Is Confession of Sin (1 John 1:9) Related to the Filling of the Spirit?
This article addresses the issue as to whether or not the confession of sin is directly related to the filling of the Spirit. 1 John 1:9 teaches the Christian to confess their sins to the Father in order to be restored to fellowship with God.
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. (ESV)
1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. (NET)
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB95)
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (NIV84)
If you notice, there is no explicit mention of the filling of the Spirit in this verse. There is only the mention of the Christian confessing their sins to the Father. Since 1 John 1:9 is a part of a discussion found in 1 John 1:5-2:2 concerning sin in relation to fellowship, John is teaching that if the Christian confesses their sins to the Father, they will be restored to fellowship with God. Therefore, this has caused some to argue that the confession of sin does not restore the filling of the Spirit since there is no explicit reference to the Spirit in 1 John 1:9 or anywhere in that context. However, this is an argument from silence and very dangerous since there are many truths in the Bible which are revealed through a comparison of Scripture with Scripture, but are not revealed in one particular verse explicitly. Take for example the doctrines of the Trinity and the Rapture. No orthodox or evangelic Christian today would deny the doctrine of the “Trinity” even though the term appears nowhere in the Bible. They also would not deny the rapture of the church even though the word “rapture” is not in the Bible.
So we can say that even though there is no explicit reference to the term “Trinity” in the Bible, this does not mean that the doctrine of the Trinity is false since if we can compare Scripture with Scripture it is clear that this term accurately describes the teaching of Scripture. In the same way, even though the word “rapture” does not appear in Scripture, it is clearly one of the great truths in the Bible when we compare Scripture with Scripture. Just as the doctrines of the rapture and the Trinity are known through a comparison of Scripture with Scripture (as every doctrine of the Bible is) so to is the doctrine of the confession of sin to restore the filling of the Spirit is revealed through a comparison of Scripture with Scripture.
Filling of the Spirit vs. Fellowship
So the question arises, “Does the confession of sins to God the Father by the Christian restore the filling of the Spirit?” To answer this, we need to answer the question, “Is the filling of the Spirit related to fellowship with God?” The answer to that question is, it must, since to have fellowship with God the Father and the Son one would also be experiencing fellowship with the Holy Spirit. If one is experiencing fellowship with the Father, one is also experiencing it with the Son and the Spirit.
Furthermore, Paul taught in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is God-breathed!” Peter taught in 2 Peter 1:20-21 that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible. Thus, obviously 1 John 1:9 was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Now, if the believer applies 1 John 1:9 and confesses their sin to the Father, they have just obeyed the Holy Spirit since He is the member of the Trinity teaching the Christian to apply this verse. So if the Christian does what 1 John 1:9 says to do and confesses their sin, they are filled with Spirit since they are in effect, being influenced by the Holy Spirit since He is the one speaking through John in 1 John 1:9.
This leads us to another question, “What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?” Well, first of all, it is directly related to the Word of God. To obey the Word of God is to obey the Holy Spirit since He inspired the Word of God and He speaks actively to the believer through the Bible regarding the Father’s will for their lives.
The commands to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 and letting the Word of Christ richly dwell in your soul in Colossians 3:16 are synonymous since each bears the same results: fellowship with the Father. This makes sense because we already established that the Spirit inspired the Word of God and thus speaks to the Christian through the Word.
The commands, “be filled with the Spirit” and “let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you,” are synonymous because the Holy Spirit speaks to the believer through the communication of the Word of God regarding the Father’s character and nature. The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures (2 Ti 3:16); makes them understandable to the believer (John 16:13-16); guides the believer in the correct application of the Word of God, and reproduces the character of Christ in the believer who obeys the Word of God (Gal 5:22-23). None of this is possible if we have sin upon our soul. That is why the first step towards all of these things is to confess your sins for forgiveness and the purification of the soul from sin, getting back in line with the holy character and nature of God.
Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father. (NASB95)
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (NASB95)
Now if one looks carefully at the results of obeying both of these commands, one can see that they are synonymous since they both produce psalms and hymns, spiritual songs, singing and thanksgiving to God.
