If We Confess Our Sins

1 John

If We Confess Our Sins

November 13th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

1 John 1:6 –10

11-13-1960    10:50 a.m.


For over fifteen years the pastor has been preaching through the Bible, and this morning we are in the first chapter of 1 John, almost at the end of the Book. And the Scripture, and you can easily follow the text if you will, is 1 John 1:6 to the end of the chapter, 6 through 10.  The first epistle of John chapter 1, verse 6. The title of the sermon is If We Confess Our Sins.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us.

[1 John 1:6-10]

There is a new psychology, there is a new thought, there is a new theology that is everywhere apparent in our modern religious world.  It is this: “We ought to emphasize not the negative, not the darkness, not the seamy side of life, but we ought to emphasize the positive, emphasize the good, emphasize the right side, and the bright side, and the light side of our lives.  We ought not to give ourselves to consideration of sin, but we ought to give ourselves to the consideration of good works.  Let us emphasize the positive and live on the amen side of life.”

Sometimes they illustrate it by a garden. Don’t spend your time pulling up the weeds, but spend your time cultivating the good plants.  In pedagogical activity they say, “Don’t tell a child, don’t teach a child about sin, but teach a child about goodness, then the child will not sin.”  Well, there’s a point in that.  There’s no doubt about it. To emphasize the positive and not the negative, to talk about good works and not about sin, and to teach the child the bright side, and the good side, and the happy side, and the godly side of life, has certainly everything about it to commend it.

In the twelfth chapter, in the middle of that chapter, there is a parable.  Twelfth chapter of Matthew, there is a parable told by Jesus where He speaks of a man who has an evil spirit.  And the man casts out the evil spirit—he reforms.  And the evil spirit goes away from him, and his heart is swept, and clean, and garnished, and bright, and happy, and full of life and gladness.  But he doesn’t have anything to come into his heart.  His heart is empty, though it is swept and garnished and clean.  So that evil spirit looks in the man’s heart and there’s nothing there to fill it up. So he goes out and gets seven other spirits more evil than himself, and he comes and he lives on the inside of that man’s heart.  And the last state of the man is worse than the first [Matthew 12:43-45].

I say that has a point.  For a man just to emphasize the negative and to get rid of evil, and to reform, is not enough.  He must also fill his life with goodness and his heart with the Holy, regenerating Spirit of God.  So I’m not criticizing these preachers, nor am I finding fault with these psychologists who say, “Let’s emphasize the positive and let’s not cultivate weeds; let’s cultivate good crops.”

But preaching from the Bible and not originating my message, just being an echo, all I can do is to say what is found here in the Word of God.  And the Word of God has very much to say about the sin, and the wrong, and the guilt, and the iniquity, and the villainy, and the wickedness, and the shortcomings in our lives for several reasons. And I’ll mention one. I’ll mention three.

First: it is the sense of sin and the sense of shortcoming that brings us to God [Romans 3:23].  Where there is not any sin there is no need of a Savior.  And where there is no feeling of lack, there would be no feeling of the need of God Himself.  Our Lord said it like this; “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” [Mark 2:17].  He said it again like this, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” [Matthew 9:13].  And He said it again like this, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost” [Luke 19:10].

If a man is not a sinner then he doesn’t need Jesus.  And if he doesn’t have a sense of guilt and shortcoming, then there’s no gospel for him, and there’s no message from the Word of God.  The sense of sin is what leads us to Jesus and what turns our face God-ward.  For example, in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Pilgrim begins like this: he is a very respectable citizen.  And he lives in a very respectable town.  But he begins to read a Book, this Book, and he listens to the Word of God, and to the voice of the evangelist, and to the Spirit of heaven.  And when he does, he finds that there’s a great burden on his back.  And he finds that he is clothed in rags.  And he finds that the respectable town in which he lives is called the City of Destruction.

It’s the sense of sin that puts the burden on our back and in our souls, that shows that our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and that we live in a world of ultimate and final destruction.  I repeat: it is the sense of sin that brings us to God [Romans 6:23].

