The first point to make is that verse 9 doesn’t need to be a self-contained statement of the Gospel. That is, 1 John 1:9 was never intended to stand on its own. This verse is part of a letter and should not be considered in isolation. Having said that, it really depends on just what is meant by “confess our sins.” And so, we must make sure we understand “homologeo” the way John intended it.
I derive my understanding of this word by observing how John uses the word elsewhere. His use of the word in John 1:20 and 1 John 2:23 is instructive. In both passages, “homologeo” is juxtaposed against the idea of “deny.” From this, we can conclude that “homologeo” is the antonym of “deny.” We could use words like “agree,” “acknowledge” or “affirm.” You can affirm a proposition, or you can deny a proposition.
Some might caution that a given word isn’t always used precisely the same way, and this is true. However, when you consider that the verses on either side of 1 John 1:9 are describing denial, we’re justified in understanding “homologeo” in verse 9 as the antonym of “deny.”
So we could say that to confess your sins is to not deny your sins; to acknowledge them. But a there’s a peripheral question: “Which sins?” Is this about individual sins, or is it about recognizing our sinful nature?
So “homologeo” simply means to acknowledge, affirm or agree with a given proposition. But what proposition?
When you consider the content of verses 8 and 10 on either side of verse 9, you see that we (humans) can either affirm our sin, or deny our sin. That is, we either recognize our sinful nature, or we deny our sinful nature. But what follows from this?
If Bob recognizes and understands his sinful nature, then it follows that Bob believes he is unable to justify himself on his own merit. But if Bob will not recognize his sinful nature, then he will tend to rely on his own ability. And so we see that when Bob affirms his sin, he implicitly denies his ability to justify himself. When Bob denies his sin, he (erroneously) affirms his ability to justify himself. This is self-deception, and makes God out to be liar.
To trust in or rely on Christ for justification implies, that you affirm that you are unable to justify yourself, and to affirm that you are unable to do so is to recognize your need of a savior who can justify you.
We see this idea communicated in Luke 18:10-14 when the pharisee affirms his own righteousness, denying that he sins. In doing so, he affirms (quite erroneously) his own ability to justify himself and so “exalts himself.”
By contrast, the tax collector denies his own righteousness, and affirms his abject need of God’s mercy and in so doing, humbles himself. The principle brought out in this story is a trans-dispensational principle that goes back to Proverbs 33 and appears again in Luke, and in James 4, and—I’m convinced—in 1 John. God gives grace to the humble. He who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. In the Luke 18 passage, Jesus says that the tax collector (and not the pharisee) went down to his house justified.
With that in mind, realize that there are instances in the NT, particularly in the Gospel of John, where we see allusions to the gospel rather than explicit presentations of the gospel. Consider John 6:54, for example:
“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”No one in the Free Grace movement believes that receiving eternal life is conditioned upon eating anyone’s flesh or drinking anyone’s blood, certainly not Jesus’ blood… how could we? Clearly this is an allusion to believing in Jesus. We know it is an allusion to believing in Jesus because the result is eternal life and being raised up at the last day, and earlier in the same chapter Jesus puts it in those terms: (John 6:40)
“…everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”The conclusion here is that we need not require John to capture the precise terms of the gospel at every opportunity, especially not when he’s addressing people who have already accepted the gospel and therefore wouldn’t require such precision. Even so, “confess our sins,” can be taken as an allusion to believing in Jesus even without the numerous other verses in 1 John which make it more clear that believing in Jesus is the issue.