As a child I was hit by cars in two separate incidents, hopefully by two different cars, and I can say with confidence that should I be hit again one last time, I will not be confessing my sins on the way down. If anything I will be adding to them! So what then? Should I live in fear of dying with unconfessed sin? This is another doubt that nags at many Christians: “What if I die with sin in my life that I have not confessed and received forgiveness for?” There is little wonder that Christians can worry about this for there is a verse in the Bible which seems to make the point: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9 (NRSV). So what if we we should die without having one last chance to confess our sins, or what if we miss some?
To understand this verse, or any other for that matter, we will want to read it in its context. As you read the verse in its context, watch for what the focus is on in the verses immediately preceding and following our doubt-inducing verse:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (NRSV)
The verses before and after are really speaking about the identity of a Christian, and so it would be better to see verse nine as supporting that thought, for example “if we are the kind of person who confesses sin, we will be forgiven” rather than introducing some new formula for salvation, such as “only sins that have been confessed can be forgiven.” It makes sense then to see the verse in the middle not as pointing to the necessity of confessing each and every sin as a requirement for salvation, but of being a person who knows they are to be identified as a sinner. This also fits better within the context of the entire Bible.
Furthermore, our forgiveness is based not on our activity of confession, but on God’s activity of redemption as verse seven makes clear: “but 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” 1 John 1:7 (NRSV). Our assurance of salvation is not based on our ability to confess each and every sin before we die. To the glory of God, it is based on the desire and power of God to forgive the one who lives in Him, the proof of which is the cross.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:31-39 (NRSV)
Not even unconfessed sins can separate us from the love of God!