What Happens When We Confess

1 John 1:9 is one of the most well-worn verses in the Bible because we need to use it so often:  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We sin with the regularity of a swinging pendulum, and we need to acknowledge our sins just as regularly.  That’s how we maintain an intimate relationship with Him.

When I confess, God forgives me.  But that’s not all.  He also promises to cleanse me.  I have assumed that this promise means that He is going to help me sin less often.  But a quick word study shows that there is more to it!

The Greek word here is katharizō (Strongs #2511), consistently translated “cleanse.”  It occurs 35 times in the New Testament, often in connection with things unconnected to sin.

  • You can cleanse a cup or dish (Matthew 23:25; Luke 11:39).
  • You can cleanse a leper (Matthew 8:2-3; 10:8; 11:5; Mark 1:40-42; Luke 5:12-13; 7:22; 17:14).
  • You can declare that something (like a certain food) is ceremonially clean (Acts 10:15; 11:9).
  • You can cleanse a person from sin (James 4:8; Hebrews 9:14, 22-28; 10:2; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Acts 15:9; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 2:14).

Since 1 John 1:9 specifically mentions cleansing from unrighteousness, the fourth meaning is clearly the one used here.

But let’s not overlook the strong tie to ceremonial cleansing.  If you were “clean,” you could participate in the Temple worship along with other Jewish people.  The worst part of leprosy was not the scars, but the barrier that blocked you from coming to offer sacrifices and sing psalms to God.

Unrighteousness is repulsive like mud in a cup.  It’s wrong because it displeases God.  But it also prevents us from free fellowship with God.  When you first trusted Christ’s gift of salvation, you ensured that you could ultimately walk in His presence in heaven, but sin interferes with our fellowship with him right now. 

When we confess our sins, he not only forgives us, but he cleanses us, removing everything that would stand in the way of intimate fellowship with Him.