Some people may be uncertain whether or not repentance is necessary if they confess their sins.  One of the scriptures that might cause them to have such uncertainty is 1 John 1:9, which declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Although this scripture mentions confession, it does not mention repentance.  Does this indicate that it is not necessary to repent for our sins?

[Note:  When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.  And, when bold print is shown in the scriptures that we quote in this article, it is to focus on certain words that we will be addressing in our subsequent discussion.]

What the Bible Says in Regard to Confession

Strong’s Concordance indicates that the word that is translated as confess in 1 John 1:9 means to admit guilt.  Strong goes on to state that confess in this scripture means “to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction.”  Strong does not indicate that there is an inference of repentance.

There are several scriptures in subsequent chapters of First John that imply that this book of the Bible was written to people who already were Christians. Among these scriptures are 1 John 2:12-14, 19; 3:1; and 5:13.  In other words, 1 John 1:9 is applicable to Christians specifically.

The following comments by Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible also indicate that 1 John 1:9 is directed to believers (i.e., Christians):

God has given his testimony to the continued sin and sinfulness of the world, by providing a sufficient effectual sacrifice for sin, that will be needed in all ages, and to the continued sinfulness of believers themselves by requiring them continually to confess their sins, and apply themselves by faith to the blood of that sacrifice.

Penitent confession and acknowledgment of sin are the believer’s business, and the means of his deliverance from his guilt.

[For additional perspective regarding the significance of 1 John 1:9 for Christians, see Appendix A, which follows the Conclusions of this article]

Although the reference to confession in John 1:9 is evidently applicable to only people who are already Christians, there are several scriptures in the New Testament which indicate that confession is also necessary for people to become genuine followers of the Messiah (i.e., Jesus Christ) who John the Baptist declared would be coming soon.

One of these scriptures is Matthew 3:5-6, which says, “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him [John the Baptist] and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.”

A second scripture indicating that confession is necessary for people to become followers of Jesus Christ is Mark 1:5, which states, “ [A]ll the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him [John the Baptist] and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.”

A third relevant scripture is Acts 19:18, which says, “And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.”  However, it is not clear if this scripture is stating that those who believed in this instance were confessing their sins in the process of becoming Christians or if they were confessing their sins after they had already become Christians.

What the Bible Says in Regard to Repentance

Before proceeding, we think it would be beneficial to define the term repentance.   Strong’s Concordance defines the Greek word that is translated as repentance in the following scriptures as “afterthought, change of mind.” Unger’s Bible Dictionary defines repentance as “ a fundamental and thorough change in the hearts of men from sin and toward God.”  And, according to Webster’s Dictionary, repentance “implies full realization of one’s sins or wrongs and a will to change one’s ways.” Webster also notes that a synonym for repentance is penitence, which “implies sorrow over having sinned or done wrong.”  So, these three sources combine to indicate that genuine repentance implies both sorrow over having previously sinned and a will (or desire) to not continue to sin.  (As would be expected, the term repent is similarly defined.)

There are many New Testament scriptures, including the following, most of which stress that  it is necessary for people to repent in order to have their sins forgiven so they will be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven (i.e., to have eternal salvation).

Matthew 3:2: In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Matthew 4:17: From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Mark 1:14-15:  Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 6:12: So they [Jesus’ disciples] went out and preached that people should repent.

Luke 13:3: [Jesus Christ said] “[U]nless you repent you will all likewise perish.

Acts 2:38:  Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 3:19: [Peter said] Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. . . .”

Acts 17:30: [Paul said] “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent. . . .”

Also, there are a number of scriptures that specifically mention the word repentance.  And, like in the scriptures that mention the word repent, all of these scriptures pertain to people who are not already Christians.  Among these scriptures are the following:

Matthew 3:11: I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Matthew 9:13: [G]o and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Mark 1:4: John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentanc[or the remission of sins.

Mark 2:17: He [Jesus Christ] said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Luke 3:3: [H]e [John the Baptist] went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,

Luke 5:32: [Jesus Christ said] “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Luke 24:46-47: Then He [Jesus Christ] said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Acts 20:20-21: I [the Apostle Paul] kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you [the elders of the church at Ephesus], and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

[For a  discussion regarding evidence of genuine repentance, see Appendix B.]


The New Testament instructs those who are Christians to confess their sins, but there does not seem to be even one scripture which states that repentance is necessary for a person after they have become a Christian.  In contrast, there are many scriptures which indicate that repentance is a prerequisite for people to become a Christian (i.e., a genuine follower of Jesus Christ and His teachings).

