is His justice and it is put on display through the cleansing of believer’s [who make confession, remember this is evidence of genuine faith] from all unrighteousness.  God is able to do this because the demands of His justice have been met in the cross of Jesus Christ.  Think about this believer, not only were the sins you committed prior to your salvation forgiven in Christ, but ALL of your sins, even your future ones.  Practically speaking all of our sins were future when Christ made His atoning sacrifice.  God’s holiness was vindicated through the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ, who took the punishment, namely the wrath of God, for all those who would ever believe on Him.  As Paul states, “It [God’s forbearance in passing over former sins] was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:26  In an amazing and humbling divine work, God is able to be just and the justifier of believer’s because of Christ’s atonement.

The Apostle John’s test here is twofold: 1) the recognition of sin and 2) the confession of sin.  Dear reader, do you recognize sin in your life?  Do you despise it and desperately want rid of it?  Do you cry out like the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24  Do you make quick confession of sin or do you let it linger and fester?  Is your chief concern the offense of a holy God?  These are signs of genuine believers.  Contrast that with the negative implications of the test.  Are you oblivious to sin in your life?  Do you fail to recognize it and fail to confess it?  A denial of sin is self-deception and ultimately the self-deceived are not only lying to themselves, but are calling God a liar as well.  A test of true assurance in the Christian faith is continual recognition and confession of sin.  Do you pass the test?

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 1:8-2:2):

1.       Why does John buttress his argument of believer’s confession of sin with Christ’s role as advocate? (vs. 2:1)

[Note: if you have not already done so from the last post determine the significance of Christ’s role as advocate (vs. 2:1)?]

2.      In verses 1:8-2:2, what aspects of Christ’s atonement does John emphasize?

3.      As revealed in our study passage (1:8-2:2), on what basis is Jesus “qualified” to serve as believer’s advocate?



1 Hill, Jonathan, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity [Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006], p. 65

2 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 26

3 Henry, Matthew, Commentary on the Whole Bible

Test 1: Walking in the Light 1 John 1:5-7

5 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. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 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 you haven’t yet read the previous 2 entries in our study of 1 John, Part 1 and Part 2 let me encourage you to do so before continuing in this one, that way continuity and context is maintained.  Here, in this section of John’s first chapter, we again see his eyewitness testimony, this time in the form of hearing a message from Christ and proclaiming that message to the Churches to whom he’s writing (and subsequently all believers).  His message that he’s relaying is, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”.  In this passage, some have pointed out that light has 2 characteristic meanings as it relates to God.  The first is that the light is life, namely eternal life.  Support for this can certainly be found in John 1:4, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” and John 8:12 “Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  In these passages we can see the link between the light of God and the life of God.  Without going into greater detail with this possible implication of “God is light,” let’s look at the second one.

It would seem in our passage from 1 John that the more natural interpretation of “God is light” relates chiefly to the holiness of God.  In context, it seems that this is the most likely intention because it is contrasted in the same sentence with “in him is no darkness at all”.  The flow of John’s argument in the following two verses maintains this contrast of light vs. darkness as it relates to an individual’s walk or daily life.  Therefore, it seems best interpreted as a distinction between holiness and sinfulness or perhaps better stated as godliness vs. ungodliness.  This leads us to the first test that John provides which he begins with the statement, “If we say”. 

John’s test is as follows: “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”  The parts to this test are simple and have great implications for us today.  In his test, John outlines a common If/Then statement of logic.  If we, as professing Christians, say that we have fellowship with God, (remember we defined that fellowship last time as being adopted into the family of God, thereby having communion and a relationship with Him) yet we continue to walk in a pattern of sinfulness, then we are liars and our profession is a lie.  The application of this test to your own heart should convict you.  Are you one of the many Christians in name only who profess Christ but display no visible evidence of being in fellowship with Him?  Is your life marked by a pattern and lifestyle of sin, rather than a pursuit of holiness?  Do you detest sin and have a burning desire in your heart to love the things of God, namely His Son, His Word, and His people?  This is the test that lies before us today.  Do you fail or pass?

