The Heresy That 1 John 1:9 Is for Unbelievers
November 7, 2019
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
There is a heresy that 1 John 1:9 is for the unbeliever because the believer supposedly cannot be out of fellowship with God.

This is taught, for example, by Guided By Truth Ministries. “For the believer, verbally ‘confessing’ our sins through prayer does not cause us to be forgiven. We may ask God to forgive us but He has told us through His word that He
already has. We can certainly thank Him for forgiving our sin, but to keep asking for it means we are ignoring Him and His Word. He teaches us to rest in forgiveness, not keep seeking it. ... With this truth in mind, we must ask, what does 1 John 1:9 actually mean? Can we actually break fellowship with God and not be in His good graces if we have un-confessed sin? ... Those who admit their sin will be saved. Those who already have are already forgiven. There is no teaching here to the contrary. This passage is referring to the one time event that happens to those who are saved. It is not teaching how a Christian should receive forgiveness but rather how those who admitted they had sin became Christians. ... Knowing that it is impossible to be in darkness after accepting the light of the world we can further understand that in 1 John 1:6, 8, & 10 John is speaking of those who have never accepted Christ. ... God never declares a ‘break in fellowship’ with us. This concept is not found in Scripture. ... The Bible tells us that we will still sin, but when we accept Christ as our Savior, we are referred to as saints. He has forgiven all of our sins. There is no need for us to keep dwelling on our sin. He took them away to be remembered no more. This confession idea is out of sync with the truth of Salvation and only keeps our mind on sin rather than on the forgiveness already imputed to us” (“Forgiveness and 1 John 1:9,” n.d.).

This heresy is also taught by Steve McVey in
52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday. “Don’t get bogged down in a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9 when the rest of the New Testament teaches that our sins have been absolutely forgiven--past, present, and future. ... The idea that we’re out of fellowship with God when we do wrong is a lie. It’s one of those cliches. It sounds good, but it’s not biblical. There is nothing you can do to put yourself out of fellowship with God. ... You are in fellowship with God all the time” (52 Lies, pp. 72, 73, 75).

This heresy forces a meaning upon John’s words in his first epistle that is unnatural. He plainly is talking about “fellowship” in 1 John 1, using the term four times in the first chapter. This heresy flies in the face of the Bible's own words. The author of the article errs in failing to make a clear distinction between relationship and fellowship. That is really the heart of the matter, and the issue is that simple. Relationship and fellowship, standing and state, position and practice are plainly taught doctrines of the Christian life and are emphasized in Paul's epistles. The epistle of Ephesians is divided into two distinct parts on this basis -- chapters 1-3 relationship and standing, chapters 4-6 fellowship or state. The two aspects are seen in Ephesians 5:8 -- now that we ARE light, positionally, let's live like it day by day, practically. We are children of God by faith in Christ the moment we are born again, but that doesn't mean that He is pleased with everything we do and that does not mean that I am in fellowship with Him no matter how I act. It is the same thing in a human father-child relationship, though on a far less perfect basis. Growing up, when I disobeyed my father, I was still his son but I wasn't pleasing to Him and we didn't have proper fellowship. That could only be restored by my actions. John says there are two things that keep us in fellowship with the Father, walking in the light (obedience) and confession of sins. God isn't "mad" at His children in any frail human sense when we sin, but He can definitely be displeased and the onus is on us to stay in sweet fellowship by honoring and obeying Him and acknowledging our sins before Him rather than hiding them and excusing them. 

The idea that there is nothing the believer can do to get out of God's fellowship makes no sense in light of the New Testament's many warnings.
  • Why does God chasten His children if they can't get out of fellowship (Heb. 12)?
  • How could there be a sin unto death if we can't get out of fellowship (1 Cor. 11:27-32; 1 John 5:16-17)?
  • If it is not possible to be out of fellowship through sin why did Paul fear becoming a castaway or being set on a shelf for not keeping his body under subjection (1 Cor. 9:27)?
  • If it is not possible to get out of fellowship, why does Paul warn about loss at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3)?
  • Questions like this could be multiplied. 

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