It is our belief that confession without genuine repentance is not true confession. And, we are confident that true confession is necessary for a Christian to be forgiven of his (or her) sins.  However, there is no biblical reason to believe that Christians who do not sincerely confess their sins will lose their eternal salvation.  But, because these Christians will not be forgiven for sins that they have not sincerely confessed, it is likely that their punishment will involve losing some of the eternal rewards that they would otherwise receive.  Thus, it behooves every Christian to genuinely confess his (or her) previously unconfessed sins, and to do so regularly.

It is also our belief that the only way that people who are not Christians can have certainty of God’s forgiveness of their sins, as well as have assurance of eternal salvation, is to sincerely confess their sins, genuinely repent for those sins, and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior.  [For a discussion of how to receive God’s forgiveness, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?]

Appendix A

 Is It Necessary for Christians to Confess Their Unconfessed Sins?

Some people argue that the first chapter of 1 John – most notably verse nine – which pertains to confessing sins, was written to non-Christians, and that the subsequent chapters were written to Christians.  However, we believe that a completely objective study of 1 John will provide no credible support for this argument.  Among the reasons for our belief are the following:

  • When a person writes a letter only a fraction of which is intended for one group of people while the bulk of the letter is intended for another group of people, the writer can be expected to indicate for which group each part of the letter is intended, so confusion by the readers will be avoided. Although there is no clear indication in chapter one of 1 John regarding to whom the statements in that chapter are intended, several verses in chapter two (e.g., verses 1 and 7) make it sufficiently clear that John is writing to Christians.  Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that not only both of the first two chapters, but also all the subsequent chapters in 1 John, were written to the same group of people, and that these people were all professing Christians.

The following are among the commentaries that indicate 1 John was written to Christians or, at least, to those who professed to be Christians:  Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible, John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible, Adam Clarke Commentary, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, David Guzik’s Commentary on the Bible, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible, Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible, and The Pulpit Commentaries.

  • In verse 4 of the first chapter of 1 John, John states, “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” If the entire first chapter of 1 John was written to non-Christians, the chapter is grossly inadequate in explaining the gospel and, therefore, it provides non-Christian readers essentially no information to help them understand how they can receive the joy to which John refers.  Surely, John would have at least mentioned the need for non-Christians to trust in Christ so they could experience such joy.
  • Also, in chapter one, if John was writing to non-Christians, his consistent use of the pronoun we in regard to each of the matters discussed in verses 6-10 – particularly in verse 9 – does not make sense, because John, who obviously was a Christian, would be placing himself in the same current spiritual state as that of non-Christians. Therefore, John almost certainly would have referred to the non-Christians using the pronoun you, to distinguish his spiritual state from theirs.

Now we will take a closer look at 1 John 1:9.  The New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible translates this scripture as follows:  “If we confess our sins, He [God/Christ] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

David Guzik’s Commentary on the Bible provides the following insightful perspectives regarding this scripture:

Our sins are not forgiven because we confess; if this were the case – if forgiveness for a sin could only come where there was confession – then we would all be damned, because it would be impossible for us to confess every sin we ever commit. We are forgiven because our punishment was put upon Jesus, we are cleansed by His blood.

However, confession is still vital to maintain relationship with God, and this is the context John speaks from. As God convicts us of sin that is hindering our fellowship with Him, we must confess it and receive forgiveness and cleansing for our relationship with God to continue without hindrance.

Confession must be personal; saying “God, if we have made any mistakes, forgive us” isn’t confession, because it isn’t convinced (saying “if we made”), it isn’t personal (saying “if we made”), it isn’t specific (saying “if we made any”), and it isn’t honest (saying “mistakes”).

In any case, even the sincere confession of sins to God by a person who is not a Christian is not sufficient to result in God’s forgiveness of those sins.  Sincere trust in Jesus Christ as Savior is necessary for a person to receive God’s forgiveness.  It is only after a person becomes a Christian that their confession of sin, accompanied by genuine repentance, can result in God’s forgiveness of the sins that person subsequently commits.

Regardless of the previously-stated reasons to believe otherwise, some Christians argue that 1 John 1:9 applies to only non-Christians. This position is generally based on the belief that when a person trusts in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation, all of their sins are forgiven – past, present, and future.  Christians who have this belief may think that they do not need to confess the sins they commit after becoming a Christian, since they assume that they will not be held accountable for those sins.   As a result, they are more apt to live a lifestyle that is not appropriate for a follower of Christ, thinking they will not suffer any adverse eternal consequences for doing so.

We want to make it clear that a person who genuinely professes trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior does not need to be concerned that they may lose their salvation if they don’t confess their sins (see 1 John 5:11-13), provided that they do not apostatize.  [For an in depth  discussion of this matter, click on “Can Christians Forfeit Their Eternal Salvation?]

Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that the Bible states that there are eternal rewards which Christians will receive, based upon their deeds (see Matthew 5:46; 6:1, 4; 10:41-42; 16:27; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:35).  The more the good deeds (as judged by God), the greater will be the eternal rewards.  Conversely, the fewer the good deeds and the more the unconfessed sins (i.e., bad deeds), the very best that can be expected is lesser eternal rewards.  This added perspective is inferred by Romans 2:6, which (in the NKJV) declares that God “will render to each one according to his deeds.”  Furthermore, Romans 2:8-9, which is in the section of Paul’s letter that is generally acknowledged to be written to Christians, indicates that the consequences for some types of sins may be much more severe than merely lesser rewards.

In light of the foregoing considerations, we believe that 1 John 1:9 was written to make it clear to Christians that God wants us to regularly confess our sins, not be apathetic about them.  God is ready to forgive our sins, but He wants us to admit that we have done wrong.  Furthermore, we believe that God wants us not only to confess our sins, but also to repent (i.e., feel genuinely sorry for having sinned), which demonstrates the sincerity of our confession.

Appendix B

Fruits Worthy of Repentance

In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “[B]ear fruits worthy of repentance. . . .”  [Note: An identical account is recorded in Luke 3:8a.]

In this incident, John was speaking specifically to Pharisees and Sadducees, who were Jews.  However, it can be argued that this scripture has relevance for everyone who is not a Christian, not just to Pharisees and Sadducees.  And, it can be argued that this scripture may also be relevant to Christians who harbor certain sins in their life, since the point of Matthew 3:8 is that genuine repentance will result in positive changes in a person’s behavior and, conversely, if a person’s behavior does not show positive changes, that person’s repentance is not genuine.

Next, consider what several Bible commentaries have to say about Matthew 3:8 that is relevant to our discussion of fruits worthy of repentance.

Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible explains Matthew 3:8, as follows:

Bring forth therefore fruits – That is, the proper fruits of reformation; the proper evidence that you are sincere. Do not bring your cunning and dissimulation to this work; do not carry your hypocrisy into your professed repentance, but evince your sincerity by forsaking sin, . . .

Fruits – Conduct.

Meet for repentance – Fit for repentance; appropriate to it the proper expression of repentance.

In reference to the same scripture, John Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible states,

Yield therefore fruits worthy of repentance.  [R]epentance, which is attested by words, is of no value, unless it be proved by the conduct: for it is too important a matter to be estimated lightly, or at random.  And so John [the Baptist] affirms, that the solemn declaration, which they made, is not enough, but that, in process of time, their works will make it evident, whether or not they have seriously repented.  It ought to be observed, that good works . . . are here called fruits of repentance: for repentance is an inward matter, which has its seat in the heart and soul, but afterwards yields its fruits in a change of life.  . . . [R]epentance is an inward renewal of the man, which manifests itself in the outward life, as a tree produces its fruit.

John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible provides the following explanation of Matthew 3:8:

Bring forth therefore fruits – That is, if you are truly penitent, if you have a proper sense of sin, and true repentance for it, do such works as are suitable to it, and will show the genuineness of it; for

fruits meet for repentance are the same as “works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20) and as a tree is known by its fruit, so repentance is known by good works; these are the fruits and effects of repentance, and which are proofs with men of the sincerity of it.

With regard to the same scripture, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible says,

All who are listening to him [John the Baptist] are therefore to bring forth fruit which is worthy of ‘repentance’, of indicating that their hearts and minds are truly changed (truly repentant) by bringing forth fruit which will indicate that God has rained on them with the water of His word and Spirit . . . as his baptism indicates.

And, Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible states in reference to Matthew 3:8,

You come here and thrust yourselves into a crowd of penitents, but this is not enough, true repentance is not a barren thing; neither are your leaves of external profession a sufficient indication of it, you must bring forth the fruits of holiness, fruits that may answer the nature of true repentance. The proper products of habits are called their fruits . . . .

Fruits meet – answerable to amendment of life

for repentance are works that are the proper product of repentance, or justly answering an external profession of repentance. As faith, so repentance, without works is dead.

All of the aforementioned Bible commentaries indicate that if a person claims to be repentant, the works (or deeds) of that person will demonstrate whether or not their repentance is genuine.  Therefore, if a person is truly repentant, their conduct should be significantly better than what it was previously.  Conversely, if someone is not truly repentant, their conduct is unlikely to show significant improvement.  And, because God is omniscient, He knows who is truly repentant and who is not, so repentance that is not genuine has no merit (i.e., it does not result in God’s forgiveness of the applicable sins).  [To learn more about God’s omniscience, click on “Is God Really Omnipotent and Omniscient?]