2. There is the blessed assurance that God never fails to keep His promises.
I John 1:9 states - "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." You have probably heard this verse cited often to show that we need to confess our sins. That is an important point, but I wonder if perhaps our emphasis on confessing sin may sometimes have caused us to overlook the blessed assurance stated here. You see, the inspired apostle wanted us to know not only that sin needs to be confessed, but also that God is faithful and just to forgive us when we do confess our sins.
What does it mean when the Bible says that God is faithful? It means that God never fails to do what He says. He always follows through with what He tells us; He always keeps His promises. Titus 1:2 says that God cannot lie. Hebrews 6:18 teaches that it is impossible for God to lie. But, what does all of this have to do with confessing sins and God's forgiveness? John says that if we confess, God is "faithful and just" to forgive us and to cleanse us. This means that He never fails to forgive His people when they confess their sins. Remember that this assurance is for those who are baptized, penitent believers. This is not the plan of salvation for alien sinners; they need first to be born again (cf. John 3:3,5). But the blessed promise is that as Christians, if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. You don't need to have doubts about this; you can be absolutely certain that He will! Isn't that reassuring?
We should point out that people often misunderstand what the text means here about confessing sin. This verse isn't talking about confessing our sins to each other but to God. James 5:16 does address the subject of confessing our sins to one another. It seems wise for an individual to make his confession of a sin known to the same extent as to which the sin itself is known. In other words, private sins may be dealt with privately, but public sins should be dealt with publicly. This makes sense because if a brother or sister in Christ falls into sin of some sort and the church knows about it, then that individual should come before the church publicly and make them aware that the sinful behavior has been turned from.
But, here in I John we're talking about confessing sin to God. Now, when we confess sin to God, we aren't telling Him anything He doesn't already know. We're not just giving Him information about our sins. To confess sin to God is to acknowledge it before Him, to repent of it, and to recognize that we are in need of His merciful forgiveness. It should be noted that the Greek tense here indicates that this should be an ongoing action, not just a one-time deed. If we keep on confessing, then He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The point is not whether we can give God a detailed list of all the wrongs that we have committed. If a certain sin weighs on our conscience, we should be specific about it to God. But is it expected that we keep a list of every thought, word, or deed that is wrong so that we can confess them specifically? Certainly that is not the meaning. We may not even realize that we have committed certain transgressions. Some sins may be done in ignorance. The point to emphasize is that we always need to recognize and admit that we are in need of His merciful forgiveness. We need to have hearts that are continually seeking His cleansing by the open confession of our wrongs before His throne.
There is never a time when I don't need God's grace. There is never a time when we should fail to plead for mercy. As flesh and blood, we never get to a level where it becomes unnecessary to ask for forgiveness. I think King David is a good illustration of this. He is a good example of the humble and contrite spirit that we should have in regard to our sins. His prayer in Psalm 51 had specific sins in mind when he made the confessions, but it is still a good pattern for us today in several ways. Whether we are naming particular transgressions or simply acknowledging our ongoing need for mercy and pardon, we should have the kind of attitude that David had. Listen to the beginning of Psalm 51 - "Have mercy upon me, O God. According to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me."
So, the blessed assurance of I John 1:9 is that our heavenly Father is faithful; He never fails to keep His promise to forgive us when we acknowledge our sins before Him penitently. How wonderful His faithfulness is!