Therefore, if the believer obeys the teaching of the Holy Spirit in 1 John 1:9 and confesses their sins to the Father, they will be filled with the Spirit since obedience to the Word of God is equivalent to obeying the Spirit. The latter inspired the former. In other words, if the believer obeys the teaching of the Holy Spirit in 1 John 1:9 and confesses their sins to the Father, they will be obeying the commands to be filled with the Spirit and letting the Word of Christ richly dwell in your soul since both commands are synonymous. This is why some try to say 1 John 1:9 does not apply to the believer. Because, if they can throw out that verse, then they can say they are always filled with the Spirit and do not need to confess their sins. But the context of 1 John and the Greek grammar of 1 John 1:9 absolutely prove it is for the believer only.
This leads to another question, “Why did Paul in Colossians 3:16 not mention the Holy Spirit in that verse but does so in Ephesians 5:18?” The answer is simply that Paul wanted to emphasize the Holy Spirit’s relationship to fellowship in Ephesians 5:18 whereas in Colossians 3:16 he wanted to emphasize the importance of the Word of God in relation to fellowship. So if you look at both passages, Paul is emphasizing that the Bible is a living book in that the Spirit inspired it and is speaking actively to us in it. Therefore in comparison of Scripture with Scripture we get the whole doctrine. Not just by one verse.
What is the Filling of the Spirit?
What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? “Be filled with” is the Greek verb pleroo, which can have the following meanings: (1) to fill, make full, fill up (2) to fill up a deficiency (3) to pervade (4) to pervade with an influence, to influence fully, possess fully (5) to complete, perfect (6) to bring to an end (7) to perform fully, discharge (8) to consummate (9) to realize, accomplish, fulfill (10) to set forth fully (11) passive of time, to be fulfilled, come to an end, be fully arrived (12) of prophecy, to receive fulfillment.
Here in Ephesians 5:18 the word means, “to be fully influenced” since the English word “influence” accurately, conveys the meaning of pleroo here in this passage. The word conveys the believer’s relationship to the Holy Spirit who is a person. The word “influence” conveys this more than the words “possessed, controlled,” or “filled.” “Filled” would be used of liquids, which we don’t have here. “Possessed” denotes ownership, which is not the sense here. “Controlled” has the connotation of someone doing something against your will, which is not the meaning of pleroo here in Ephesians 5:18.
The verb pleroo in Ephesians 5:18 in the passive voice means, “to be influenced.” Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines the word influence: (1) Capacity or power of persons or things to produce effects on others by intangible or indirect means. (2) Action or process of producing effects on others by intangible or indirect means. (3) A person or thing that exerts influence. If we were to paraphrase Webster’s definition of the word, we would say that Paul wants the Ephesian believers to permit the omnipotence (intangible means) of the Holy Spirit (Person) to produce Christ-like character (effects) in them.
The passive form of the verb is a permissive passive voice, which implies consent, permission, or cause of the action of the verb on the part of the subject. It indicates that the apostle Paul wants the Ephesians to “permit” themselves to be fully influenced by the Holy Spirit.
Now, we have the present imperative form of the verb pleroo is a customary present imperative whose force is simply continue and is a command for action to be continued, action that may or may not have already been going on. It is often a character building command to the effect of “make this your habit,” “train yourself in this,” etc. The command in Ephesians 5:18 is a character building command meaning that Paul wants to build the character of Christ in the Ephesians. He wants them to “make it their habit” to permit themselves to be fully influenced by the Spirit because that will build the character of Christ in them, which is the Father’s will.
“With the Spirit” is composed of the preposition en plus the neuter singular instrumental form of the noun pneuma, which is an obvious reference to the Holy Spirit. Now, if we look at the New American Standard translation it appears that Paul is talking about content rather than means. Is the Holy Spirit the content with which one is filled, or the means by which one is filled? Some understand the Spirit as the content with which one is filled with water like a glass, but grammatically this is not the case. It is better to understand the Spirit as the means by which one is filled, not the content.
The Greek is an inflectional language that uses various cases that determine how a word is being used in a clause or sentence. And it is a rule of Greek grammar that a verb may be used with more than one case to distinguish certain ideas or to make ideas clear. In the Greek text, “with the Spirit” represents the preposition en plus the noun pneuma in the instrumental dative case. If we were to interpret this construction as referring to the Spirit as the content with which one is filled would be grammatically suspect. Why? Normally a verb of filling takes a noun in the genitive case to express the idea of content and not the dative instrumental. We don’t have a genitive of content here but rather an instrumental case. For example, the noun in the genitive case refers to material, the content of the filling, as when the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume when Mary anointed the feet of our Lord in John 12:3.
