To walk in sin and claim fellowship with God is a lie by which some brethren deceive themselves.

Several years ago considerable controversy arose over the subject of "continual cleansing." Some brethren were promoting the view that the blood of Christ 'automatically' pardons the sins committed by a child of God who is 'generally' living an obedient life. This, we were told, especially applied to sins of ignorance, weakness, or 'inadvertence.' Numerous articles were written -- both by those espousing this view and those who opposed it. Special meetings were held and debates were conducted. Lines were drawn and relationships severed as a result of the issue. At the core of the controversy was this text: 1 Jno. 1:5-10:

"This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no dark- ness at all. 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 His Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive oursel- ves, 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 Him a liar, and His word is not in us."

One of the key words here is "walk" (vss. 6,7). It denotes one's normal manner of life. One's walk is either "in the light" or "in the darkness" -- these being the only two alternatives. It should not be understood that the one who "walks in the light" never makes a misstep into sin. In fact, such thinking would be nothing more than self-deception (v. 8) and a denial of the word (v. 10). Neither should it be thought that the one who "walks in darkness" never does any deed of kindness or goodwill. The text is simply describing two types of people: those whose desire and effort is to serve God, and those who have no such aim.

God makes no provision for forgiveness to those who "walk in darkness." To live that way, and yet claim fellowship with God, is only a lie (vs. 6). Unfortunately, there are many in the world telling that lie constantly.

On the other hand, for those who are striving to live faithfully for the Lord (thus their general "walk" is "in the light"), there is His remarkable offer to "cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (vs. 9). In other words, there is forgiveness for those missteps into sin. On the basis of this cleansing from sin, we can enjoy true fellowship with Him and other Christians (vs. 7).

But, is this an 'automatic cleansing? Is it unconditional -- happening without any action on the part of the one that is thus cleansed? Is it limited to sins of ignorance, weakness, or 'inadvertence? Would willful or purposeful sins fall into another category? Is a general acknowledgement of our sinfulness enough?

The answer to all these questions is no! The cleansing and forgiveness promised in this text is not automatic -- verse nine tells us that it is conditional ("if we confess sins"). It also states that the cleansing is available for any sin ("all unrighteousness") --not just sins of ignorance, weakness, or 'inadvertence.' Furthermore, some have argued that the passage only requires a sincere, humble, penitent life in order to have the cleansing. But notice that John does not say that we should "confess that we sin" or "confess our sinfulness." Rather, he tells us we must "confess our sins."

Objections are certain to arise: What about a Christian who sins, but dies before he has time to repent and confess? What about a person who is sincerely trying to obey God, but has not come to a sufficient understanding of certain specific sins? What about an individual who sins but is completely unaware tht he has do so? What about the "babe in Christ" that has not yet developed the spiritual strength to resist temptation and sin?

We must answer these and all such hypothetical quesitons in the same way that we answer the 'faith only' advocate who asks us about the man who dies on the way to the river to be baptized. All that we know and all that we can teach -- because it is all that God has revealed -- is that one must be "baptized for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Beyond that, we simply must leave the matter in the hands of a just God. To say more would be presumptuous (1 Pet. 4:11). The same goes for sins of ignorance, weakness, and 'inadvertence.' We have NO revelation that would allow us to offer consolation for the Christian -- regardless of his general goodness or sincerity -- that sins but fails to meet the necessary terms of pardon. In the absence of such revelation, we must be "silent where the Bible is silent."

1 Jno. 1:5-10 is a beautiful text that supplies special comfort to the child of God. Unfortunately, it has also served as a battleground because some have tried to force the passage to say more than it actually does.

By Greg Gwin in Biblical Insights, Vol. 4, No. 7, July 2004.

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