Bible Q&A

What Does 1 John 1:9 Mean?

Understanding 1 John 1:9 could change
your view of God, Jesus and Christianity.

In real estate, it is location, location, location. When we read the Bible it is context, context, context. If we don’t look at Bible verses in context, we will misunderstanding the Word of God.


1 John 1:9 is easily the single most misunderstood verse in the entire Bible. Most pastors, seminaries, authors, televangelist and many Christians have missed the meaning of 1 John 1:9. They use 1 John 1:9 as a "Christian bar of soap" and to defend their argument that you must ask God to forgive you after each sin. What if you miss one? What if you die in an auto crash after having a sinful thought? What they are ultimately saying is that God will not forgive you unless you confess it to Him?  With this line of thinking, a person will never come to the conclusion that God has completely forgiven them and be able to experience God's sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9-11). They could even ultimately miss salvation.

So what does 1 John 1:9 really mean?

Gnosticism was creeping into the church in Ephesus. The word Gnostic is derived from the Greek word "gnosis" meaning "knowledge". The Gnostics were a group of people who believed they had superior spiritual knowledge. They believed

3 things: 1. That flesh was evil and that only spirit was good. (That is why they did not believe that Jesus came in the flesh.) 2. That they did not have a sinful nature and therefore did not need their sins to be forgiven and 3. That salvation is gained through the acquisition of divine knowledge, not by faith in Jesus Christ.


Remember how Adam fell in to sin and passed on spiritual death to the whole human race after he ate from the the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? 


A Christian pastor in Ephesus asked John to write a letter to help people from falling in to Gnosticism. The pastor was an evangelist and wanted people to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by superior knowledge. John knew that a lost person would need to know they had a sinful nature before they could receive new life in Christ. 

It all boils down to who you think the first chapter of 1 John is written to. If you believe the first chapter was written to saved people, then you will struggle with the finality of the cross, and constantly be asking God to forgive you. If you believe the first chapter was written to lost people who say they have no sin, then you will cease from using 1 John 1:9 as a "Christian bar of soap" and be able to come to the conclusion that Jesus Christ took away all your sins. Past, present and future. 


It is more clear that John switches his attention to born again believers starting in 1 John 2. He uses the phrase "Dear children" at least 10 times throughout the rest of his letter.


Let's look at the 1 John 1:1-10 and ask questions about these verses.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 1 John 1:1-2

Which 3 senses did John use in his encounter with Jesus?





What was John proclaiming that is found in Jesus?

Verse 1 and 2 were written to counter the claim that Jesus did not come in the flesh.


We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1:3-4

Why did John proclaim what they had seen and heard?

Would you ask someone to be in fellowship, if they already were?

Who did John say he had fellowship with?

What do you conclude from these verses?

Verse 3 and 4 were written to encourage lost people to have fellowship with the Father, Jesus and John.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 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, purifies us from all sin.

John 1:5-7

What is the message John heard and was declaring?

What is the opposite of darkness? See 2 Corinthians 6:14

Is there any darkness in Jesus? See John 8:12

Can we have fellowship with Jesus and walk in darkness at the same time?

If we agree to walk in the truth (the light), who do we have fellowship with? See 1 Corinthians 1:9 

Do you think John was pleading with the Gnostics to agree to walk in the light and in truth?

How are we purified from all sin? 

Verses 5-7 were written to say that you can not claim to have fellowship with God and Jesus and walk in darkness and error. If you claim this, you are a liar. Then John encourages lost people to turn from darkness (lost) to light (saved). If you do walk in the light and believe in Jesus you will be in fellowship with God, Jesus and John too. And guess what, all your sins have been forgiven.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8


What does John say about people like the Gnostics who claim to be without sin?


Are they deceived? Is the truth in them?

Would a Christian claim to be without sin? 


Who does "the truth" refer to? See John 14:6

Does Jesus, "the truth" live in a Christian?  What about a lost person? See 2 John 1:1-2

Verse 8 is again to a lost person who claims to be without sin.

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:10

What did John say about people who claimed they have never sinned?

Again, would a Christian claim they have never sinned? 

Who then do you conclude John is writing to in 1 John 1:10?

What do people who claim to be without sin call Jesus?

Are liars holding to the truth? Who is the author of lies? See John 8:44

Who does "the word" refer to? See John 1:1-2

Again, is Jesus "the word" living in a Christian? What about a lost person?

Verse 10 is to a lost person also.

How did John answer all the Gnostic claims? Be sure to keep this in context of 1 John 1:1-10


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


Note: Synonyms for the word "confess":  

If the Gnostics would confess, agree, admit, concede, fess, own up to the fact, that they sin or have a sinful nature, what is it that Jesus is faithful to have done for them?

Since the forgiveness of Christ was a one time event (See Hebrews 9:26, Hebrews 10:12) and that God is not counting your sins against you 2 Corinthians 5:18-19), does it make sense to ask for what you already have?

When were you purified from all unrighteousness? See Romans 3:21-22Romans 4:21-22Philippians 3:9)

Yes! When you put your faith in Christ and you were born again. 

What does 1 John 1:9 mean? It is a salvation verse to those who claimed to be without sin. That one day if you come to your senses and put your faith in Jesus Christ by faith, you will be born again, become right with God and purified from all unrighteousness. You also have been forgiven of all your sins by the blood of Jesus Christ!