Good for the Soul
As fallen beings, we have a tendency toward extremes that lead us away from God. One extreme is that of downplaying the seriousness of sin. In my own life, I see this tendency far more often than I want anyone to really know. The unkind thought when someone pulls out ahead of me on the open road then chooses not to accelerate at what I think is an appropriate speed. Or water cooler talk that is negative about upper management. Or other examples that are too numerous to mention. The other extreme, which I find much less common in our society today, is excessive guilt and a feeling of worthlessness. In its extreme it is a questioning of God's forgiveness, but I think more often just a question of "cleansing" so that one is fit for service.
1 John 1:9 addresses the latter, but it also carries in it a reminder for the former, particularly in context. John, in 1:8, says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (ESV) I know enough Scripture that I would never claim to have no sin, but I still think I deceive myself by not taking that sin seriously enough. And I don't mean understanding that sin is an infinite offense against a Holy God. Sure I know that, but do I "know" in the sense that it impacts my life and my behavior. Why? I think it is most often because I have not felt (understood in a real and meaningful way) the depth of my sin in large part because I do not stop and consider my sin in relation to the holiness of God.
Confession, in other words, cannot be taken lightly. Confession involves a real acknowledgement that what we did was wrong, evil, sinful and deserving of punishment. Confession incorporates repentance, a pledge to God to turn from our sin. It is in this act of true confession that we find God's forgiveness and cleansing. Not the forgiveness that gives us eternal life, which every believer already has, but the forgiveness and cleansing that makes us effective servants. That the former is true is seen in 1 John 2:1, where John reminds us that when we sin, "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Thus our forgiveness is not based upon us, but upon Christ.
As for the latter, that unconfessed sin hinders our being effective, look at Psalm 51 to see David's concern about the impact of his sin. He prays that he will not be set aside as Saul was; not primarily a concern about losing his kingship, but about being removed from God's presence. David expresses this in the request that God not remove the Holy Spirit from David's life.
As believers under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit is ever with us. Yet Paul warns us not to grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). This exhortation comes in the midst of a series of exhortations to live out our salvation. If we are to be effective ambassadors for Jesus in our modern society, there has to be a clear direction change in our lives as we turn from our previous lives of sin to lives of living in Christ. This begins with confession of sin, and requires continual repentance and confession throughout our journey.
I am not arguing that we should be morbid about sin. I believe part of being in Christ is that we have the freedom of forgiveness that should produce joy in our lives. But that joy should come as a result of having lived out the "if" of 1 John 1:9. Confession is good for the soul, but not, as I think many mean by this, because we have psychologically unburdened ourselves. Confession is good because when we confess God cleanses us from the sin so that we may serve Him. The great Biblical picture of this is Isaiah, who upon seeing God's holiness confesses his and Israel's sinfulness. After this confession, he is cleansed via the burning coal, and then commissioned for God's service.
"I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips . . . Here am I, send me."