If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9
Maybe you’re not like me, but when I hear this verse, I hear something like this: “If we confess our sins, he is willing to be really nice and overlook our sins because he’s God.”
But that’s not what is being said, is it?
What we normally experience in our human relationships, as offenders—once we are willing to admit to ourselves that we did wrong—is something like this: we gather up enough humility to admit to the offended person that we’ve wronged them, and we apologize, as though what we did isn’t like us at all, because we’re really better than this. Then the other person accepts our apology, maybe reluctantly. They decide to overlook our offense, or at least they say they do, and implicitly agree not to stay mad about it.
In other words, I hardly recognize I’ve done something offensive, I grudgingly admit that I may have if that’s what the offended person insists on thinking, then the offended person grudgingly decides to let it go, meaning he is going to act like he’s not offended anymore, even if he intends to nurse a secret grudge against me. This is what human forgiveness often looks like, God help us.
We ask forgiveness to put social discomfort behind us. We forgive in order to avoid confrontation and the awkward intimacy involved in sharing real emotions.
What I usually sense when I think about God’s forgiveness is that I’m getting away with something I really shouldn’t. But I just processed what the verse is really saying: God forgives our offenses because it is just to do so.
It is right that I should be forgiven. Justice is satisfied. How can that be?
If God forgives because it is just, then it is just. That means the absolutely righteous, fair and perfect response to our confession is to forgive us.
He forgives us because it is faithful and just to do so.
Faithful to what or to whom? Not to us; we do not deserve to be forgiven. We can offer nothing which erases the offense.
And God is not accountable to us.
Who can God be faithful to? Only to himself; He cannot be accountable to one greater than himself. He is being faithful to his own standard, and God is his standard. We human creatures can stand aside from a standard and honor or dishonor it, but God is in essence his standard. He is being faithful to himself. When he is being faithful and just, He is being Who He is.
He does not forgive us because He’s decided to overlook our sins because He’s in a good mood, nor because He’s decided to let this one go.
How is it just for God to forgive our sins? This is no tit-for-tat in which a god is bound to forgive us because we said the magic words. He owes us nothing, ever. And we cannot make amends for our offenses, ever. We cannot give God something by which he is obligated to forgive us.
If we are truly repentant in our hearts, to forgive us is just.
God is holy, pure and wholly good and we are decidedly not. But Jesus Christ, who was sinless, died in my place and yours to accept the penalty for our sin. He made us right with Holy God. Why does God do this?
God is love. God wants to dwell with his creatures who have freely chosen to love him, to recognize who He is and to honor Him accordingly. He desires to forgive offenses because that is part of what love is. Love seeks reconciliation. Love strives to create relationship with no barriers, no division, no walls. True and pure resolution is necessary for two people to live in real unity, in real relationship. Remember—God’s version of relationship does not accept grudges and this-is-who-I-am-put-up-with-it. God’s conception of relationship is the perfect marriage, the friend giving his life for his friend, utter self-giving for an enemy who does not recognize the sacrifice. God wants to be in true intimate relationship with his creatures who desire true intimate relationship with him.
God forgives the true repentant because it would be unjust not to. He forgives because his nature requires it, and because he delights to. A wall has come down. A beloved has chosen to come closer to the God who loves him. The created being can truly identify with his Creator, and the Creator rejoices at this.
One day all the universe will acknowledge God for Who He is, will be in right relationship with Him. Everything in the universe will be as God intended. That means all people and all Creation will honor Him as God.
And then he cleanses us from all unrighteousness! God requires us to be totally righteous in order to be in total relationship with us, so he makes it possible, because we cannot. In doing so he continues to be true to himself—faithful and just—to himself and to us.