If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,  and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins,  he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to  cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

I John 1:8-9 

This is the message!

John has a message, tidings.

For he has heard, his eyes have seen, he has looked  upon, and his hands have handled that which was from  the beginning, the Word of life, the Life, the eternal Life  which was with the Father and is now revealed.

Therefore he has tidings.

He must speak.

And the heart of the matter, the center of the message  that he with the other apostles declares to the church in  the world about Him, the Life that they have seen and  with their hands have touched, is that God is light and  that in Him there is no darkness at all. That is what it  is about. Everything is concentrated in that. From this  follows everything that John has to declare. God is the  eternal Good, the perfect, overflowing Fountain of all  good, the True One, the Righteous One, the Holy One,  the Faithful One, the Gracious One, and in Him is no  wickedness, unrighteousness, or lie. There is no darkness  in Him at all. He is the only Wise One, who knows  and loves Himself in the light!

Therefore we must go to Him!

To the light!

Only in that light do we have fellowship with Him,  and in that fellowship we share in life. For if we say  that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness,  we lie. But walking in the light, we have fellowship  with Him and with each other.

Walking in the light!

Also now. Also in this world. Even now while we  still have only a small principle of this obedience, and in  us, that is, in our flesh, dwells no good thing.

Walking in the light, also with our sins!

For if we walk with our sins in the darkness, then we  say that we have no sin.

But if we walk in the light, we confess our sins.

And there in the light we find forgiveness!  For He is faithful and just! With Him there is always  forgiveness!

This is the message!

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Confessing our sins!

Difficult—for the flesh, impossible—a demand contrary  to our sinful nature!

It means first of all, that we “say that we have sin!”  Exactly the opposite of what we do when we walk in  darkness. Then we say: We have no sin!

Confessing is “saying that we have sin,” not as a  part of our dogmatics but as an acknowledgment of the  heart. Oh, in a doctrinal sense we know it very well,  and we say it easily enough: We have sin. We oppose  the proponents of perfectionism who teach that the regenerated,  converted, sanctified child of God is able to  live without sin in this life. As Reformed believers, we  find such a saying much too superficial. He who judges  this way does not see deeply enough, does not know  his own heart, is satisfied with the superficiality of life,  does not see the evil of his corrupt flesh, and does not  take sin seriously enough. He is in danger of falling into  all kinds of sin. And in order to maintain the truth, we  should readily call upon this text, for it plainly teaches  that whoever says that he has no sin deceives himself  and the truth is not in him. And we strongly oppose  such a superficial saying, because even the holiest, so  long as he is in this life, has but a small principle of this  obedience.

No, no, we must have nothing of that superficial perfectionism!

In a doctrinal sense we say it heartily: We have sin!  But oh, how completely different it so often is when  this truth must be applied to us personally, when it  applies to very specific sins committed by us that are  pointed out with the finger, and when we come before  the demand to acknowledge them, to say that we indeed  have committed those concrete sins. Perhaps we have lied and slandered, or made ourselves guilty of backbiting;  we have cheated and disadvantaged the neighbor;  we are at variance with the brother and we do not want  to yield. And God’s Word comes to us with the demand  of confession. We are reminded of our sin. We  are admonished. We are reminded of this word of the  Scripture: If we confess our sins, but only then, do we  taste the faithful God who forgives our sins and cleanses  us from all unrighteousness. And we immediately set  ourselves to prove that we have no sin! Or we seek to  explain away our sin. Or we call attention to the brother  and how he also has guilt. And so we seek all kinds  of excuses to escape the trap of the truth regarding the  concrete, while we so readily confess the abstract.

Our flesh never says it: I have sin!

And yet this, and nothing else, is the meaning in the  word of the text. It is not just about the confession of  the truth, but about the acknowledgment of personal  guilt.

And in this sense confession of sin is saying that we  have sin.

Saying it with God!

Confession of sin is not  just a saying, a mere acknowledgment,  a consent that we  have sinned. Even the world  can still do that. Even in the  tents of wickedness you can  sometimes hear the language  of those who loudly proclaim  their iniquities, who take  pleasure in all kinds of filth,  and who openly boast of  things that are even shameful  to speak about. One gives an  open testimony to all the iniquities  he commits while in  fellowship with the devil!

That is the meaning of the  word in the original, a word  generally used in Holy Scripture,  and also here for “confession.”  It means: to testify with someone; to say the  same thing as someone else; in this case, to say the same  thing about our sins as God says.

We are in God’s covenant! We are of God’s party.  We walk in the light! And so standing in God’s covenant,  being in God’s party, and walking in the light, we  see our sins, we acknowledge our sins, we say about our  sins what God says!

Then we hate our sins as God hates them.

Then we condemn our sins as God condemns them.

Then we find ourselves damnworthy before God, as  God, on account of our sins, finds us damnworthy outside  of Christ. Then we long for forgiveness, as God  wills to forgive our sins in Him who has loved us. Then  we humble ourselves in dust and ashes.

And we cry out, “Have mercy on me, the sinner!”

We confess our sins.

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Wonderful power of the truth!

For only if the truth is in us do we ever come to the  deed of confession.

We are ruled either by the truth, or by the lie.

But not by a truth or by a lie; but by the truth and  by the lie.