With the accusative case the noun in the accusative refers to the thing filled as when grief fills the heart in John 16:6. But when the noun is in the instrumental case it refers to the agent or instrument that causes the filling. The instrumental case indicates the means by which the action of the verb is accomplished. Therefore, the prepositional phrase en pneumati indicates that the omnipotence of God the Holy Spirit is the means by which the church age believer is to continually allow himself to be fully influenced, possessed or controlled by the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18 And do not permit yourselves to get into the habit of being drunk with wine because that is non-sensical behavior, but rather permit yourselves on a habitual basis to be influenced by means of the Spirit. (My translation)
The apostle Paul is using a contrast in Ephesians 5:18. He is contrasting the mental state of someone who is under the influence of alcohol and drunk with that of one who is under the influence of the Spirit. The issue crystal clear: to be drunk with wine means to be brought under the influence of wine. Visible characteristics begin to take place as a person comes under the influence of alcohol. In contrast, to be filled with the Spirit is to be fully influenced by the Spirit. Therefore the Spirit-influenced believer does things that are unnatural for him while under the influence of the Spirit even as the drunken individual does things that are unnatural for him while under the influence of the spirits.
The Spirit takes the doctrines of Christ, i.e., the Word of God and makes them understandable to the believer. The Spirit does not act independently of the mind of Christ, i.e., the Word of God (Jn. 16:13-15; 1 Cor. 2:10-16). The Spirit’s job is to manifest Christ, to mediate the presence of Christ in the believer, to make the mind of Christ understandable to the believer. Therefore, the believer who is influenced by means of the Spirit is a doer of the Word since He is obeying the Spirit’s voice who speaks to the believer through the communication of the Word of God, which is the mind of Christ.
Hebrews 3:7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE.” (NASB95)
Revelation 2:7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’” (NASB95)
The filling of the Spirit is an absolute meaning that the believer is either permitting himself or herself to be fully influenced by the Spirit or they are being fully influenced by the old sin nature and Satan’s cosmic system. It is the only means of having fellowship with God (Jn. 4:23-24). It is the only means by which the Holy Spirit produces Christ-like character in the believer. Indeed, it is the only means by which the believer can execute the plan of God. The believer who obeys the Father’s will, which is revealed by the Holy Spirit through the communication of the Word of God will be influenced by means of the Spirit and will also permit the Holy Spirit to reproduce the life and character of Christ in their life and will therefore, have the capacity to walk as a child of the Light.
So, if the confession of sin restores the filling of the Spirit, why does John not say that in 1 John 1:9? The reason he does not is that his readers knew this and this was not his emphasis. He wanted to show the relationship between sin and fellowship with God. Paul on the other hand in Ephesians 4:30 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19 wanted to emphasize with his readers the affect sin has on their fellowship with the Holy Spirit. John and his readers knew that if you were filled with the Spirit or influenced by the Spirit, you are experiencing fellowship with God since if you are experiencing fellowship with God the Father, you are certainly having fellowship with the Son and the Spirit. You cannot have one without the other.
One must realize that experiencing fellowship with God is in effect experiencing one’s eternal relationship with the Triune God and one’s union and identification with Jesus Christ. One must not blur the distinction between our eternal relationship with God, our positional sanctification and fellowship with God, our experiential sanctification, though all are obviously related to each other. One also must not blur the distinction between one’s position in and union with Christ and one’s experience. All of these are related because fellowship with God is experiencing one’s eternal relationship with God. They are different in that sin does not cause one to lose one’s eternal relationship with God but it does cause one to lose fellowship with God.
Let me use an analogy. I entered the Wenstrom family at physical birth. When I disobeyed my parents, I lost fellowship with them. I was sent to my room. They did not disown me but they refused to have fellowship with me until I did two things. One, I confessed I was wrong to them, and two, I had to do what I was told. The same is true in God’s family, if we sin, God will not have fellowship with us. He does not disown us when we sin. He disciplines us because He loves us (Hebrews 12:4-11; Revelation 3:19). We are still in His family. When we confess our sins to our heavenly Father we are restored to fellowship with Him and when we obey Him we maintain that fellowship with Him.
We must not blur the distinction between one’s position in Christ and one’s experience. Committing sin (mental, verbal, or overt) prevents us from experiencing our position in Christ as well as our sanctification and yet it does not cause us to lose our position in Christ. In fact, to experience fellowship with God is to experience one’s union and identification with Christ in His crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection and session at the right hand of the Father.
