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 (or as Europeans would say “football”) for many years, including many ages and many levels from recreational to elite. One of my fondest memories was coaching 4 and 5 year old children. 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, so I told them I wanted them to be able to kick with both feet. 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, he walked up to the ball jumped up in the air and kicked the ball with both feet at the same time. He really wasn’t wrong as that is what I appeared to say, but it certainly is not what I meant. Something was clearly lost in translation.
This story reminds me of the book of 1John in the Bible. There are some people who have read verses in this book and come to some false conclusions regarding sin. Something has clearly been lost in the translation for them as well. There is a prevalent teaching today that says as Christians we cannot sin and therefore there is no need to ask God for forgiveness. 1John 5:18 would seem to support this position as it says that “anyone born of God does not continue to sin”. 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 after previously showing him how you properly kick with one foot, many Christians see this apparent contradiction and are perplexed.
But if we look at the original Greek it becomes much clearer. In 1John 5:18 the word “does” is “poie” in Greek and refers to “practising”, and in context it means that he does not habitually abide in sin. In 1John 1:8 the Greek word “have” is “echō” and it means to “wear or possess”. It is a fact that 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 certain party. Mom and Dad have concerns about the party so disallow him from going. But he tells his Dad that he is going to a friend but instead goes to the party. Dad finds out the next day and confronts him, but he lies and says he did not go. The truth is eventually revealed. If the father is godly, then 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.
How much more so should we not go to our Father in heaven and confess our sin; to a father who is quick to forgive and quick to restore. While positionally we are forgiven for all our sins: past, present and future, relationally we need to confess our sins before God so that our sin does not impair our relationship with our father. Rather than being a weighty thing on us, the recognition of our sin, the confession of our sin, and the unconditional forgiveness of our sin 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.
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)