John is referring to God the Father in this verse – the ‘he’ goes back to ‘his’ in the words ‘his Son’. John writes that we discover through confession of sin two important attributes of God and two significant actions by God. The attributes are his faithfulness and justice and the actions he performs are to forgive and to cleanse.
Probably John, in saying that God is faithful, is pointing his readers to God’s commitment to his promises. The promises concern pardon and purification of those who confess their sins. And there are many such promises in the Old Testament, which is likely what John had in mind. Here are some of these promises:
Isaiah 1:18: ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.’
Isaiah 55:7: ‘let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.’
Micah 7:18: ‘Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.’
There are many other promises, but the point to stress is that confession of sin leads to fellowship with God in which we discover afresh that he is faithful to his promises. In addition, at such times we discover that his justice is not compromised. We would be annoyed if the Prime Minister decided to pardon every criminal because we would sense that justice has not been done. Sometimes the gospel can be presented in a manner that gives the impression that justice does not matter. Yet the Lord will never commit an unjust act or make an unjust decision.
When we confess our sins, we discover that pardon and purification come our way because Jesus paid the penalty. Do we find our interest in the life and death of Jesus becoming dim? Are we losing the sense of thrill that we once had when we listened to descriptions of his perfect life and sacrificial death? If we are heading that way, we need a powerful encounter to turn us round.
A suitable path for sinners to move along in order to obtain spiritual reinvigoration is serious confession of sin. When we engage in it, we rediscover the wonder of a righteous God exercising his justice and pardoning us. Such a scenario is impossible in human situations – human pardon is always an expression or mercy and a refusal to implement justice. But the heavenly Father, when he pardons his penitent people, is simultaneously merciful and just. Therefore, we have that insight when, in confessing or sins, we have fellowship with God.
The divine actions we discover as we share fellowship with the Father when we confess our sins is complete pardon and purification from defilement. We need both in order to have ongoing fellowship. Sin not only makes a person guilty in God’s sight, it also makes the individual dirty. God’s pardon deals with the guilt and his purification deals with the defilement. The great news is that those two benefits come the way of every Christian when he or she confesses their sins to God.