Paul's Passing Thoughts

What is the Race of Faith? Justification or Sanctification? Or Both? A Biblical Evaluation, Part 1: First Letter of John 1:7-10

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on February 26, 2015

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1John 1:7-9 are the go-to verses for most Protestant denominations, particularly verse 9. The rendering promotes the idea that we must continue to confess known sin after salvation in order to keep our salvation. This isn’t considered to be works salvation because repentance is a faith-alone work that originally saved us. So, since we are going back to the same gospel that saved us, and that salvation is by faith alone, and repentance is by faith alone, doing this act in order to keep ourselves saved is by faith alone and not works.

Hence, the Christian life is a “race of faith” in which the prize, or reward is salvation. As long as we live our Christian life by “faith alone” we are not disqualified from the race. In verses like 1Corinthians 9:24, the prize for winning the race is taken to mean salvation.

The key to how this works is the confession of sin that is brought to our attention by conscience or the Holy Spirit. If we confess that, we are then cleansed of all unknown sin and sin beneath the sin. As long as we are returning to the same faith-alone gospel that originally saved us, it doesn’t count as works. As plainly stated by many Protestants, Christians still need ongoing salvation from sin. And verse 7 is the icing on the cake; if we “fellowship” with each other, viz, if we are a member of the church in good standing, this in and of itself also continues to cleanse us. John Calvin et al taught that ongoing repentance for re-cleansing (re-salvation) was only valid if one is a member of the institutional church. For several citations on this, read the booklet “It’s Not About Election.”

This is the prime example of traditions of men (orthodoxy) fulfilling the law of God on behalf of the “believer.” The so-called believer partakes in some kind of activity in order for a substitution of some sort to be perpetually imputed to the subject for the maintaining of salvation. Of course, the fundamental error is law being a standard for justification. Law either condemns or sanctifies, but it has no part in justification. Second to that, when justification is not a finished work, ambiguous classifications for what is a work and what isn’t a work is needed to keep justification moving forward by “faith alone.” See the problem? A faith-alone work is an oxymoron.

Even more icing is heaped on the cake when you approach these verses with the Redemptive Historical hermeneutic. This interprets every verse in the Bible as a salvation verse, or justification verse in a supposed context of progression.

So what’s really going on with these verses and others like them? It’s simple when you approach the same with the Grammatical Historical hermeneutic. Historically, John was addressing the rampant Gnosticism of the day that saturated the 1st century church and culture. There were and are many, many veins of Gnostic thought, but John was addressing the one that believed man was spirit and therefore pure; only the material realm is evil. Therefore, no person sins because they are spirit—it’s the material world that’s evil. Moreover, it doesn’t matter what one does in the body because it is of the sinful material realm.

While many recognize this historical fact, they proceed to see these verses as sanctification verses. While rightly dividing the difference between sin unto condemnation and sin against God’s family relationship, they errantly concede a continued need for “cleansing.” It goes something like this: because we also fail to recognize family sin that we commit, it is necessarily for that sin to be cleansed as well when we confess sin against family. While this is far closer to the truth than the former, and perhaps harmless, it is best to see 1John 7-10 as verses pertaining to justification as a onetime finished work.

An idea that man is sinless because he is spirit denies the need for the gospel altogether; it makes God a liar. In that context, 1John 7-10 makes perfect sense. But the question becomes that of Greek tenses, moods, and voices. Is this forgiveness an ongoing need, or did it just happen once? And if it only happened once, is the effect still ongoing? When this is considered grammatically, the arguments can fly in every direction. The English translation seems to imply an ongoing need for forgiveness.

First of all, the New Testament does not emphasize repentance in sanctification to the degree that repentance for justification is emphasized. The emphasis is a onetime turning away from who you presently are to save yourself from a perverse generation (Acts 2:40). Don’t get me wrong, repentance is a part of sanctification, but the emphasis is a positive one regarding what we are free to do, not what we have been set free from. The past bondage to sin is not emphasized in the Bible, the freedom we have to love is what is emphasized.

1Peter 4:8 – Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

God is love (1Jn 4:16), love matters more than sacraments (Gal 5:6), casts out fear (1Jn 4:18), covers a multitude of sins (1Pet 4:8), is the only gift that will not pass away (1Cor 13:8), and is greater than faith and hope (1Cor 13:13). The idea that Christianity is a “lifestyle of repentance” is egregiously misguided; Christianity is a lifestyle of love. The past bondage is not emphasized in the Bible; the freedom we have to love is what is emphasized.

No wonder then that 1John 1:7-10 is interpreted through the prism of a continued focus on condemnation and sin. In contrast, it is pitting repentance from sin unto salvation against the idea that man is already sinless and has no need to be forgiven through belief in Jesus Christ. This idea is also calling God a liar in regard to man’s true status. Therefore, we see that 1John 7-10 regards justification as set against the historical teachings of Gnosticism that was infiltrating the Christian assemblies at that time. 1John is also peppered with a pushback against the same vein of Gnosticism that posited the idea that Christ didn’t really come in the flesh (I John 1:1).

1 John 1:7-10, though having a grammatical semblance of present continuous, is speaking of the onetime finished work of justification that all people need as opposed to the Gnostic idea that the invisible is good, and the material is evil, and that all sin belongs to the material realm and not relevant to the spiritual. We have looked at the historical, now let’s examine the grammatical.

Verse 7… “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” The book of Hebrews makes it absolutely clear that this only happened once.

Hebrews 10:11 – And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:

12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.

14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,

16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;

17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.

Is the blood of Jesus reapplied to our sins each time we repent? This is the only contextual conclusion that can be drawn from the aforementioned orthodox use of 1John 1:7-10. It is a perpetual application of the blood for each known sin that we commit, plus an additional cleansing for unknown sin.

To the contrary, there is one sacrifice for ALL sins and for ALL time resulting in God not remembering any sin committed by believers. Said interpretation of 1John 1:7-10 states that God will in fact remember our sin if we do not reapply the one sacrifice of Christ. Again, 1John 1:7-10 is a justification verse; that justification is a finished work that only occurs once.

Surrounding verses in context also support this view. “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” (1John 2:12). Also, those who walk in the light are representative of those who have been cleansed from “all” sin (v.7), and the washing is always indicative of justification as a onetime finished work (note John 13:9-11).

Repentance for family sin resulting in prevention of Fatherly chastisement is another issue altogether and has nothing to do with 1John 1:7-10.

James 5:13 – Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

A “lifestyle of repentance” keeps our focus on “keeping ourselves in the love of God” or stated more plainly, keeping ourselves saved for a best shot at “standing in the judgment.” There is no condemnation for those who believe Christ and we will not stand in any judgment that determines justification (John 5:28,29, Luke 14:12-14). However, Christians who live out their calling to righteous living will have confidence when we are swept up in the general judgments that come upon the world, or His appearing at the end of the tribulation period (1John 2:28, 4:17). Peter spoke of a “rich entry” into the kingdom (2Peter 1:11).

Focusing on assumed sin that we are supposedly powerless to overcome will keep us from a successful Christian walk that gives us confidence (I Jn 3:18,19, 2Pet 1:9,10, Heb 10;22), a walk that pursues peace and love as a focus and not an endeavor to discover how sinful we are.

This will only lead to fear, and a shrinking back from the thought of seeing God. In contrast, mature love casts out fear.


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