Not leaving us alone with just the negative implications of the test, John provides the solution for his readers in verse 7: “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.”   Here he exhorts genuine believers to walk in holiness, as God is holy, such that we have fellowship with one another and efficacy of Christ’s atoning blood sacrifice.  Working through John’s logic backwards we can see that a consequence of Christ’s atonement is cleansing from sin, fellowship in God’s family, and a life marked with holiness.  Justification, adoption, and sanctification. 

The significance of Christ’s blood here cannot be understated.  It’s not to be dismissed or classified as gruesome as so many liberal theologians are apt to do, but must be understood as necessary to bring life to the unbeliever and cleansing from sin.  The entire foreshadowing of the OT blood sacrifices is significant to the bloody death of Christ on the cross.  Hebrews 9:22 says, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”  This echoes the Old Testament passage “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” Leviticus 17:11 Christ Himself emphasizes the significance of His blood as marking the establishment of His New Covenant, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” Matthew 26:28 and Paul points out for us in Ephesians 1:7 that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” and again in 2:13 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

This is an oft-neglected and misunderstood aspect of Christ’s atonement, but as we’ve seen it’s essential, not for mystical powers as some have claimed, but for its significance of marking the New Covenant in which Christ’s atoning sacrifice brings cleansing and forgiveness of sins and thereby life to the sinner who repents and puts their faith in Him.  The test that John lays out for us in the passage should either convict or reassure the hearts and minds of those who read it.  Conviction should come to those who understand and realize that their lives are not marked with holiness nor a desire for godliness, but instead are a display of sinful patterns of behavior.  If this is you dear reader, then it is time for you to repent and turn from your sins.  Turn to Christ in faith and trust in Him for the cleansing and forgiveness of your sin.  God alone is holy and it is the righteousness of Christ that you are in need of.  Call on Him today.

Believers, this should either be a wake-up call to you or proof of the genuineness of your faith.  If you are battling besetting sins, then you need to realize that the mark of a genuine believer is walking in holiness.  As we will see in the coming verses, confession of our sins gives evidence of true salvation.  Return to God today, confess your sin, and seek a life of godliness. 

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 1:8-2:2):

  1. What is the next “test” that John offers his readers?
  2. If believers are already forgiven of their sins, past, present, and future, why does John exhort a pattern of confession (vs. 1:9)?
  3. What is the significance of Christ’s role as advocate (vs. 2:1)?
  4. Using a good Bible dictionary or commentary, define propitiation (vs. 2:2). [Note in some Bible versions this word may be translated as ‘atoning sacrifice’; the Greek word is hilasmos]

Expositions from 1 John 1:1-4

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.


As mentioned in the last post on the Introduction to 1 John, the Apostle begins his letter with a strong affirmation of his own eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus Christ.  In language that sounds remarkably similar to the introduction of his Gospel account, John establishes the eternality of Christ by stating “that which was from the beginning”.  Comparatively, the Gospel of John says the following, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1  Some have argued that the introduction to John’s letter isn’t so much a declaration of Christ’s eternality, as in John 1:1, but instead a reference to the beginning of the earthly ministry of Christ, and ultimately the gospel, i.e. the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This view seems to break apart in the context of 1 John, because of John’s statement in vs. 2 “which was with the Father” which gives the implication of the Son eternally co-existing with the Father.  This interpretation mirrors what we just read and John 1:1 and seems most consistent with the author’s intent.