Now the second thing: you cannot escape, not if you are a thinking soul, you cannot escape the gravity of the sense of sin that is appalling upon the soul of this whole world.  I can illustrate that briefly like this: this last week there was an opera presented here in the city of Dallas, a very famous one called Madame Butterfly. The thesis, the theme, the story of the opera is of a disgraceful American naval officer who marries a girl in Japan and then leaves, and that faithful wife expects him to come back; waits for his return.  For three years she waits.  She has a little blonde baby boy to present to him when he returns.  When the naval officer comes back, he returns with an American wife.  And you have the depiction of the agony of soul of that wonderful Japanese girl, Madame Butterfly.  And then, there on the stage is depicted her agony in suicide and in death.  The whole story, the whole point of it is a man who writes music as he stands appalled before the severity and the gravity of sin in the world.

Now you children, you young people who go to school, when you are taught English you will be taught the plays of Henrik Ibsen, who was a famous, wonderfully abled, gifted norwegian dramatist, an author of worldwide repute.  In that play of Ibsen’s, The Ghost, you have the story of a widowed mother named Mrs. Alving.  Her son comes back from Paris where he’s been studying art, and she has hidden, all through the years, the desolate life of her husband.  But in the play, all of the wickedness of her husband comes out, and finally the physician says that her son, Oswald, is afflicted with softening of the brain.  And before her very eyes, he goes insane before her.

Another story in the plays of Ibsen, the most famous is [A] Doll’s House.  In [A] Doll’s House, Nora Helmer has a husband who’s a banker who is ill.  And she forges her father’s name, who is dying, to a note.  Gets the money, sends her husband to southern Europe where he recovers and comes back.  Then you have the story of the terrible things that this wife did to cover up, to hide away the forgery, the crime that she had done in getting the money.  But it can no longer be hid.  Why, her husband finds it out, and he is aghast before the sin that she has committed and the crime that she’s done.  And then because he doesn’t take upon himself the blame, why, she loses her love for him, for her children, and she leaves to go her own way and to live her own life.

So these brief illustrations from literature and from contemporary drama, these things show us that even though the man is not religious—and I would not think that these dramatists were particularly religious and I know that Ibsen was not.  He was not a religious man at all.  Yet, as they look at life and as they follow the course of life, if they are true to the depiction of life—and art is nothing other than the true reflection of nature—if they are true to life as they find it, you will find in their books that appalling sense of the guilt and the sin of humanity.

Now I have a third thing by which to characterize it, to say this sense of sin:   did you know that it is that sense of sin and guilt that brings to a man who is wrong the hope of amelioration?  If a man is convicted, and he’s a criminal, and he’s sent away to a prison; if a man has no sense of moral wrong and if he has no sense of remorse and repentance, then there’s no hope for his amelioration, his reconstruction.  But if a man senses moral guilt, and he has the oppressive feeling of having done wrong, and he admits and sees the character of his life that has wronged God and wronged society, then, in that sense of guilt and of feeling, you have an opportunity to make a new man and a new citizen and to rebuild him as a fine unit of society.

Where there is no moral sense of wrong, there is no moral sense of right!  And there’s no such thing as the knowledge of God apart from moral sensitivity!  God is light [1 John 1:5] and wherever there is light there are shadows.  And in the presence of the Holy and perfect God, a sinner man cannot but see the shadows that stain his soul.

Now in this passage here we are admonished that God has no dealings with a man who refuses to face reality [1 John 1:6, 8, 10].  When God deals with us, He deals with us on the ground and on the platform of truthfulness and honesty.  A man may invent fictions; but God creates facts.  A man may build around seeming and appearance; but God deals on things as they actually exist.  Man Iooks on the outside; but God looks on the heart [1 Samuel 16:7].  And a man may give himself to the dress of seeming and appearance:  “But all things are naked and opened before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” [Hebrews 4:13].  And God cannot stand with us on a platform of fiction and appearance.  But God must stand with us on a platform of reality and of fact.  And that’s why, when a man must come to God, he must come to God truthfully and honestly and openly, and God will deal with a man truthfully and honestly and openly, if a man would so come before the Lord.

