WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LXVI) 03/08/21

The “confession,” which characterizes a truly repentant sinner, is not to be understood by mere acknowledgment, says Simeon. It is an acceptance accompanied by repentance and humble faith in the Lord Jesus. It is important to remember the high-priest made such a confession on the Day of Atonement when he laid his hands on the scapegoat and confessed over him all the sins of the children of Israel. The high-priest said: “Please O Lord, they have done wrong they have transgressed they have sinned before You — Your nation the House of Israel. Please, O Lord, forgive them for their doing wrong, for their transgressions and their sins, as is written in Torah of Moses, Your servant: “For on this day He will effect atonement for you to purify you before the Lord.”[1] [2] The scapegoat will then carry the sins of the people away before the eyes of God. Simeon goes on to say that this confession also implies forsaking the sins that were confessed. As it is said, “He that covers his sins will not succeed; but whosoever confesses and forsakes them will receive mercy.”[3] [4]

Adam Clarke (1774-1849) gives us an important lesson on confessing our sin to receive cleansing from all wrongdoing. He says that corruption exists in the soul in two modes or forms: First, in guilt, which requires forgiveness or pardon. Then second, in pollution, which requires cleansing. Guilt, to be forgiven, must be confessed; and pollution, to be cleansed, must also be confessed.

So, to find mercy, says Clarke, a person must know and feel themselves to be a sinner, that they may fervently come to God for pardon. In order to get a clean heart, a person must know and feel its depravity, acknowledge and confess it before God to be wholly sanctified. Few are pardoned because they do not feel and confess their sins, and few are purified or cleansed from all wrong because they do not feel and confess their sinful infection and the plague of their hearts.

As the blood of Jesus, the Anointed One continues Clarke, the value of His passion and death, applied by faith, purges the conscience from all dead works, so the same cleanses the heart from all unrighteousness. All unrighteousness is lawbreaking so that they who are sanctified from all unrighteousness are cleansed from all sin. Anyone who evades this and insists on continuing to live with a corrupt heart is not only ungrateful but evil and even blasphemous, says Clarke. Such a person who pretends there is no sin in them attempts to make God out to be a liar. God has declared just the opposite throughout His revelation. The point is this; they are claiming that the blood of the Anointed One either cannot or will not cleanse us from all sin in this life. It is evident, the Word of God is not in them.[5] 

German theologian Richard Rothe (1799-1867) says that having thus demanded that Christians acknowledge their sins, John now adds that there is no connection between their case and the torture of despair belonging sinners with this admission. The individual’s sins that still bother them do not hinder their fellowship with God, so long as they don’t deny them but confess and admit they have them. As a Christian, the believer knows what sin is but simultaneously realizes they were redeemed from it; for this very reason, they can quickly look into their sinning problem. So long as we know our sin is not yet forgiven, we shrink back from learning about it to the core cause. Instead, we attempt to minimize it.

This curiosity ceases, says Rothe, as soon as we know our sin is forgiven; yes, it is precisely with this knowledge that we learn to understand divine grace in all its greatness. The Christian experiences deliverance from all bias and prejudice in judging their sin. For this reason and in the interest of thorough repentance, so much depends upon our having our sins forgiven. That comes by believing in the complete, full, unreserved forgiveness of our sins, and that too from pure grace, for only then can we appropriate forgiveness with confidence. It is the assurance of forgiveness that first makes us keenly aware of our sins. To those that have never been born again, this sounds like a contradiction. But the believer knows it from experience, but just knowing about it does not mean they’ve confessed it.[6] It is crucial to understand that if we confess our sin, He is faithful and ready to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all wrongdoing.

James Morgan (1799-1873), an Irish Presbyterian minister, talks about those who have a habitual tendency to sin and how they may claim that they have no sin. This describes the condition of the person who does not feel they are guilty of any present sinfulness. It does so by justifying their past conduct as being highly moral. They need to be convinced of their sinfulness since there is no excuse for their past transgressions. It is often the case for those who feel that they have pleased the Church and, therefore, have pleased God. But a person must have the beginning of the Divine life to maintain it. The one consists of the conviction which brings the sinner to the blood of the Anointed One for salvation—the other consists of the habit of repentance which must accompany them as long as they live. 

