Pastor Farley took a very slow and deliberate approach to laying out his case that the Bible really doesn’t “tell Church Age Believers who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit that confessing their sins results in the filling of the Holy Spirit.”
I am not going to go as in-depth as he did, but should you wish to investigate his development of this subject, you can start here. (Often just the notes that accompany the video message give a lot of insight, though of course his actual verbal presentation will provide a great deal more)
In considering where to start, I have to admit that I John is perhaps not the best section to use, since it’s quirky and its meaning is not inherently obvious. It is, however, where the verse is that everyone bases this “confess your sins” doctrine on, and since I think there are at least a few things that can be gleaned from a surface examination I’m going to go ahead and begin there.
Right off, there’s the simple fact that no obvious connection is made between confession of sins and the filling of the Spirit in this book.
That is, 1 John 1:9 only says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
It doesn’t say, “…and then we will be filled with the Spirit.” In fact, it doesn’t say anything about “the filling of the Spirit” anywhere in the book.
Questions arise, then, as to
1. What exactly is meant by “confess our sins”?
2. Who is John addressing when he uses this phrase?
3. Why does he change pronouns from a generic and inclusive “we” in chapter 1 to the more specific “my little children” and “I” in Chapter 2?
4. Who was the letter generally addressed to, and for what purpose?
I’ll start with question #4, since that’s the easiest: The letter was addressed to the church at Ephesus, where the Apostle John had served as pastor for a time, and which was dealing with an influx of false teachers who were claiming to be Christians but were not. John states his purpose in chapter 5 vs 13:
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”
That is, he’s writing so the Christians can know that they are indeed saved and be able to distinguish those who are only pretending to be Christian in their attempt to peddle their false teaching.
This sheds some light on why John shifted from the generic “we” he opened his letter with to directly addressing the believers in his congregation with “My little children” in Chapter 2. He used the generic “we” to address everyone in the congregation, not all of whom were “my little children.”
Instead of pointing these unbelievers out specifically in Chapter 1, John uses the generic/inclusive/authorial “we” for that portion, leaving it to the individual hearer to determine which category he or she belongs in. So in answer to question #2 (who is John addressing when he uses the word “confess”?) it’s both believers and unbelievers.
In addition, 1 John 1:9 is part of a series of If/then propositions, leaving it to the hearers to determine which camp they are in: saved or unsaved.
Thus we can consider the verses immediately preceding vs 9 in chapter 1 with an eye to whether they are referring to believers or unbelievers:
Vs 7 “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (clearly believers, since being in the light in John’s writings always refers to salvation — more on this later)
vs 8 if we say we have no sin, (ie, if we say we aren’t sinners/don’t sin) we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us (not believers)
vs 9 if we confess our sins (admit that we’re sinners and believe in the Savior) He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (another way of saying cleanses us from all sin — ie, believers)
Thus the issue in 1 John 1:9 is salvation itself, not what do we do about post-salvation sinning.
And that brings me finally to Question #1 — What exactly is meant by “confess” in vs 9? Many of us have been taught that the Greek word here is homologeo, which means “to speak the same thing, to name, to cite…” from which the rebound notion of privately naming or citing your sins to God arose
But I’ve learned it has some other meanings as well, which I’ll address in my next post…