In properly understanding Scriptures one of the key elements to look for is discerning who is being addressed. Knowing if the writer is speaking to the lost man or the saved man is key to interpretation and use.
Take the Book of 1 John as an example. It is a great book for believers because it is addressed to believers for our understanding about the process of spiritual growth and how to identify someone who calls themselves Christians but is not.
I have heard over and over well-meaning Christians using 1 Jn.1:9 as a soul-winning Scripture like it is talking to a lost man. However, John through the Holy Spirit is addressing a believer in this verse. Let's look at some of verses of 1 Jn.1 and see the thought behind them.
In 1:6 we see that if someone claims to be a believer and we say as a believer that we are walking in fellowship with the Father, yet we walk in darkness (continual sin), than we are deceived. What are we lying about? We are lying about having fellowship with the Father if we walk in sin. This verse is for a Christian to examine his own life and the life of those who claim to be believers among us.
(1 John 1:6 ESV) If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
In 1:7 we see that if the believer walks in the light, not according to his own understanding of the light, but walks in the light as God is light, then we will also walk in fellowship with one another. Light fellowships with light. Light does not fellowship with darkness or a sinful lifestyle. When darkness meets light both are affected. Example: Suppose the sun is shining bright outside and you have your curtains opened and your living room is flooded with the brightness of the outside. You turn your lights on in the living room and it does not affect the amount of light that is already there because of the brightness of the day. Light has met light. However, the sun goes down and there is no moon and it is as dark as a thousand midnights outside. You turn your living room lights on and although it is bright it is nowhere as brilliant as it was when the sunlight flooded the room. Some of the light in the living room will shine out the windows but will make little process beyond a few feet outside the home. Light met darkness and both are affected.
(1 John 1:7 ESV) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
We see in 1:8 as a Christian we cannot say we have no sin. That would be a lie.
(1 John 1:8 ESV) If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
However, we have a great promise in 1:9. If we as believers confess our sins we find that God is both faithful and just. He is faithful and just to not only forgive us but to cleanse us from the unrighteousness of the penalty of the sin, the power of the sin, and the presence of the sin. We would be wrong to use this verse as a soul winning verse. We would be telling the lost man that he needs to confess every sin he has committed in order to be forgiven and saved. The only sin that sends a lost man to hell is the sin of unbelief in failing to receive Christ as Savior. His long list of personal sins does not send him to hell. Once that lost man confesses Christ and repents of walking in his own power he is born again. Now as a Christian he starts confessing sins that he knows he is guilty of in order to be forgiven and freed from them.
(1 John 1:9 ESV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Purifying or cleansing us from all unrighteousness means to be totally forgiven of our sinful behavior. Experience tells us that true confession of a particular sinful behavior brings a forgiveness and a cleansing of conscience that sometimes we can even feel or sense. It is like a load dropping off of us. We seem to gain the upper hand over the sin and with some determination we can overcome it from that point forward.
Charles Morris. Founder and Senior Pastor of RSIM USA.