Sanctification, Fellowship and the Filling of the Spirit
The believer’s “sanctification” is directly related to the baptism of the Spirit since it results in positional sanctification, the potential to experience sanctification in time, and the guarantee of the completion of sanctification at the resurrection of the church. During the dispensation of the church age when a sinner exercises faith alone in Christ alone, the omnipotence of God the Holy Spirit places that person in eternal union with Christ. The Spirit at conversion identifies the believer positionally with Christ in His crucifixion, death, resurrection and session. This results in making the believer a permanent member of the royal family of God, a new spiritual species and eternally secure (Mark 16:16; John 7:37-39; 14:20; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:11-13; 1 Pet. 3:21). This is called the “baptism of the Spirit.”
“Positional sanctification” is the direct result of the baptism of the Spirit. It results in the believer’s “entrance” into the plan of God for the church age resulting in eternal security as well as two categories of positional truth (1 Cor. 1:2, 30; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1 Thess. 5:23; Eph. 5:26-27; Heb. 2:11; 10:10; Acts 20:32; 26:18; Rom. 6:3, 8; 2 Thess. 2:13).
“Retroactive” positional truth is the church age believer’s identification with Christ in His death and burial (Romans 6:3-11; Colossians 2:12). In other words, when Christ, died God considers the believer to have died with Him.
“Current” positional truth is the church age believer’s identification with Christ in His resurrection, ascension and session (See Ephesians 2:4-6; Colossians 3:1-4). In other words, when Christ was raised and seated at the right hand of the Father, the Father considers the believer to have been raised and seated with Christ as well.
Therefore, “positional sanctification” is: (1) What God has done for the church age believer. (2) His viewpoint of the church age believer. (3) Sets up the potential to experience sanctification in time. (4) Provides the believer with the guarantee of receiving a resurrection body.
“Experiential sanctification” is the function of the church age believer’s spiritual life in time through obedience to the Father’s will, which is revealed by the Spirit through the communication of the Word of God (John 17:17; Rom. 6:19, 22; 2 Tim. 2:21; 1 Pet. 3:15; 1 Thess. 4:3-4, 7; 1 Tim. 2:15).
It is only a potential since it is contingent upon the church age believer responding to what God has done for him at the moment of salvation, therefore, only believers who are obedient to the Word of God will experience sanctification in time. And as noted above, the application of 1 John 1:9 provides the believer entrance into experiential sanctification.
“Perfective sanctification” (also called “ultimate sanctification”) is the perfection of the church age believer’s spiritual life at the Rapture, i.e. resurrection of the church, which is the completion of the plan of God for the church age believer (1 Cor. 15:53-54; Gal. 6:8; 1 Pet. 5:10; John 6:40). It is the guarantee of a resurrection body and will be experienced by every believer regardless of their response in time to what God has done for them at salvation.
Metaphors for Fellowship
Now, lastly, there are many metaphors in Scripture which speak of experiencing fellowship with God from different perspectives. For instance, experiencing sanctification speaks of fellowship with God from the perspective that it is experiencing being set apart to serve God exclusively. Fellowship with God speaks of experiencing one’s relationship with God from the perspective that we are communing with God.
John uses the term “abide” in his writings (1 John 2:6, 10) which is a reference to the Lord’s Vine and the Branches Metaphor. Our Lord taught His disciples that He is the Vine and they are the Branches and that like a branch cannot bear fruit apart from the vine so they cannot produce fruit apart from Him (John 15:4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10). This term “abide” is a reference to fellowship with God.
John also uses the term “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7) which speaks of fellowship with God from the perspective that it is living according to God’s holy standards. In 1 John 1:5 he says that “God is light” which is a reference to the fact that as to His character and nature, God is holy. So the believer is living according to God’s holy standards when they are in fellowship with God. God’s holy standards are found in the Word of God.
So the filling of the Spirit and fellowship with God are not mutually exclusive. They are inextricably related. In fact, experiencing one’s sanctification, walking in the light and, abiding in Christ or His Word are also inextricably tied to each other. They all speak of experiencing fellowship with God from different perspectives. Thus, when a believer confesses their sins, they are not only restored to fellowship with God but they are filled with the Spirit. Since being in fellowship with God demands obedience to God’s Word, (and the Holy Spirit inspired God’s Word and speaks actively to the believer through the Word), they are also experiencing sanctification and walking in the light, i.e. living according to God’s holy standards.