Note in these first 3 verses that John repeatedly testifies to his experience (and that of the other disciples) of witnessing the God-man, Jesus Christ, as he states “[that] which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands” and regarding the “life” he says, “we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life” and concludes, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also”.  In each of the first 3 verses, John emphasizes that this isn’t simply a made up story about the life of Jesus, but was in fact a historical event.  It seems too often we gloss over this point because we get lost in the “stories” of the Bible and fail to see the connection with the rest of history.  There is no need for us to separate the Bible from the history of man, but instead it should give us greater confidence to its truths and greater reliability to its message to understand that the Bible records actual historical people that lived in historical places and they are indeed real.  John is giving testimony that the Son of God, Jesus Christ actually lived on the earth.  God incarnate walked among men and lived, perfectly sinless and blameless.  John was there and saw Him.  He heard Him speak.  He touched Him with his own hands.  He looked upon Him with a recognition and understanding that it was Jesus, the true and living Son of God.  That’s the point John is driving home.  Contrary to the Gnostics belief in a false Christ, John gives weight to his argument through his and the other disciples eyewitness accounts.  It’s almost as if his argument is as follows, “Those men who were in your churches, creating division through the lies they were telling about the person of Jesus Christ, they weren’t even there.  They didn’t see Him.  They didn’t break bread with Him.  They didn’t talk and commune with Him.  They didn’t put their finger’s into the wounds of His resurrected body.  But we did!  We were there and witnessed it all.”  You can almost hear that in the background of John’s introductory statement as he declares the manifestation of Jesus.

This record of eyewitness testimony isn’t unique to John’s letter.  In Luke 1:1-3 we read, 1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning this things you have been taught.”  Similarly, in Acts 4:20 we read of Peter and John saying, “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” while Peter in his own letter states, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made know to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16 Finally, the Apostle Paul records for us in his Corinthian letter that Jesus appeared to 500 eyewitnesses after His resurrection from the grave. 1 Corinthians 15:6 Think about this for a minute, in our court of law today, 1 eyewitness is enough to give a convicting testimony.  But here in God’s Word we have a replete account of eyewitness testimonies to the majesty of God.  That should emphatically tell us that these things aren’t myths or cutsie stories, but are in fact a reality.

After establishing these truths about Christ through his testimony, John then points to the fellowship that belongs between 1) himself and the other apostles and between 2) them and the Father and Son.  His encouragement here is for his readers, i.e. the churches, to partake in that fellowship based on the person of Jesus Christ that he has just laid out for them.  When I read this theme of fellowship, it seems much more than a gathering together in a church fellowship hall and in a sense it’s much more than breaking bread or conversing with one another.  Instead it seems to speak of family, namely adoption into the family of God and because of that we now have fellowship with one another and fellowship with the Father and Son.

Acts 2 provides a beautiful picture of this fellowship amongst believers, 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47 Hidden in this passage is a gem that gives insight into the fellowship of believers and it’s found in verse 44, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.”  This “all things in common” isn’t material as in race, ethnicity, clothing, hair/eye color, or style, but its commonality found between those in the family of God.  Believers are the adopted sons of God and because of that we can have fellowship with each other and fellowship with God through the fellowship, or union, with Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul highlights this adoption of ours in Galatians 4:4-7 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Finally, in verse 4 of 1 John we read, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”  There is some discrepancy among translations (depending on which ancient text is used) as to whether the phrase here is “our” joy or “your” joy.  It being only 1 letter difference in the Greek, it’s difficult to say.  But there doesn’t need to be disagreement here.  Instead, it seems John speaks of an inclusivity of “all of our” joy being complete.  He is writing so that not only his joy and that of the “we” mentioned earlier, but also that the joy of his readers be complete.  This joy that he is speaking of comes through the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a spiritual fruit or evidence of salvation.  John’s is a message of assurance so that the believer might grab hold of Christ and live in joy for Him.

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study:

  1. When John says “God is light” in verse 5, what does he mean?
  2. What is the test that he outlines in verses 6-7 of chapter 1?
  3. Practically speaking how can one “walk in the light”?  Conversely, what is walking in darkness?
  4. What is the significance of the “blood of Jesus” in this (and other) passages? [Hint: see also Matthew 26:28, Eph. 1:7, Ephesians 2:13, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:17-19, Revelation 5:9, Revelation 7:14]