The truth is that God is an eternally good God; that  He is my God and my eternal good, that He is light  and in Him is no darkness at all; that He is to be desired  above all; that to love Him with all my heart and  with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my  strength is life; that His favor is better than the choicest  foods, and His kindness than life; that He is to be served  and thanked and praised forevermore,  that only in the  light can I behold light, and  walking in the light can have  fellowship with Him.

And the lie is diametrically  opposed to this.

It is the evil, willful, spiritual-  ethical denial of God  as God, the refusal to say  my God and my good; the  attempt to say: I shall be as  God; self-exaltation, enmity,  rebellion against Him, the  seeking of wealth far from  Him; the lust of the flesh, the  lust of the eyes, the pride of  life, the love of darkness.

The lie!

By nature we are governed  by that lie. It is in us, in our  heart, and from our heart in our thinking and willing  and desiring. It is a spiritual-ethical power that governs  us from the inside out, and in a spiritual-moral sense  always causes us to say: We have no sin!

And if we say that, then we deceive ourselves.

Terrible self-deception!

Unspeakably great folly of lies!

We deceive ourselves! Not God, against whom we  think we can exalt ourselves; not the neighbor, against  whom we have maintained our lies, saying that we have not sinned; also not ourselves in the sense that we do  not know that we have sinned. The wicked shall never  succeed in this. God will rise up in justice. He testifies  of Himself, that He is a good God, He witnesses  also in the conscience of the sinner: you have sin, you  are guilty and damnworthy. But he deceives himself,  because he does not want and does not seek God, and  while he intends to maintain and exalt himself against  God, and seeks wealth, happiness, honor, and greatness  outside of God, he turns himself to the darkness, he  seeks the outermost darkness, he moves himself down  the road to eternal damnation, he rushes to destruction!

So it is in the absolute sense with the natural man, in  whom there is no truth.

He is always governed by the lie and he deceives himself.

He always seeks his own destruction!

And so it is in a relative sense with us, with God’s  regenerated children; so often they walk after the flesh.

Then they subject themselves to the power of the lie.  Then they do not confess their sins. Then they say that  they have no sin. Then they turn themselves unto darkness.  Then they flee from the face of God. Then they  seek wealth far from Him. Then they eschew the light.  Then they do not find the cross; then they taste no forgiveness;  then it becomes dark in the soul….

While I kept guilty silence, 
My strength was spent with grief, 
Thy hand was heavy on me, 
My soul found no relief.1

Yet, wonder of God’s grace! The truth is in us!

It is in our heart, a power, a spiritual propulsive-force.  It controls us from within. It enlightens our minds; it  converts the soul; it changes the will; it causes us to  long for the light, for God, for His favor, His kindness,  His righteousness; it fills us with the desire to please  Him, with godly sorrow, with heartfelt repentance for  our sins….

And we say that we have sin!

And we confess our sins!

And we no longer deceive ourselves, but turn to the  light!

And in that light we find the faithful God, the cross,  the resurrection, forgiveness, salvation, eternal peace….

But when I owned my trespass, 
My sin hid not from Thee, 
When I confessed transgression, 
Then Thou forgavest me.

Wonderful power of truth!

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Lovely fruit!

Thou dost graciously take it away!

Completely away! For, if we confess our sins, God is  faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse  us from all unrighteousness!

Forgiveness and cleansing! The guilt is completely  taken away—that is forgiveness! The stain of unrighteousness  is completely taken away—that is cleansing!  I am damnworthy and God does not damn me, for He  does not impute sin to me—that is forgiveness! I am  defiled and under the dominion of sin, and God liberates  me—that is cleansing! I am an object of wrath, and  God grants me His favor—that is forgiveness! I am in  bonds of sin and death, and God breaks the bonds and  gives me life—that is cleansing!

Forgiveness and cleansing—inseparably connected  together!

Connected in God, for without forgiveness we have  no right to His cleansing; He sanctifies us because He  has justified us. And also connected in our own consciousness.  For without an inner longing for sanctification,  we have no desire for forgiveness. Whoever says,  “Forgive!” must also say, “Cleanse me!”

Forgiveness and cleansing—never to be separated in  the confession of our sins!

No, not as if we by the confession of our sins make  ourselves worthy of the forgiving and cleansing grace of  God. God does not forgive and cleanse us because we  confess, that is, on the ground of our confession. No,  only because He is faithful and just does He forgive the  confessor and cleanse him of unrighteousness. He is the  Faithful One, that is, He does what He says; He gives  what He promises; He keeps the covenant; He fulfills  His eternal Word! And He is the Just One, that is, His  will is always in accord with His perfect being, and His  doing with His righteous will. And His eternal Word  is: I forgive the confessor, My child, his sins. And His  justice is that He has blotted out our sins in the blood  of the cross.

But only in the way of confession can we receive that  forgiveness and cleansing!2

Then we hunger and thirst and are satisfied!

Then we seek and we find!

Then we see God’s friendly face in the light!

Unspeakable bliss!

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1 Here and in the next quotation below, Hoeksema quotes from Psalm 32, stanza 2 in the Dutch Psalmen book. I give the English

from number 83 in our Psalter rather than a translation of the Dutch, because in going from Dutch to English the rhyming is lost.

2 Emphasis is Hoeksema’s.