The Confession of Sin
April 1st, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
1 John 1:8-10
THE CONFESSION OF SIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 1:8-10
4-1-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing with us in the First Baptist Church the message of the morning entitled The Confession of Sin. We are preaching through the epistle of John, number one, the First Epistle of John. And this is an exposition of verses 8, 9, and 10. And verses 7 [chapter 1] through chapter 2 and [verse] 2, the context read like this:
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 1:7-10]
My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not. But if any man do sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
And He is the hilasmos – the mercy seat, the expatiation, the propitiation – for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
[1 John 2:1-2]
You would think from the passage that the Christian faith and the message of Christ and the death and blood of our Lord had to do with sin. And if you gained that from the passage, you know exactly what the Christian faith is about and what the death of our Lord means; it has to do with sin.
Nor is there any fact or reality in life, in time, in human history than the harsh, dark reality of human transgression. I do not have to read the Bible to learn that. When I look at the world of song and literature, even though written by men who are not necessarily Christian or not necessarily godly, yet their plays and their songs are so often of the dark, deep tragedy of sin.
Have you seen the opera, Madame Butterfly? You cannot, looking at that opera, but sense the illimitable, immeasurable depths of wrong in an American naval officer. Have you seen Henrik Ibsen’s play, entitled Ghosts? It climaxes as the son of a dear mother collapses in insanity because of an inherited disease that cursed the boy in the transgressions and wickedness of his father. Have you read Tolstoy’s War and Peace? One of the great novels of all time; it is the story of the infinite havoc wrought by the merciless and cruel ambition of one man, Napoleon Bonaparte, in his violation and invasion of Russia.
But aside from what we read in the testimony of human experience, we are made to understand in the revelation of the Word of God that the foundational background against which the whole message of redemption is written and placed and portrayed is the fact of our depraved, fallen human nature. If there is no need for a Savior, Christ cannot be to us a Savior. It is because we are lost that we need to be found, because we are sick that we need to be well. Our Lord said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" [Matthew 9:13]. Our Lord said, "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick" [Matthew 9:12]. Our Lord said, "I am come to seek and to save that which was lost" [Luke 19:10]. It is because we are sick, it is because we are dying, it is because we are lost that we need God.
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress begins with a man that I would suppose was a fine citizen in a fine little city. But as the pilgrim reads the Bible, he becomes conscious of the fact that there is a great burden on his back, that he is clothed in rags, and that he lives in a city, the name of which is the City of Destruction. And it is the confession, the acknowledgement, the cognizance of that depraved state that has in it any hope of amelioration or salvation on our part. As long as a man denies that he is lost, as long as a man is not sensitive that he is a moral leper and a lost sinner, then there is no message of hope for him.
In the days of my youth, I used to preach in the city jail. In the times and times that I preached there, not once did I ever have one of those inmates say to me, "It’s because of something I’ve done wrong that I’m here." All of them professed and avowed to me their innocence. They were the fall guy, or they were somebody who was duped into doing something that wasn’t their fault; but in any event, they were never before the law guilty, never. And any man who runs a correctional institution will say to you, "There is no hope for any prisoner here until first he confesses his sin, he admits his guilt and wrong."
I remember, also as a young man, preaching out in the country in Kentucky. I was the guest in a home where I was holding a revival meeting. And the family did something that I thought was gracious. They had the hired men on that beautiful Kentucky estate, they had the hired men to eat dinner with us, and I liked that. And right across from me sat a big, burly, hired man – field hand, uneducated, very, very unlettered – I talked to him, and in the conversation I asked him if he was a Christian. And looking straight and honestly back across the table to me, he replied, "Sir, I ain’t no Christian. I’m a lost sinner." And I answered back to him, "Sir, you’re nigh the kingdom of God." And in the days of that meeting, that big field hand was wondrously saved.
So many times we are guilty of self-deception. For the text says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us" [1 John 1:10]. "If we say," that is, it is just something that we say; it has no basis in reality or in actual fact. "If we say," it is just something a man could say. A man had might as well say there is no salt in the sea as to be thus foolish to say, "I am not a sinner." As salt permeates and pervades every drop of water in the vast, illimitable oceans, salt as sin and human depravity pervade, enter into every faculty, and emotion, and thought, and deed of our lives. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" [1 John 1:8].
Now there are those who, being ashamed to admit that they would say such a thing as that, "I have never sinned," yet they will look upon it like this; they will look upon sin as a technical term. It is something just over and beyond what they actually are, for actually they are fine and noble, and for the most part very pure. It’s just a technicality; just a drag, maybe, from our evolutionary ancestry. All right, there are those who look upon their sin and their sins as being in this balance, but the good of their lives so far outweighs the dereliction of their lives that it is a peccadillo, it is not really to be considered.
Or there are those who think that their fellowship with God is based not upon confession, or redemption, or deliverance, but their fellowship with God is based upon their fine, moral, upstanding character; and they walk with God as an equal. "This is God, and this is I, and I am worthy – in my own life, my demeanor, my thoughts – I am worthy to fellowship and to walk with God, unredeemed, unregenerated, and unsaved." The Scriptures say expressly, when we say that about the sin of our lives, we deceive ourselves. As Jeremiah would avow, "The heart of all things is deceptive and desperately wicked" [Jeremiah 17:9].
