By Peter Amsterdam
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When we accept Jesus as our Savior we are forgiven for our sins, and therefore are seen as judicially righteous before God, with assurance of salvation. In His great love for humanity, God made a way for us to be reconciled with Him, and that way was through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, who gave His life so that we could be born again as members of God’s family. Salvation changed our relationship with God—He is now our Father. We are eternally part of His family.
Being born again, however, doesn’t mean that we no longer sin, or that when we do, our sins have no consequences. Sin has negative effects in our lives and the lives of others, and most prominently in the damage it does to our personal relationship with God. Sin causes a breach in our relationship with our Father, and confession repairs the breach. It takes effort on our part to make things right, similar to how it takes effort to restore a relationship with another person whom we have hurt or offended.
Confession is the means of counteracting the effect our sins have on our relationship with God. If we don’t regularly repair the damage through confessing our sins, we run the risk of becoming hardened in heart and spirit and relationally growing more distant from Him. As John MacArthur wrote:
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus directed us to ask the Father to forgive us our sins.1 He wasn’t instructing us to pray repeatedly for justification, as we received that upon salvation.2 Instead, He was showing us the means of restoring our personal fellowship with God when that fellowship has been broken or damaged due to our sins.
Confessing our sins and asking God to forgive us is the path to that restoration. When we come before Him and admit that we have sinned, when we ask forgiveness and have heartfelt repentance, the breach is repaired and the damaged relationship is restored. We are cleansed from our unrighteousness and can once again be in fellowship with righteousness, God Himself.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”3 God desires to forgive us, and confession is the avenue through which we receive His mercy and compassion.
The Greek word for sin is hamartia, which means to miss the mark, to wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong. As Christians, we don’t want to wander from the path of uprightness or miss the mark. Our goal is to journey through life walking close to Jesus, to avoid straying from His side. When we sin, we wander from Him, but confessing draws us back. Confession is an expression of our love and desire to have a close relationship with Jesus and stay connected to Him.
When we confess our sins, we are agreeing with His condemnation of sin and acknowledging that in sinning we have acted against God personally, against His Word and His nature. We are admitting that sin is wrong and that we have acted in a way that is offensive to Him.
It is recognizing that these actions are repugnant to God and that by doing them, we are hurting our relationship with Him. It is agreeing that because of the sins of humanity, including our specific sins, Jesus suffered torture and death on the cross. Confession is the acknowledgment that these things are wrong, that we have personally done them, we have offended God, we are sorry, and we need His forgiveness. It is also an expression of our understanding that when we confess our sins, God, in His love and mercy, forgives us.
Charles Spurgeon pointed out that as God’s children, we don’t come before Him to confess as a culprit or criminal comes before a judge. Instead, as His children, we come to our loving Father who desires to forgive.
When we confess our sins, we are recognizing and admitting our guilt. We are stating that no matter who we have wronged, we have sinned against God, whom we are accountable to, we deeply regret doing so, and we seek His forgiveness.
Of course, part of confession is repentance, meaning the changing of the mind, a change of view and of purpose. Repentance means turning from sin and toward God, similar to the prodigal son who returned from a far country to his father’s house. It’s being sorry for sinning and committing to change.
Every one of us sins frequently. We don’t want to, we usually don’t mean to, but we do. And while some sins are more serious than others, all sin is spiritually damaging. Confession is part of the process of counteracting the damage.
Before coming before the Lord to confess your sins, it’s good to take some time in self-examination, thinking and praying about the ways you have sinned and any specific sins you can remember. The goal isn’t to root out every detail or every possible sin, rather it’s taking time in prayer to invite the Lord to move in your heart to show you areas in which you need His forgiveness.
Scripture tells us to confess our sins to God. “I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”4 We confess to the Lord because ultimately He is the one we have sinned against.
Besides confessing our sins to God, Scripture also speaks of confessing our sins to others. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.5 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.”6
Some Christians—Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglicans—act upon the instructions to confess sins to another within the sacrament of confession, as they confess their sins to a priest. Generally, Protestant belief is that confession is made only to God in the privacy of personal prayer. In some Protestant services, the pastor will call for a period of silence in order to allow time for members to privately confess their sins to the Lord.
While confessing one’s sins is generally a private matter between the individual and God, as we’ve seen by the verses above, there are occasions when we are instructed to confess our sins to one another.
There are times when individuals confess their sins to the Lord, but don’t feel it is enough; they don’t have peace that their confession has restored their fellowship with God. In times like these, it can be beneficial to confess the sin to a trusted brother or sister in the Lord. Making a verbal confession of sin to a trusted fellow Christian, along with the effective prayers prayed by that Christian, is sometimes needed to bring the realization of forgiveness, resulting in peace of heart, mind, and spirit.
One of our goals as Christians is to have a deep and abiding relationship with God, through Jesus. Because sin separates us from God, we want to avoid sinning; yet as human beings, it is impossible for us to be completely free of sin. Because of this, confessing our sins and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness is key to our having the relationship with Him that we desire. Confession is God’s way for us to eliminate the effects of sin in our relationship with Him. God desires to forgive us, and He wants us to be willing to seek His forgiveness.
When we come to the Lord to confess our sins, we may come in sadness, sorrow, and contrition, but we leave with great joy.—Joy that we are forgiven, that our relationship is restored, and that we can be in His presence unhindered by the burden of our sins. Confession leads to celebration. Our sins are forgiven, our lives are changed. Simply put, “Confession is good for the soul.”
Originally published July 2014. Adapted and republished November 2018.
Read by Jerry Paladino.