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If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
“Faithful and merciful” I can understand, but “faithful and just?” Why does John reassure his readers with God’s justice? Wouldn’t God’s mercy be more appropriate?
Let’s think about this verse in context. John has been giving the gospel in a nutshell. The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. We can’t claim to be without sin, but if we confess our sins, then he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins. God’s plan for dealing with sin was to give his own son as an atoning sacrifice. By the blood of Jesus the penalty of sin has been paid and God’s wrath against sin has been turned aside. His justice is satisfied by the blood of his son.
Sin continues to be a problem, however. The sinful nature remains in us, and we continue to sin even after placing our trust in him. But if we acknowledge our sin, we can count on God—he is faithful—to do what is right. And what is right? It is right for God to forgive our sin since Jesus has already paid the penalty for it. If God were to hold our sin against us or exact some further penalty, it would be tantamount to saying that Jesus’ blood was not a sufficient sacrifice. God is just; he will not count against us even the sins we commit after having come to a knowledge of the truth. We must, however, confess them as sins and not excuse them or pretend that they’re not really so bad.
There are two errors we must also avoid. The first is thinking that God’s forgiveness means we need not bear the immediate consequences of sin. The second is adding sin to sin with presumption.
God’s forgiveness saves us from the ultimate consequence of sin: death. But this does not mean that we will not bear the immediate consequences. Someone caught committing a crime is still answerable to the criminal justice system. God’s forgiveness does not keep him or her from facing the penalty prescribed by law for committing the crime. God may forgive murder, but the state does not. Likewise, someone guilty of unkindness toward a brother must still bear the cost to the relationship with that brother.
Since we have this guarantee of forgiveness, someone may be tempted to say, “I will sin and then confess and be forgiven.” Thus they would add the sin of presumption to their other sins. The transformed heart does not desire to sin. It’s desire is to please God above all else, so if you find yourself desiring to sin with an expectation of being forgiven, you must ask yourself whether your heart has been transformed.