What do you do when you sin?

soapWhat do you do when you sin? The advice from most evangelical believers would be to use 1 John 1:9 as a sort of spiritual bar of soap.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

Apply the soap

In other words, every time you sin and are aware of the fact, then apply the soap, confess and say sorry to God and then God will forgive and cleanse you of all sin – simple!

The problem with this, if you have ever tried it, is that you just go round and round in a kind of endless spiritual washing machine spin cycle: sin, confess, sin, forgive and so on. Unfortunately, your eyes are on the sin not Jesus and instead of sin being overcome it becomes stronger.

The catholic answer

The Catholic of course, has a simple but similar answer: go visit a priest and confess your mortal sins (sins that send you hell).


Or, if your not that bad, just confess your venial or minor sins!


How does it work? First you must confess your sin to the priest and when he’s is satisfied, he absolves you, pronounces you forgiven by God and you get to say a few Hail Mary’s or some other penance – depending on the severity of the offence.

What about 1 John 1:9?

However, getting back to our bar of soap and 1 John 1:9, what does this scripture really say about “what do you do when you  sin?”  If read in context and in the flow of the previous verse, does it really say what many think it says? i.e.

“if you sin, then confess your sins to God in private prayer and you will be forgiven and cleansed”?

Let’s look at John 1:8 and 9 together, as they juxtapose two different kinds of people referred to as we but who say different things about their sin. The first kind, in verse 8, say they don’t have any sins (the belief and confession of certain gnostic heretic groups) – they remain deceived.

1 John 1:8 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

The second kind, in verse 9, admit or confess they are sinners and are therefore forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess (‘homologeo’ and present tense) our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

What does it mean to confess?

For example, many involved in witchcraft at Ephesus believed the Gospel and confessed their sins. Everyone in the city had no doubt these people had become Christians because they didn’t just burn their proverbial boats; they burnt their magic books as well!

Acts 19:18 “And many that believed came, and confessed, (‘exomologeo’ and present tense)  and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.”

Now, what does the word confess ‘homologeo’ used in 1 John 1:9 mean? Basically, it means to agree together or admit. For example the same word is used several times  by John to differentiate believers from gnostic unbelievers and identify whether a spirit is from God:

  • Believers confess that Jesus is the Son Of God – 1 John 4:15
  • Believers confess both the Father and the Son 1 John 2:2
  • Believers confess that they have sin. 1 John 1:9
  • A spirit that confesses Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God 1 John 4:2
  • A spirit that doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ is come in flesh is an antichrist. 2 John 1:7

The Apostle Paul also used the same word in the famous salvation passage:

Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess (aorist) with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession (present tense) is made unto salvation.”

So, should a believer confess and admit their sins? Absolutely. A believer should admit when they miss the mark and if they claim to be sinless  – just ask their wife or children what they think!

The tense of the verbs are important

However, I don’t believe that 1 John 1:9 is talking about receiving forgiveness and cleansing on an ongoing basis as a consequence of confession to God in some private prayer. What do I mean? Well if that is what the verse meant, the tenses of the verbs forgive and cleanse would also be perfect. They are not. They are aorist.

Perfect tense – a completed action that leaves lingering effects.
Aorist tense – a one-time action
Present tense – a continuous or habitual action.

In other words, even though confession is to be our continual attitude as a believer, our forgiveness and cleansing are a past, one time action, breaking the link between confession and subsequent forgiveness.

Therefore, because you have repented and confessed your sins you have been forgiven! You are cleansed of all sin! Forgiveness doesn’t depend on your continual confession.

1 John 2:12 “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven (perfect tense) you for his name’s sake.”

Acts 15:9 “And put no difference between us and them, purifying (cleansing, aorist tense) their hearts by faith.”

1 Cor 6:11 “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, (aorist) but ye are sanctified, (aorist) but ye are justified (aorist) in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God”.

You’ve been washed

In conclusion therefore, you don’t need a spiritual bar of soap to keep you clean. You have been washed. In fact, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you continually every second of the day far better than a confessional bar of soap could!

1 John 1:7 “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 (present tense) us from all sin.”

Therefore, going back to our original question: “what should a believer do when they sin?”, John the Apostle answers directly.

1 John 2:1 “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin (aorist), we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation (appeasment) for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Therefore, if you sin and you’re a believer, its not what you do before God that counts, its what your advocate Jesus the righteous does! He is the one who acts on your behalf and in your interest, speaking up before the Father for you as the enemy makes his accusation. How good is that!

Reiterating this, when you sin it’s not what you do that counts but WHO you have to speak up for you! If any man sin WE HAVE and advocate with the Father. Jesus is our defence lawyer.

Does sin matter?

Does sin matter though if we are already forgiven? Yes of course. Sexual sin for example harms our own bodies.

1 Cor 6:18 “Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.”

Do we need to repent when we sin? Yes of course ,we need to renew our minds as to the truth of God’s word. When we are aware of our bad behaviour,  we don’t pretend it didn’t happen we agree with God’s word that it is sin and that our advocate Jesus is already on the case and  we reckon ourselves dead to it.

Romans 6:6 “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In addition,  sinning against other people will probably result in bad consequences! So, even though we may be assured of God’s forgiveness for our sin, we need take responsibility of our actions, confess our sin and seek forgiveness from others as far as possible on our part. James 5:16 makes this very clear.

Confess (exologeo) your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

You are already forgiven

Likewise, Paul teaches us to forgive one another because we are already forgiven.

“Forbearing one another, and forgiving (present tense) one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave (aorist) you, so also do ye. Col 3:13”

So lastly, you don’t need to keep short accounts with God because you don’t have an account! He doesn’t put sin to your charge.

Romans 4:8 “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”

However, people do keep accounts, so make sure you don’t hide behind your bar of soap. If you have offended and sinned against someone, go and put it right. Confess your sins and make restitution. Every good husband knows this if he wants to stay alive!

Andrew Wommack Audio on 1 John 1:9

Further Reading:

Joseph Prince on confession of sins

Excellent article Phil Drysdale on confession
Another article on confession by Phil Drysdale
Andrew Wommack on confession
Repentance its not what you think
Repentance is the key to real change
Sinning willfully
Total forgiveness


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