“Now if we say that we have no sin, we lie, and do not the truth” [1 John 1:6].  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” [1 John 1:8]. “If we say that we have no sin, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us” [1 John 1:10].  Three times is that repeated.  If we say, we just say it; there’s no truth in it, if we say it.  No man can honestly say that he is without sin and does not need the help and the forgiveness of God.  The man who cannot find sin in his life is as stupid and as blind as the man who could not find water in the sea.  As every drop of water in the ocean is stained and colored by the salt content of the ocean, so in every faculty of our lives, every emotion, every thought, every deed, every word is stained by our shortcoming and by our lack.

“If we say that we have fellowship with God, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar” [1 John 1:10].  No man can stand in the presence of God and approach into the presence of the Lord standing straight up as though he were worthy to enter in.  We deceive ourselves when we do that.

Jeremiah cried, saying, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” [Jeremiah 17:9].  And we are easily self–deluded.  We are easily deceived.  It is easy for us to become our own dupes.

Many, many people, most of us it seems to me, have a feeling that sin is a technical term; it applies to something beyond ourselves.  “After all,” we say, “we are well intentioned, we are pretty good.  We never did do any vile thing.  Sin may be out yonder.  And it may characterize others, but it doesn’t us. We are pretty good.  Oh, we may make a mistake here and there, and may fall into error once in a while, but on the whole, we are fine people.”  That’s a deception, and our hearts deceive us.

Another thing: our hearts deceive us when we persuade ourselves that our good overcomes our evil.  If our evil is on this side, well, the good is greater on this side, and we over balance it.  And we deceive ourselves in the supposition that in our good works and in our worthiness we can overcome all the evil in our lives so that we don’t need God, we don’t need a Savior, and we don’t need a Lord, we don’t need a cross, we don’t need the blood, we don’t need an atonement; we can just come into the presence of God on our own.  So we stand before the Lord on our own good works, and we commend ourselves to the Lord.  And the Lord says, “Not so.  Not so” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. 

God doesn’t deal with us; He doesn’t parley with us, on the basis that we’re not very bad sinners.  Sin is sin.  And evil is evil.  I don’t need to take a gallon of strychnine to die, just a little.  And I don’t need to drop five thousand feet from the air, a hundred feet will do it.  And I don’t need for my head to be chopped off, my arms and my legs, just a torso left in order to die, just one blow in the heart, one stab in my vital heart, and I’m dead!  So it is with God.  That black drop in our veins is terrible, and it is mandatory that it be removed or else I die!

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” [1 John 1:8].  There it is in the singular.  That is for the man to say, “I have not received from my father that inherent black drop, that native inherent depravity, I’m free from it.”  If a man say he have no sin, he deceives himself.  “And if we confess our sins” [1 John 1:9], plural; the sin is the root, the sins, plural, are the fruits.  One is the depravity in the stream of mankind that we inherited from our fathers.  And the other is the manifestation of that stream in our own lives.  It is polluted at its source, says God. We are born in iniquity and conceived in evil [Psalm 51:5].  And it manifests itself in our lives; we are sinners! [Romans 3:23].

Now when a man comes to God he is to come honestly.  “If we confess our sins” [1 John 1:9], he is to come truthfully.  He’s not to come wrapped in error and pulled aside by falsehood and deceived in his own heart by his own self-righteousness.  When you do that, your prayers are just chattering words, and your songs are just cymbals and gongs and sounds.  But when we come before God in our singing, in our praying, in our worship, in our highest devotions, we are to come cognizant of the fact that there is lack in us, there is shortcoming in us.  Even our finest devotions are stained with the depravity of our lives and the weaknesses of our souls.  We are not able.  We are not worthy.  We are not right.

And when a man comes before God, and he kneels in confession of his sin, and his daily life is before God, and appeal for help for weaknesses and for forgiveness for wrongs, when a man does that, there is a marvelous thing that happens to him.  There is a heavenly thing that God does for him.

In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Third Gospel, you have that wonderfully portrayed.  “And the Pharisee stood and he prayed with himself, and he prayed with himself thus, thus did he pray with himself, O God, God, I thank Thee,” and then he commends himself to God, “Look at me, Lord. Look at what I did yesterday and what I did the day before.  And look at the habits of my life, and I thank Thee, Lord, that I am not like other men, vile, and iniquitous, and villainous.  I thank Thee” [Luke 18:11-12].  He’s not confessing.  He’s not praying.  He’s just commending to God his own righteousness.

