Post Series on 1 John 1:5-2:6:
- God is Light, and in Him is no Darkness Whatsoever – 1 John 1:5
- Reforming the Speech of Pharisaical Hypocrites (Like Me) – 1 John 1:6-10
- How Can God be Faithful, but Still Just? – 1 John 1:9
- Reforming the Lives of Wanton Libertines (Like Me) – 1 John 2:1-6
Ever since AWANA, when I memorized “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), this verse has been an important part of my understanding of the gospel. God forgives us when we confess our sins to him.
This verse took on new importance to me as I first began to study Greek and realized that our English translations have messed with the word order–John is emphasizing God’s faithfulness, while still affirming God’s righteousness, by writing “Faithful he is, and just…” There have been moments in my life when I have despaired over my sin and have drawn great comfort from God’s promise that he would be faithful to forgive me of my sin AND to cleanse me of my unrighteousness.
But I have often read right over the word “just.” The word, dikaios, is a single Greek word that the English language splits up into two words: righteous and just. We typically say that a person is righteous, while a thing (whether a decision, a system, a country, a religion, etc.) is just. The point here is that God not only faithfully forgives us and cleanses us, but that he is just/righteous to do so.
This, however, is impossible. God cannot be just/righteous when he forgives the sins of anyone. If a judge in a court regularly pardoned the guilty for any reason (personal ties, bribery, extortion), we would call that judge corrupt. There is no way for God NOT to be corrupted by forgiving sinful people.
Keep in mind, though, that John feels the weight of this problem himself. If you remember, he opens this section of his letter with the message he heard from Jesus himself: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Above all other considerations, God’s perfect, pure holiness and righteousness must never be compromised, because God is light.
So how can God be faithful, but still just? How can God cleanse sinners who walk in darkness so that they might walk with him in the pure light? This is a big dilemma–if God cannot be faithful to forgive, then there is no gospel. If God cannot be just when he forgives, then the gospel is no longer good news–who wants to live eternally with a corrupt God?
The answer to the dilemma is found at the cross, where God’s perfect faithfulness and perfect justice are seen together in a bleeding, dying man. At the cross, God poured out his wrath for our sin–and justice was served. At the cross, Jesus died for us–and God could now be faithful to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I love this verse from “Let us Love and Sing and Wonder“:
Let us wonder grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store
When through grace in Christ our trust is
Justice smiles and asks no more
He Who washed us with His blood
Has secured our way to God
He Who washed us with His blood has secured both God’s faithfulness and justice in his kind dealings toward us. That gospel is good news.