Question: I’ve been listening to Bob George on the radio and am confused. He doesn’t believe in Christians confessing sin and claims that 1 John:1:9 (“if we confess our sins”) was not written to Christians but to the unsaved. Is that true?
Response: In his books and talks, Bob George provides some excellent insights, especially in combatting the lingering guilt which causes many Christians to ask God repeatedly for forgiveness and robs them of the peace and assurance they ought to enjoy. His view of 1 John:1:9, however, is clearly wrong. The epistle is not a declaration of the gospel to the lost, but exhortation (including the need to confess sin) and assurance to those who know Christ.
Of course, as Bob argues, God has already, through the Cross, forgiven Christians of past, present, and future sins. The eternal consequences are removed. But sin has practical consequences in this life. It dishonors God, is unbecoming of His children, breaks fellowship with Him (1:6), and should be confessed for joy to be restored, which 1 John:1:5-10 clearly teaches. But Bob attempts to deny that by saying that these verses are not written to Christians. Is it possible that the entire epistle is written to Christians (as it clearly is) except for these few verses? No, nor is there any indication that this is the case. John is writing to “brethren” (i.e., Christians – 2:7; 3:13). Never does he address anyone else.
John consistently uses the pronoun “we” throughout the epistle, thus including himself among those to whom he writes and thereby identifying them as Christians. For example: we have fellowship with him . . . [and] one another” (1:6-7); “hereby we do know that we know him” (2:3); “now are we the sons of God” (3:2); “we know that we have passed from death unto life” (3:14); “we dwell in him and he in us: (4:13); “we love God and keep his commandments” (5:2); “we are of God” (5:19), etc.
Even the verses which Bob George claims are addressed to unbelievers contain the pronoun “we” by which John identifies himself with those to whom he writes. “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth (1:6) is surely an exhortation to believers. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1:7) continues the same thought and can only be addressed to Christians. Who else walks in light and in fellowship with God? Verses 8 and 10 reject the idea of “sinless perfection” for Christians: “the truth is not in us and his word is not in us” IF we say that we have no sin . . . [or] that we have not sinned.” Surely this solemn exhortation can only be to Christians, not to unbelievers. By what rationale, then could one conclude that suddenly verse 9—“If we confess our sins”—is addressed to unbelievers? There is none. Moreover, why, if he is writing to unbelievers at that point, does John include himself among them?
That John is writing entirely to Christians is also clear from his repeated use of the term “little children” (2:1,12,18,etc.). Obviously, as the elderly and last surviving apostle, he looks upon those he addresses as his children in the faith: “little children, abide in him” (2:28); “my little children, let us . . . love in deed and truth" (3:18); “Ye are of God, little children” (4:4). John ends the epistle with this final exhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (5:21). It is all consistent with his statement in 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Such language doesn’t fit non-Christians.
In his book. Classic Christianity (which in many ways is excellent), Bob George declares that a Christian is as righteous and acceptable in the sight of God as Jesus Christ (p 100)! Yet we still disobey and displease God at times, whereas Christ does not. If nothing more, the same common courtesy that causes a child to confess having disobeyed its parents should cause us to confess the same disobedience to our heavenly Father. In denying that clear teaching of 1 John:1:9, Bob takes an extreme position. While he offers some excellent insights elsewhere, his denial that Christians should confess sin has confused many and could lead some to look lightly upon sin.