What God invites us to do is to be honest and truthful with ourselves and before Him. "If we confess our sins," in the verse 8, "If we say that we have no sin" singular; "If we confess our sins," plural, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins," plural, "and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" [1 John 1:9-10]. That is, "sin singular," that is the depravity, the fallenness of our human nature; sin. When we come before God or when we reach the age of accountability as a child, it is not so much that we are this, this, and this, and done that, that, or the other; it is that we have a sense of lostness, we have a sense of being sinful. That is our nature. Then the fruit of that root nature is "sins," a proliferation of sins in our lives. And as we grow older, we come to be sensitive to that more and more before God.
Now, if we confess our "sins," the fruit of the root of our depraved nature in which we are born and cannot escape, if we confess that and bring it before God, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" [1 John 1:9]. Here is a marvelous thing, a miraculous thing, a heavenly thing. If the man will stand before God and confess his shortcoming, and dereliction, and iniquity, and transgression, "I am a lost sinner," God does something miraculous, marvelous, amazing!
I could not illustrate that or speak of it more poignantly than in the life of our Lord, in a story that He told. He said there were two men who went out to pray. They appeared before God in the Lord’s house. And one of them was a Pharisee, and the other was a publican, a despised sinner among the people in the nation in which he lived. So the Pharisee appeared before God, "and he began his prayer with himself." Isn’t that a,you know, the Lord can say such little incisive things, "and he prayed thus with himself." God never heard him, but "he prayed thus with himself, ‘O Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like other men, these men who are sinners; I thank Thee, Lord, I am not like other men.’" And then he happened to notice, while he was praying with himself, that publican. And he said, "And Lord, I thank Thee that I am not like that publican." Now, the publican was there before the Lord and in the Lord’s house also to pray. And Jesus says the publican would not so much as lift up his face to heaven, but he bowed his head, and he beat upon his breast. And as he beat upon his breast, he cried, saying, "Lord, be merciful to me." The translation in our King James Version is, "a sinner." The Greek of that is, "Lord be merciful to me, the sinner," as though he were the only one in the world. "Lord, be merciful to me, the lost sinner." And the Lord said, "Verily, verily – truly, truly – I say unto you, that publican went down to his house justified" [Luke 18:9-14]. That is, God declared him righteous – a God-kind of righteousness, an imputed righteousness – justification [Romans 4:25]; God’s righteousness.
It’s a miracle what happens when a man bows in the presence of God and confesses himself to be a lost sinner. And this is a part of the passage, this God-kind of righteousness. It is a righteousness that is imputed to us. It is set to our account like somebody else did it for us, as though you were in debt, somebody else paid it, sent to your account a glorious, saving sum. So this imputed righteousness, this God-kind of righteousness, is given to us through "the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, that cleanseth us from all sin" [1 John 1:7].
Is not that a remarkable thing? Why couldn’t God forgive sin in the same way that He does all of His other work? The marvel of God’s work is mostly by fiat, He just says it and it’s done. Why doesn’t God forgive sin by fiat? Why through the redemptive blood, and agony, and suffering through His Son, Jesus our Lord? [1 John 1:7]. Why not forgive sin by fiat? He says, "Let there be light," and there is light [Genesis 1:3]. He says, "Let there be a firmament," and there is a firmament [Genesis 1:6-7]. He says, "Let there be the dry land," and here’s the earth. He says, "Let the earth bring forth herbs and grasses," and there it grows [Genesis 1:9-11]. And He says, "Let there be luminaries," lights, "in the heavens," and there they are [Genesis 1:14-18]. Why doesn’t He say by fiat, "Your sins are all forgiven?" No blood, no suffering, no cross, no cries, no tears, no death. Why doesn’t God forgive sin by fiat?
Or if that doesn’t please the Lord, why doesn’t God forgive sin mechanically? Let’s say, why doesn’t God forgive sin by washing, by baptism? A minister could wash your sins away, why not that? Or why not by sacraments? The priest could give us the bread and the wine, and we could find freedom from iniquity in the observance of the sacraments. Why not? Or why not we find forgiveness of sins in the mechanical means of penance? "I have sinned this much, therefore I’ll be penitent in this much to offset my sins," why not by penance? Why not God forgive sin mechanically; something that we can do? Or why not God forgive sin by subjective illumination; our emotions, or by our feelings, or by these things that we might experience or know within ourselves? Why doesn’t God forgive our sins by subjective means; things that we might be able to feel or work out in our own selves? Why is it that God does it as He does?
Well, I’m sure you have thought that when the pastor comes to answer that question, "He’ll have a sure word for us." You will be surprised when I say to you, my sure word is, "I don’t know." I don’t understand; I just know, in the revelation in God’s Book, that sin brings death. And that if sin is to be forgiven, a full penalty must be paid, and it is God’s character that welded those chains together. "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:20], and "The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23], and it is something in God that puts those two together. And the only that way that a man can be saved from sin and death is in the payment of the full penalty. Every transgression must be paid for; sin demands death.