Then the Lord spoke of the other one.  There’s a publican.  And by his stance, and by his standing, and by his gestures, and by his words, and by his beating on his breast, and by everything he does, he confesses that he’s a sinner, and finally concludes his prayer with, “O God, O God, be hilastērion, be mercy-seated toward me, O God, be merciful to me, the sinner” [Luke 18:13], as though he were the only one in the world.  And now look what Jesus says: “I tell you,” says the Lord, “that this man went down to his house justified” [Luke 18:14].   Who justified the Pharisee who commended himself to God? “I thank Thee, Lord, I am not like other men, vile and iniquitous, and full of evil, and shortcoming, and weakness” [Luke 18:11].  Who went down to his house justified?  The man that stood on the ground of honesty and truth, “O God, I am a sinner, born in sin, and the manifestation of it in my life every day.  But I ask for forgiveness and that God shall be hilastērion  toward me” [Luke 18:13].

What does that word “justified” mean?  That he was righteous? Actually, no!  But that God called him righteous! God treated him as being righteous.  God accepted him as being righteous [Luke 18:14].  It is the word of the law.  God approved him and declared him as being righteous.  That’s what God does for any self-confessed sinner.  He looks upon us, how?

And that’s the last point of my sermon.  That’s the last point of my text.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” [1 John 1:9], “for the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin” [1 John 1:7].  You know, that’s an unusual thing; to forgive us.  Forgiveness is the word of the counting house; it’s a word of the bank.  Forgiveness is a word of the courts and of the prison system.  Forgiveness; you forgive a debtor when he pays his debt, doesn’t owe you anything anymore.  And you forgive a prisoner when he pays his debt to society and he walks out of the penitentiary a free man; he’s been forgiven, he’s paid his debt.  That is the word, and that’s the symbol, and that’s the figure and the simile back of us and God.  We are debtors to God, and we can’t pay our debts.  And we have wronged God and sinned against God.  And we’re sold unto sin, and unto punishment, and unto death.

Why doesn’t God forgive us by fiat?  That’s the way He made the world. “Let there be light:  and there was light” [Genesis 1:3]. “Let the dry land appear,”  and it appeared [Genesis 1:9].  “Let there be a firmament to divide the waters above from the waters below,”  and there was a firmament [Genesis 1:6-7].  “And let the earth bring forth” and it brought forth [Genesis 1:11].  “And let there be lights in the firmament to govern by day and by night” [Genesis 1:14-18], and it’s done just like that.  Why didn’t God forgive us by fiat, just by the word, just by saying it?  Well, why doesn’t the bank forgive a debtor just by fiat? Why does he ask him to pay his debt to the bank? And why doesn’t the judge, as he sentences the criminal, why doesn’t he, why doesn’t he forgive him by fiat? Why doesn’t he just say “Let’s forget it all, and you can go on your way?”  Why doesn’t God forgive by fiat, just by word?

Why doesn’t God forgive by mechanics? By baptism, which is something the minister can do for you?  Or by sacraments and all kinds of Eucharistic feasts that the priests can do for you?  Or by own good works, why can’t we forgive ourselves—overcome the evil by doing good works, something we can do for ourselves.  Why isn’t it that way?  Or why doesn’t God forgive us by subjective illuminations, by our feelings, and experiences, and by our communications, and all of those things that a man sometimes speaks of when he’s illuminated with inward light?

Somehow God can do these other things by fiat.  He can make a world just like that, and send a solar system out into space just like that [Genesis 1:3-25].  And God can do all the mechanical laws of the universe just by that [Genesis 1:1; Job 26:7].  But God can’t forgive us, somehow in His own nature, God cannot forgive sin, nor can He receive us, except in blood, and in pain, and in agony, and in tears, and that’s what He says when he refers to “the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all our sins” [1 John 1:7].  If it could have been done by fiat, God would have done it.  And if it could have been done by mechanical means, God would have done it.

