In his first letter, John makes the statement: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9). It would be an understatement to say that this verse has been misunderstood and misapplied throughout most of the church's history. Those in top-down religious positions of authority have wrongly used this verse to insist we must continually be on high alert and be constantly confessing all of our sins in order to stay forgiven or receive continued forgiveness up to that point in time. One contemporary example of this is John MacArthur. In his explanation of 1 John 1:9, he writes:
"It is a subjective, relational kind of forgiveness. It is the restoration to a place of blessing in the eyes of a displeased father. ...it is a spiritual washing to rid you of the defilement caused by sin in your daily walk. The verse is speaking of an ongoing pardon and purification from sin, not the cleansing and forgiveness of salvation." If We Confess Our Sins, (Emphasis Mine)
MacArthur insists that 1 John 1:9 is referencing an accumulation of sin caused by living life. In other words, as I live my life, sin accumulates and requires periodic confession in order to be restored to a Father who has become displeased with me in between my confessions because of accumulated sins. For him, it is a "subjective, relational kind of forgiveness" that depends on my faithfulness to repeatedly and continually confess all of my sins in order to receive "ongoing pardon and purification." In his own words, I become defiled and unclean just be living my life every day, apart from continual, faithful confession of all of my sins continually. For MacArthur, the forgiveness and pardon you received at conversion doesn't "eliminate the need for you to deal with the subjective reality of sin in your life." In short, you're forgiven but not really.
Desiring God Ministries adds a new layer of confusion by insisting:
"You’re not saved through faith alone. Be killing your sin." Twitter 10/14/2017
Sin management and behavior modification have become modern evangelicalism's latest obsession. In our cut-and-paste church/Bible cultures, where we're quick to grab a verse out of context and use it as a proof text to shame and/or guilt someone into conformity to our opinion, 1 John 1:9 and confessing sin is a prime example. Church leaders and religious organizations present their interpretations of it in a schizophrenic "you're forgiven but you're not forgiven" way that keeps people doubting, dazed, and confused about where they stand with God. Have we done enough confessing and who decides what's enough?
Kevin DeYoung adds this to our conversation,