And that’s why the glorious redemptive story in the Bible that saves our souls. It began in Eden when God took innocent animals, slew them, and the earth drank up its blood. And He took the skins of those sacrificed animals, slain by the hand of God Himself, to cover the nakedness of the man and his wife [Genesis 3:21]. Why not fig leaves? God says no. No, it is by blood. And that’s why that amazing picture book in the Bible: the tabernacle, and the altar, and the sacrifice, and the whole ritual [Hebrews 9:6-12]. God is teaching us heaven’s nomenclature by picture, as with little children, He is teaching us how to understand. By looking at the picture I know what an altar is, I know what a sacrifice is, I know what confession of sin is; I know what hilasmos is – mercy seat, propitiation – the hilasterion. I know all those things from the picture book.
And when the suppliant, when the repentant sinner brings to the priest of God, say, a lamb, or a sheep, or a bullock, or a goat and the sacrificial animal is tied to the horns of the altar, and the suppliant – the sinner – puts his hands over the head of the victim and confesses there his sin, then the animal is slain; blood is poured out [Leviticus 4:27-31]. It is God’s picture book that I am to understand that when I sin, it is only in atoning blood that I find forgiveness. And thus it was that the apostle Paul will say, "My brethren, I declare unto you the gospel." What is it? "I make known unto you the gospel how that" [1 Corinthians 15:1], first of all, "Christ died for our sins according to the," picture book, according to the revelation, according to the nomenclature, according to the revealed heart of God, He, "died for our sins according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3]. First, not the throne but the cross; first, not the reigning King but the bleeding Savior; first, not the Lion of the tribe of Judah but the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the earth [Revelation 13:8]; "It is the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, that cleanseth us from all sin" [1 John 1:7].
Then, his wonderful word, "If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" [1 John 1:10], from all our transgressions; all of them, all of them. That would be sins of both kinds here, sin and sins. That is: first, in Christ we are saved from depravity, the old Adamic nature. David cried, in the fifty-first Psalm, "I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" [Psalm 51:3]. He didn’t mean by that, that the act by which he was begotten was sinful. What he says is that the black drop of sin "accompanied the very shaping of my body from the beginning." Human depravity, original sin; in Christ, the Adamic sin is taken away. As Paul triumphantly said it, "As in Adam all die," all of us, "even so in Christ are all" of us "made alive" [1 Corinthians 15:22]. "Cleanseth us from all sin," and "cleanseth us from all sins" [1 John 1:7], everything in life that we do wrong, the blood of Christ is able to wash us and make us clean.
You know, when you read history sometimes some of the things are so disappointing. Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine was saved; became a Christian. His mother, Helena was a wonderful Christian, and I think it was through her influence: she was a Britisher. She was married to a Roman officer who was in the occupational force of the British Isles, and he fell in love with that British girl and married her. And she was a great Christian. The father of Constantine married that British girl, and Constantine grew up under the surveillance, and love, and prayers of a sweet Christian mother. But when Constantine was converted at about 300 AD, when Constantine was converted, he did not follow the Lord in baptism as you witness this morning. He waited until the hour of his death in order to be baptized. "For," said Constantine, "I want to be sure that when I enter heaven, when I appear before God, that all my sins are washed away." And he was not baptized until the hour of his death.
Is that according to the Word of God? "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to," katharizÃ³ – catharsis, cathartic, cleansing, "and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" [1 John 1:9]. That is, when the man accepts Christ, he is as fully justified that minute, for all of the deeds of the past, for all of the deeds of the present, and for all the deeds of the future [Romans 4:25]. Everything; what the man has done, will do, all of it is paid for, atoned for, washed away in the blood of the Lamb. You can sing, and beautifully so:
Jesus paid it all.
All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.
["Jesus Paid It All"; Elvina M. Hall, 1865]
"Cleanses us from all unrighteousness" [1 John 1:9].
Immediately and now, while we’re on television; the invitation to look to Christ as Savior, to accept Him in all that He promised to be and to do, and here in this vast assembly, in the balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, to give your heart to Christ, to answer God’s call and to come into the fellowship of the church, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
CONFESSION OF SIN
I. The harsh reality of sin
A. Do not have to read
the Bible to learn that
of song and literature often reflect deep tragedy of sin
fact of depraved and fallen human nature is the foundation of our coming to God
is because we are lost that we need to be found(Matthew
9:12-13, Luke 19:10)
John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
Field hand – "I ain’tno Christian. I’m a lost sinnerâ€¦"
II. Denial of sin is self-deception(1 John 1:8, 10, Jeremiah 17:9)
look upon sin as a technical term
Some think good works more than balance any defect
Some think their fellowship with God is based upon their fine moral character
III. Coming before God in honesty
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
Pharisee and the publican(Luke 18:10-14)
IV. The cleansing, forgiveness of God
God-kind of righteousness
not God forgive us by fiat? (Genesis 1:3-19)
not God forgive mechanically?
Why not God forgive us by subjective enlightenment?
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
V. He cleanseth us from all sin – the
efficacy of the atonement(1 John 1:7)
sin(Psalm 51:5, 1 Corinthians 15:22)