1 John 1: 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
I coached soccer for many years, including many ages and levels from recreational to elite. One of my fondest memories was coaching 4-to-5-year-olds. I recall showing them how to properly pass a soccer ball using the inside of their foot rather than their toe. I then wanted to ingrain in them early that they must be able to kick with either foot. After finishing kicking with their dominant foot, I set up the balls and said, “I want you to kick with both feet now”. One boy looked at me quite perplexed, but then, much to my amusement, walked up to the ball, jumped in the air and kicked the ball with both feet at once. He wasn’t wrong, as that is what I appeared to say, but it is not what I meant. Something was lost in translation.
This story reminds me of the book of 1 John in the Bible. There are some people who have read verses in this book and come to false conclusions regarding sin. There is a teaching today that says as Christians we cannot sin and therefore there is no need to ask God for forgiveness. 1 John 5:18 would seem to support this as it says that: “anyone born of God does not continue to sin”. However, this seems to contract another verse by the same author John when he says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8). Much like the perplexed child who looked at me when I asked him to kick with both feet, many Christians see this apparent contradiction and are perplexed. But if we look at the original Greek it becomes clearer. In 1 John 5:18 the word “does” is “poie” and refers to “practising”, and in context it means that he does not habitually abide in sin. In 1 John 1:8 the Greek word “have” is “echō” and it means to “wear or possess”. We possess sin, but we do not have to practise it as a lifestyle.
But as many scriptures correctly inform us, when we recognize our sinful nature and our separation from God, and we accept Christ as our saviour and Christ as the payer of our debt of sin, then all our sins are forgiven. The logical question that follows is: “why do we need to ask for forgiveness if our sins are all forgiven?” The answer is positional forgiveness versus relational forgiveness.
Imagine a son asking his father if he can go to a party. Mom and dad have concerns about this party, so they say “no”. He decides to go to the party anyways. Dad finds out and confronts him, but he lies and says he did not go. The truth is eventually revealed. If the father is godly, the son does not lose his position as son in the family. He is still loved the same, and in fact the father has already forgiven him in his position as his son. But there has been a relational breakdown. For the sake of the son, he needs to recognize his sin, confess his sin, and ask for forgiveness. The father forgives and the relationship is restored. Why would we not likewise go to our Father in heaven and confess our sin; to a father who is quick to forgive and restore. While positionally we are forgiven for all our sins: past, present and future, relationally we need to confess our sins (James 5:16) before God so that our sin does not impair our relationship with our father. Rather than being a weighty thing, the confession of our sin, and the unconditional forgiveness by our Father in heaven, is burden-lifting. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read that the “joy of the Lord is your strength”. This joy came after the exiled Jews acknowledged and confessed their sins before the Lord. What resulted was restoration and joy. May we all experience this same joy that comes from a restored relationship.