The word “repentance” does not seem to appear in John’s epistles. However there are connections. In the epistles he uses the word “confess” to make the same sort of plea to his readers to turn from their sin to God. It is the Greek word [homologéō, ὁμολογέω]. It is composed of two main parts, [“homo” meaning “the same”] and [“logeo” meaning to “say” or to “speak”.] Combined they mean to “say the same as” or to “agree with.” The word is used in 2 different ways in the epistles.
The first way it is used, is for people to confess or agree with the truths that God has made known. For example, in 1Jn 2:23 John declares this truth, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” It is confessing the Son to be the Son of God, a revealed truth to the disciples. Likewise in 1Jn 4:2 John affirms this truth, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” God had revealed that Jesus was the Son of God who had come to earth. When a person confessed that truth, they were agreeing with what God had revealed. To fail to confess Jesus had come in the flesh was the rejection of what God had revealed. It was contrary to God’s revelation. It was an expression of the spirit of anti-Christ, 1Jn 4:3 “and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” The same truth is seen in John’s second epistle, 2Jn 1:7 “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” In this sense, to “confess” the truth of the incarnation of Jesus was to agree with God’s revealed truth about Him.
On the positive side, those who confessed that Jesus was the Son of God, were agreeing with God’s revelation to His people. They were on His side. It was a sign that they had been born again and were now indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. Thus they were able to confess that truth, 1Jn 4:15 “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”
The second way the word is used, is found in just one verse in John’s epistles, but it is highly significant. We see the background in the previous verse, 1Jn 1:8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Deception is terribly deceptive! One doesn’t know one is deceived until one comes out of that deception! That’s the sad part, that many who have been deceived don’t know it, and may never know it! It’s only the light that reveals the darkness. But one must be willing to let the light shine in!
We allow the light shine in by seeking to get right with God and by maintaining that closeness. That means that we need to be honest with Him and to tell Him we have sinned and need to be forgiven, 1:9 “If we confess our sins [hamartía, ἁμαρτία] [NOTE 1 below]. John encourages us by telling us what happens when we do so sincerely, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. Here the confession is not about confessing some truth concerning Jesus. Rather it confessing the truth about ourselves. It means recognising that some or many of our words or actions have not been in accord with God’s will or His laws. We decide to agree with His verdict on those actions or words and confess them, as He sees them, as sin. God is “faithful” to His promises regarding forgiveness for sin and “just’ because Jesus has secured forgiveness for us through His death and resurrection. God is “faithful and just” because justice has been done and His mercy has been extended to those who come to God in repentance and in faith in Jesus.
That truth is further brought out in verse 10, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us”. The word “sinned” is the verb version of “sin’ in verse 9. The meaning as we saw then was to “miss the mark”, to “err”, to “do wrong”. It would be a brave soul indeed [as well as a deceived one] to say that they had never sinned! But it takes courage to admit it. When one does admit it, blessings follow, especially the blessings of forgiveness and peace as we saw in Psalm 32:1, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin [hamartía, ἁμαρτία] is covered.” David added that when he didn’t declare his sin, he went through physical and emotional turmoil. Peace came when he actually confessed it to God, 32:5 “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity [hamartía, ἁμαρτία]; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” God covered over the sin that David had uncovered before Him and David had peace. [NOTE 2]
What else does John have to say about human sin [hamartia, ἁμαρτία] and the need for repentance in his epistles? He further describes such sin in the following verses.
In 1 Jn 2:1-2, John expresses the purpose of his letter as an attempt to prevent them from sinning, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.” However he has an answer for those who do sin. Jesus paid the price for human sin through His death on the cross and is their advocate before the Father when they acknowledge their sin before Him. “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” It seems that John is envisaging that those who recognise their sin should repent of it, confess it and claim forgiveness through what Jesus has done in His sacrificial death for sinners.
In 1 Jn 3:4-5, John declares that those who sin are law breakers and are guilty of lawlessness. The latter [anomia, ἀνομία] is one of the words we have seen being used for sin. “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. The good news according to John is that Jesus “appeared” or came to earth to take away sins by His sacrifice on the cross. 5 “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” The sinless One died for sinners and as Paul wrote in Eph 1:7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Forgiveness is available, but only in Him.
1 Jn 3:8-9, John takes a tough stand regarding sin. He describes those guilty of ongoing sin as being under the control of the devil. “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” But Jesus came to break the hold that the devil had over humans, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. He makes the claim that there can be victory over sin because they are indwelt by the Son and thus can have power over sin in their lives, 9 “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” They can be victorious over sin because they have been changed by the grace of God. As Peter wrote, they had become “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” 2Peter 1:4. They were to realise they were different and were to act accordingly.
In 1 Jn 5:16-17, John pens some difficult words, “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death.” It seems that John has believers in mind. If they do happen to sin, all is not lost. They can repent and claim the forgiveness which is theirs in Christ. They live in the sphere of God’s grace and forgiveness because they have trusted in Christ and received Him as their Saviour. But as John goes on to add, “There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.” While there has been much conjecture regarding the term “a sin that leads to death”, it seems that John has in mind those who are not living in the sphere of God’s grace and forgiveness. They have rejected Christ and have no desire to repent of their sins or to receive Him or to submit their lives to Him. Whilst they continue to live in rebellion against God’s purposes in Christ, they place themselves beyond the realm of redemption. That is spiritual death.
John finishes his epistle with encouraging truths for believers
There is victory over sin for the believer, 1Jn 5:18 “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.” Jesus gives ongoing victory to believers.
Believers belong to the family of God and are “in Him” who is the true God. 1Jn 5:19 “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” Being [and abiding] in Jesus means abiding in the truth and being willing and able [by the grace of God] to turn away from sin.
However John recognised the power of the evil one [NOTE 3] and ends his letter with a simple warning, 1Jn 5:21 “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” As the Cambridge Bible For Schools and Colleges put it so well, “From the idols; those with which Ephesus abounded: or again, from your idols; those which have been, or may become, a snare to you.”
The commentary helpfully continues,” This is the last of the contrasts of which the Epistle is so full. We have had light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate, God and the world, Christ and Antichrist, life and death, doing righteousness and doing sin, the children of God and the children of the devil, the spirit of truth and the spirit of error, the believer untouched by the evil one and the world lying in the evil one; and now at the close we have what in that age was the ever present and pressing contrast between the true God and the idols.” Believers touched by the power of God and indwelt by the Son had a choice. The choice of walking in darkness as they once had done or the choice of living lives of repentance, remaining in the light and thus being victorious over the evil one and over the allure of evil and of idols.
NOTE 1. This is one of the words for ‘sin’ that we looked at in Blog No. 222 which lists a number of the words used for ‘sin’ in the New Testament.
NOTE 2. It is interesting to see that the words which are used in this verse for the various types of sin, are also used frequently for “sin” in the New Testament. Psalm 32:5 “I acknowledged my sin [anomia, ανομιαν] to you, and I did not cover my iniquity [hamartía, ἁμαρτία]; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions [anomia, ανομιαν] to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity [asebeia, ασεβειαν] of my sin.
NOTE 3. Mention is made of the of the devil in 1 Jn 3:8, 10 and of the evil one in 1Jn 2:13, 14, 3:12, 5:18, 19.
Blog No.228. Jim Holbeck. Posted Monday 14th August 2017