Union And Fellowship Expanded
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
I’m frequently asked why I believe we should continue confessing our sins after being born again, since all our sins are already forgiven. People who ask point out that 1 John 1:9 is the only place this is mentioned and if it was so important wouldn’t Jesus have taught it?
Well it turns out 1 John 1:9 isn’t the only place confession is mentioned for believers and as a matter of fact Jesus did teach it. But before we get into that, let’s review what I call the two sided nature of our relationship with the Lord so you can see where the idea came from in the first place.
Union And Fellowship
I call one side Union. It’s eternal and unconditional, based only on our belief in the Lord. Ephesians 1:13-14 describes our Union with God, sealed and guaranteed. Once we’re born again, we can’t become unborn. We’re His forever. The Holy Spirit is sealed within us from our first moment of belief until the day of redemption to guarantee that. 2 Cor. 1:21-22 is even clearer, saying it’s God who makes us stand, and that he’s put His mark of ownership on us as well as sealing His Spirit in our hearts. In 1 Cor. 6:19-20 Paul wrote, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” God purchased us with the blood of Jesus and then He put His mark on us. You could say after He bought us He branded us, like a rancher brands his cattle, as proof of ownership. We’re His forever. We’ve covered these verses many times in support of the Bible’s promise of eternal security.
I call the other side Fellowship and it’s a bit more complicated. Fellowship is that state of closeness to God that enables Him to bless us in our daily lives in the here and now, both by protecting us from enemy attacks and by making good things happen for us (Romans 8:28). It’s like He’s taken our side to give us a supernatural advantage.
Fellowship is defined by 1 John 1:8-9 as being both earthly and conditional upon our behavior. Even as believers, as long as we’re here on Earth we’ll continue to sin (Romans 7:18-20). Since God can’t abide the presence of sin (Habakkuk 1:13), our unconfessed sins can interrupt our earthly relationship with Him and deprive us of blessings we might have otherwise received. Because of our Union with God we’ll still be saved in the eternal sense, but here on Earth we’ll be out of Fellowship. And when we’re out of Fellowship, we have to make it on our own while being legitimate targets for our enemy’s mischief. The remedy is to confess when we sin so we can be restored.
One reason that many Christians live such defeated lives is that having only learned about the Union part of being a believer, they only know that God has forgiven their sins and that they’ll go to be with Him when they die or are raptured. They don’t realize that they still need regular confession to stay in Fellowship here in the mean time.
Now by defeated lives, I mean they lack the spiritual success all Christians are promised (John 10:10). They might be doing all right from a worldly perspective, although many are deprived even of that, but their lives do not reflect the Spiritual well being for which there is no substitute in worldly living. Nor do they feel the sense of peace and satisfaction that we all desire.
Where Did This Idea Come From?
Union and Fellowship are not just New Testament ideas. Consider the plight of Job, a man of God and the main character in the oldest book of the Bible. He was such a good man that God bragged to Satan about him. But he was not perfect. His sin was self-righteousness and what he said to his friends proves it.
“Although I am blameless, I have no concern for myself; I despise my own life.” (Job 9:21).
(Speaking to God) “Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands … though you know that I am not guilty?” Job 10:3,7
(To his friends again)“I have become a laughingstock to my friends, though I called upon God and he answered— a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless!” (Job 12:4).
“I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27:6).
In addition all 41 verses of Job 31 are devoted to Job giving evidence of his righteousness.
Because he wouldn’t confess his sin, he was out of fellowship. When asked to do so, God had to let Satan afflict him in order to bring him to his senses. Once Job confessed (Job 42:1-6), he was restored (Job 42:10-17). Even though he was the most righteous man on Earth, Job still had to confess to be restored to fellowship with God.
Later, in Old Covenant times, the priests had to sacrifice a lamb on the altar every morning and every evening for the sins of the people. Even though God was dwelling among them and providing for all their needs, the Israelites still had to perform a twice daily sacrifice for sin to stay in His good graces.
1 John 1:9 is the New Testament equivalent of those daily sacrifices for sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
This verse was written for believers who are forever saved, but are in danger of being out of Fellowship because of their sins. When we confess in faith, we’re immediately forgiven and purified from all unrighteousness.
This is the real underlying issue of Hebrews 6:4-6. We know this because in the preceding verses the writer said he was leaving elementary teachings about Christ and going on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, etc (Hebrews 6:1-3). This alone tells us he wasn’t talking about our salvation in verses 4-6.
The key is the phrase “renew again to repentance” in verse 6. Jewish believers were being pressured into keeping the law, especially where it concerned the sacrifice for sin. Those who relied on sacrificial lambs instead of confessing directly to God were in effect crucifying the Lord all over again, since He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The daily sacrifice was a foreshadowing of Him, and when He came the shadow gave way to the reality. The old way was no longer sufficient to restore them to fellowship. All a believer needs to do now is offer a prayer of confession to be purified from his or her unrighteousness.
What Did Jesus Say?
The Lord had quite a bit to say about this. For example, at the end of His teaching on the Lord’s prayer, He said, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15). In Matt. 6:9 Jesus said to begin our prayers with the salutation “Our Father” and in verses 14 and 15 He called God “your heavenly father” and “your father”.
