1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Let's ask the first obvious question...
Is this verse speaking to believers or unbelievers?
This you must realize is a very important distinction. If it is speaking to believers then it means when we sin we become unrighteous again until we confess our sins and are forgiven again of our sins. If that is true then Jesus dying on the cross didn't deal with all of our sins. It means that the believer's position is essentially no different to that of being under the Old Covenant!
I don't know how you understand the meaning of the life, death and ressurection of Jesus but I believe that His death on the cross was powerful and effective enough to deal with all of our sins! Past, present and future!
1 John 1:9 therefore was written to a mixed group of people (like any church) but for the unbelievers within.
In order to understand any scripture you have to ask at least 3 questions:
1) To whom was it written?
2) What is it's purpose?
3) How does it apply to us today?
The book of 1 John was seemingly written to believers and unbelievers in a church. Not all those attending a church are believers and many think this was the church at Ephesus.
One can readily see that parts of it were written to address the teachings of Gnostics, which were invading the church at that time and who taught, amongst other things, against the existence of sin!
If we look at the block of scriptures from 1 John 1:6-10, we see that they are addressing people who don't believe in the existence of sin. They are therefore considered by John to be "walking in darkness" or are practising a lie and are therefore not saved.
Two key verses that show us this point in context are:
1 John 1:8 "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
1 John 1:10 "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us."
If you don't believe in the existence of sin you cannot be born again. This gnostic belief undermines the Gospel by removing the need for a saviour. If there is no sin then there is no need for a savior. So, why would you put faith in and call upon a saviour that you don't believe you need? If you don't believe in sin then you won't believe you need the blood of Jesus to cleanse you from sin. There's no cleansing to be done!
This is a good decription of those who are walking in darkness or are living a lie. If they were instead to come into the light by confessing or acknowledging their sin then the blood of Jesus would cleanse them of all their sin as verse 7 and 9 (below) explains:
1 John 1:7 "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."
1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Notice how both verses say that we are cleansed from "all" sin. This is because under the New Covenant being cleansed of one's sins is a once only action. It's not an ongoing process as under the Old Covenant. Under the Law Covenant the blood of bulls and goats were continually offered and could merely cover sins, but under the New Covenant the blood of Christ was offered once for all and it removes all sins completely!
We can see this explained if we look in the book of Hebrews, chapter 10, verses 10 and 12.
Hebrews 10:10 says that through the blood of Jesus we have been made holy, once and for all...
Hebrews 10:12 says that Jesus offered one sacrifice for all sins for all of time.
In others words Christ's one time sacrifice was enough to completely remove all your sins and mine, for all of time.
His sacrifice was infinitely superior to the Law Covenant sacrifices in that it doesn't need to keep being offered in order to keep covering sins. It was offered once and it completely removes all sins!
Thus you can see why I suggest that 1 John 1:7 and 1 John 1:9 are clearly references to people who are not born again. If they would only acknowledge/confess their sin and their need for a saviour then God is faithful to forgiven them and cleanse them of, not just their past sins, but all of their sins (past, present and future), once and for all time!
So going back to 1 John 1:1-4 we see that the context is talking about people who are not yet in fellowship with the body of Christ!
1 Joh 1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
You will see from this section that John in writing these opening verses is preaching the Gospel to people who are not in fellowship with God. They are un-believers! He wants these people to know how they can come into fellowship with God and make his (John's) joy complete. John is proclaiming the word of life to them.
These cannot be believers! They are not yet part of our fellowship. But once they become part of our fellowship and Jesus is their Lord, things change.
That explains why chapter 2:1 says that once you become a believer if you do sin you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
An advocate is someone who speaks on your behalf in a court and pleads your innocence. Christ is the perfect one to do this for us because it is in Him that we have become perfect, and His blood has removed all our sin for all time. Therefore no sin can ever be counted against us. We have a new legal status in Christ that says "not guilty". This status applies to us even if we do still commit a sin!
Of course this doesn't mean it's ok to feel free to go and sin. The first part of that very verse says "I write this to you so that you don't sin, but if anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father..."
So 1 John 1:9 applies to us today by showing us that in order for a person to call on Christ as their saviour and be born again they must first acknowledge that they need a saviour. Once they do that then He is faithful to forgive them and cleanse them of all unrighteousness.
It applies to us by showing us that in order for a person to come out of darkness and the bondage of lies, they must see the truth of themselves and of Christ.
It also applies to us by showing us that it's not everyone who attends your church is walking in the light. Some who walk in the darkness have yet to become part of the body. We must help them to become one with Christ by acknowledging Him as Lord and Saviour.
So when you look carefully at 1 John 1:9 it becomes abundantly clear that it is not to be applied to a believer! It is not saying that they have to be continually forgiven and cleansed of sin, since this completely undermines the very heart of the Gospel and the sacrifice of Christ.
But, it is to be applied to unbelievers who don't believe in sin or think they are so good that their goodness overcomes their sin and therefore do not cry out to a savior to forgive and cleanse them of all sin!
By understanding our Covenant we won't put people under the law Covenant mentality of see-sawing from righteousness to un-righteousness, but instead we will help them to walk in the wonderful freedom and power of the New Covenant.