Let me encourage you to cultivate this habit, says Morgan. Many important goals are met by it. It will keep us mindful of what we once were and how much we are debtors to Divine grace. It will stimulate us to devote ourselves more unreservedly to God in the future. It will promote watchfulness against temptation. It will strengthen faith. Calling to mind how graciously God dealt with us on other days, we are encouraged to trust Him to the end. It will kindle repentance. Like Ephraim of old, it will lead us to say, “What have I to do anymore with idols?”[7] It will promote holiness. It will urge perseverance.[8]

Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885), professor of Ancient Languages in Wesleyan University in New York, points out that there is a distinction between forgiveness and cleansing that we must always keep in mind. Forgiveness removes guilt and punishment for past sins; sanctification inspires future sinlessness. One looks back, and the other looks forward. One says, “Your sins are forgiven;[9] the other states, “Go, sin no more.”[10] A father may forgive a disobedient son, but the son remains as corrupt as ever. But when our heavenly Father pardons us, He breathes into our hearts a spirit of obedience, which, if we obey, we never need to incur His displeasure.[11]

William Edward Jelf (1811-1875) says that God’s promise, which He pledged to perform, is twofold – forgiveness of sins and sanctification. And as the Gospel is, of course, coexistent with this promise, these two make up the immediate benefits of the Anointed One’s Passion[12] for the true believer. It is important, in the same way as some persons, to confine the benefit of the Passion to forgiveness of sins, and hold that God’s promise is fully realized when this is granted.

John describes the stain of actual sin by using the Greek noun hamartia (sin = “to miss the mark”). This is not merely cleansing sin, says Jelf, but rather from the corruption of indwelling sin. This is made more apparent by observing the use of the Greek noun adikia (unrighteousness = “immoral”) instead. It is not outward sinning that affects our souls, but inward sin, embodying the principle of self-love, which mostly shows itself in injuring or despising others. Adikia also implies neglecting that brotherly love John speaks of so strongly as being the Christian life’s goal. This purification from original sin begun in this life but will not be completed until the next, as seen in the next verse.[13]

John Stock (1817-1884) gives us an excellent illustration from a sinner’s point of view who is under conviction. As King Solomon said, if a person tries to cover up their sin, they will not be successful, but the person who confesses their sin will find mercy.[14] It undoubtedly came from Solomon’s father, King David, who experienced this truth.[15] David admitted he was unwilling to confess his faults or his resentment with King Saul’s constant hounding. Instead, like Adam, he put the blame on others. Yet, when he remained silent about his wrongdoings, he only became weaker and more miserable. Every day it made life harder for him. He became like a desert in the hot summetime.

But then, says David, he decided to confess his sins to the Lord. He stopped hiding his guilt and confessed all his sins to God. And God forgave him of them all. So, says Stock, his sour bondage was turned into sweet liberty. Likewise, the infinite goodness and merciful blessing that comes to the one who confesses is given to them through the Anointed One. Acknowledgment of sin is one of our most humbling experiences, but one that is indispensable to our salvation. Even though these confessions were not made public, the community benefitted because of the joy and peace it brings to the one who is forgiven.[16]

[1] Leviticus 16:30

[2] Jewish Mishnah: Moed, Yoma, Ch. 6:2

[3] Proverbs 28:13

[4] Simeon, Charles: Horæ Homileticæ, op. cit., pp. 366-369

[5] Clarke, Adam: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 367

[6] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., April 1890, p. 160

[7] Hosea 14:8

[8] Morgan, James: Biblical Illustrator, First Epistle of John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] Matthew 9:5; Luke 7:48

[10] John 8:11

[11] Whedon, Daniel D. Commentary on NT, op. cit., p. 257

[12] The Passion of Christ refers to the week of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It’s remembering the events of the week beginning with Palm Sunday when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem and culminating in His suffering.

[13] Jelf, William E, A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, London: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1877, p. 12

[14] Proverbs 28:18

[16] Stock, John: Exposition of First John, op. cit., pp. 51-52

[15] Psalm 32:8-5


About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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