John 1:12-13 says only we who receive the Lord and believe in His name have the authority to become children of God, and therefore to call Him Father. Romans 8:15-16 and Galatians 4:4-6 confirm this. That makes the Lord’s Prayer a prayer for believers only. But if we’re believers we’ve already been forgiven, so how could Jesus warn us that our Father would not forgive our sins unless we forgive everyone who sins against us? No where in Scripture are we commanded to forgive everyone else before we can ask for our own salvation. We have only to believe we’re sinners and that the Lord died for our sins and rose again to ask for and receive eternal life.
The answer can be found in Matt. 18:21-35, the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. It’s about a king who, in the process of settling his accounts with his servants, discovered a servant who owed more than he could possibly pay. The King ordered that the servant, his wife and children and everything they owned be sold to pay off the debt. The servant begged for mercy and for the time he would need to find a way to pay everything back. The king took pity on him and canceled the debt entirely.
As the servant was leaving he came across a fellow servant who owed him a few dollars. He immediately demanded payment. When the fellow servant begged for patience, he refused and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay off the full amount.
Other servants heard about this and told the king what had happened. The king was enraged because he had forgiven his servant everything, and now the servant refused to forgive a fellow servant even a little thing. He had the forgiven servant turned over to the jailer to be tortured until he could pay off his debt to the king.
Jesus ended the parable by saying, “This is how My Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt. 18:35).
Parables have been called heavenly stories placed in an earthly context. They’re meant to teach a divine truth in a way that earth bound humans can understand it. Every character and major component of the parable is symbolic of something else. In this parable the King represents the Lord, the servants are you and me, the debt is our accumulated sin, and the jailer is Satan.
We’ve been forgiven everything, but when we refuse to forgive each other even a little thing it creates a debt of sin that suspends our relationship with the Lord until we repay the debt. We don’t stop being one of His children (the servant wasn’t discharged or sold) but during that time we’re out of fellowship with the Lord. We may not receive blessings that would otherwise be ours and like Job we can even be open to attack. But thanks to what the Lord has done for us, we can repay the debt by confessing our sin. Sincere confession purifies us from all unrighteousness and restores us to Fellowship.
Now let’s look at the parable of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32) Seeking a life of independence from his father, the Prodigal Son left his father’s house and struck out on his own. He had soon squandered his wealth in wild living and would have happily traded places with one of his father’s hired hands. Swallowing his pride, he returned to his father’s house where he confessed and was immediately restored. While He was away, he never stopped being his father’s son (Union), but during that time there was no communication and he didn’t receive any of the blessings that might have been his had he remained in his father’s house (Fellowship).
Like the Prodigal Son, we still belong to our Father’s family while we’re out of Fellowship with Him, but there won’t be any communication and we won’t receive the blessings we might have otherwise had. And like the Prodigal, when we return to our Father and confess our sins, we’re immediately purified from all unrighteousness and restored to Fellowship.
Since Paul clearly taught that our salvation is guaranteed from the moment we believe, we also have to understand that all his teaching on proper Christian living was to help us stay in fellowship with God and was not meant to imply that keeping our salvation requires that we maintain a certain standard of behavior. This thought is beautifully summarized in Phil. 3:16 where he said, “Let us live up to what we have already attained.”
Why Do We Resist?
Since the penalty for all the sins of our life is already paid (Colossians 2:13-14) and therefore there is no more condemnation for us (Romans 8:1), why do many believers resist the idea of confessing when they sin? Don’t they know forgiveness is automatic? What’s the problem?
One reason is lack of knowledge. Most people have never been taught about this. They’ve learned how to be saved, which brings Union with God, but they haven’t learned about the importance of staying in Fellowship with Him. Paul taught that becoming a believer is only step one in achieving an intimate relationship with God. It’s what qualifies us to become one of His children, but many, many more blessings are available to those who go on to live victorious lives (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Along the way we stumble repeatedly, and when we do confession wipes the slate clean again and it’s like our stumbling never happened.
But there’s also a fair amount of pride contained in our fallen human state. Having to repeatedly admit to being a sinner can be embarrassing even when we’re only admitting it to God who already knows all about us and saved us anyway. That pride itself is a sin that interrupts our fellowship.
And finally, at least in the US, there are still many believers who have it too good to even realize they’re out of fellowship. They judge themselves the way others judge them, by worldly standards, and think they’re OK. They never stop to consider their lack of spiritual wealth.
Jesus was warning us about being out of fellowship when He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He said if we don’t remain in Him, we’ll be like a withered branch, unfruitful, no matter what we think we’ve accomplished. At the Bema Seat judgment believers like this will discover that whatever worldly success they achieved is meaningless in the Kingdom, and their life as a believer is mostly devoid of eternal value.
What’s The Point?
Because of our unbreakable Union with God we never have to worry about losing our salvation. Nor do we have to wonder if we’ll be included in the rapture. But to make our relationship with Him here on Earth as good as it can be and to accomplish all that He desires of us requires that we confess when we sin so that we never find ourselves out of Fellowship with Him.
Confessing when we sin is like apologizing to a loved one. You know you’ll be forgiven but you feel bad about disappointing someone you love and want to make sure you’ve restored the relationship to its previous condition. Confession. It really is good for the soul. Selah.