If we would say that we have no sin, we would be deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we would confess our sins, he is faithful and just in order that he would forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we would say that we have no sin, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. (author’s translation)
It is important to note immediately that most of these verbs are in the subjunctive, meaning they have “would” as part of them. The “would” shows that the author is giving a real possibility to what could happen, but it is a possibility and not a certainty depending upon the circumstances.
If one of us claims to not have sin, that person is a liar. The simple truth is that we are all sinners. After all, the first step toward salvation in a practical sense is to admit that you need salvation, and this comes in the form of admitting that one has sinned. Too often we Christians get caught up in trying to make Jesus the focal point of everything that we forget the simple first step to having a savior is admitting we actually need a savior, and that need comes about from our sin.
Now truth in the Gospel of John is found only in the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6 where Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life”), and therefore if someone claims that they have never sinned or do not have any sin, that person is engaged in self-deception and Jesus is not in them.
Yes, you read that correctly, if someone claims that they do not have sin, that person cannot by definition have Jesus. The reasoning is as stated above, one must need to be saved from something in order to have a savior, and therefore if one cannot admit one sins, then one has no need for Jesus. Notice that this is not some sort of past tense issue either. This refers to Christians as well! If Christians claim to be without sin, then they are declaring they no longer need Jesus.
This confession talked about in 1:9 is not a one time confession, rather this refers to a life of confession. I know that sin is not a pleasant topic to dwell on, but without confession sin sticks in your life. You cannot take away your own burden, you need to lay it at the cross. The only way to lay it at the cross is to bring it to the cross in the first place, and we do this through prayer. I do not mean you have to keep confessing the same sin over and over again, I am saying that you need to confess your sin one time in order to be cleansed from it. I am not saying that confession apart from faith leads to salvation, far from it, but I am saying that confession leads to forgiveness which can lead to a holy life. After all, one main purpose of this book is to teach us how to live a holy life.
John goes on to say that if we try to tell others that if we are without sin, we make God out to be a liar, since God has declared all unrighteous before Him. This obviously is aimed at believers, and says that those who claim to not have sin anymore do so to their own eternal detriment. (Aside: these verses certainly militate against the holiness movement in some respects, but the import is found in freeing Christians from the burden of guilt in that we continually sin and fail God, yet God provided a way out for us in confession.)
The moral of the story, as the saying goes, is this: admit your wrongs to God, confess what you have done in order that you might not only be forgiven, but that you might go on to live a more holy and Christ-like life.