But to wipe away, to wash away the stain in our souls took atonement [Leviticus 17:11; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22].  It took blood.  It took suffering.  For where there is sin there is death.  In the character of God those two are woven together.  And when we are forgiven, we are forgiven, the penalty having been paid, the debt having been paid [Colossians 2:13-14; Ephesians 4:32; 1 John 2:12].  As the sinner in Israel brought his sacrificial animal by the side of the altar, confessed over its head the sins of the supplicant and the confessor, and the animal was slain [Leviticus 4:27-31].  That was God’s picture book that there was death demanded for sin, and this was a substitute; and the blood poured out to cover over the crimson of the sin and the stain of the sinner.

And that’s why we have the gospel of the message of the Son of God.  “For I delivered unto you first of all,” said Paul, “how that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3].  That’s the first thing: not the throne but the cross [Matthew 27:32-50].  Not the reigning King, but the bleeding Savior [Hebrews 9:12-14, 22].  Not the Lord in His glory, but the Redeemer in His shame [Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 1:18-19].

And we’re invited to come to the Lord Jesus on that kind of a basis.  “O God, here I am, and here I come.  And I am coming to receive from Thy blessed hands this atoning gift [Romans 5:11], this cross that washes sins away [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], this love, and tears, and mercy [Titus 3:5], and grace [Ephesians 2:8-9], that writes our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 13:8, 17:8, 20:12-15, 21:27].  And here I come, and here I am.”

No need to pay the debt twice; if He paid it [Galatians 3:13; Revelation 5:9], you don’t need to pay it.  No need to die twice; if He died for us, you don’t need to die.  No need to be punished twice; if He was punished [Isaiah 53:5], you don’t need to be punished.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [1 John 1:9], for the blood of Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all unrighteousness” [1 John 1:9].

And while we sing this hymn of invitation, somebody this morning, to receive the free gift of the love and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 1:7, 2:8], would you come?  The throng in this balcony, coming down the stairway, at the front and the back, would you come?  On this lower floor, somebody this morning, taking Jesus as Savior [Romans 10:9-10], would you come?   Is there a family this morning to put his life with us in the fellowship of the church, would you come?  As the Spirit of God shall lead in the way and shall say the word, would you make it now?  On the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and sing, make it now.  Come, while we sing.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell

1 John 1:6-10


I.          The harsh reality of sin

A.  We are told a person
should emphasize the positive, not the negative

1.  Garden

2.  Parable
of man with evil spirit(Matthew 12:43-45)

B.  The
sense of sin and shortcoming that brings us to God

1.  It
is because we are lost that we need to be found(Mark
2:17, Matthew 9:12-13, Luke 19:10)

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

C.  World
of song and literature often reflects tragedy of sin

1.  Madame Butterfly

2.  Henrik Ibsen’s The
, and A Doll’s House

D.  The
sense of guilt and sin brings the hope of amelioration

II.         Denial of sin is self-deception(1 John 1:8, 10, Jeremiah 17:9)

A.  Only
basis God can deal with us is on the basis of honesty and truth(1 Samuel 16:7, Hebrews 4:13)

B.  No
man can honestly say he is without sin(1 John
1:6, 8, 10, Jeremiah 17:9)

1.  Some
look upon sin as a technical term

2.  Some
think good works more than balance any defect

3.  Some
think their fellowship with God is based upon their fine moral character

III.        Coming before God in honesty

A.  Lay
our case before God exactly as it stands

“Sin” singular – in its essence, moral nature depraved (1 John 1:8)

“Sins” plural in its development, manifestation in our lives(1 John 1:9)

If we come before God truthfully, God receives us in sovereign grace

1.  The
Pharisee and the publican(Luke 18:10-14)

IV.       The cleansing, forgiveness of God

A.  The
God-kind of righteousness

B.  Why
not God forgive us by fiat? (Genesis 1:3-19)

C.  Why
not God forgive mechanically?

Why not God forgive us by subjective enlightenment?

E.  If
sin is to be forgiven, a full penalty must be paid (Ezekiel
18:20, Romans 6:23, Genesis 3:21, 1 Corinthians 15:3, Revelation 13:8, 1 John 1:7)