The verse that most often comes to mind when we think of confession is 1 John 1:9, which begins, “If we confess our sins. . . .” Christians regard repentance, forgiveness, and restoration to be important, but few Christians today understand what practicing confession means. This post clarifies what confession is and what it looks like when practiced in a biblical way.
The word to ‘confess’ in both Hebrew and Greek has, as in English, a twofold reference: confession of faith and confession of sin.
Confession of faith means to declare publicly a personal relationship with and allegiance to God. It is an act of open joyful commitment made to God in the presence of the world, by which a congregation or individuals bind themselves in loyalty to God or Jesus Christ. It is from this understanding that the church historically has identified with a particular “confession of faith,” which declared the system of belief of that group. The Westminster Confession of Faith is one example of this kind of confession.
Confession of sin means to acknowledge sin and guilt in light of God’s revelation, and is an outward sign of repentance and faith. This confession is a reaffirmation of faith following the violation of that faith by one’s sins. This aspect of confession was part of Old Testament worship, which emphasized the admission of sin, offering for sin, and removal of sin. The sacrifices made for sin underscored this. Confession of sin made it possible for the individual to have a proper worship unto His God.
Confession of sin for repentance is an aspect of Christian living that often is misunderstood and, thus, carelessly practiced. Without biblical confession, unbiblical repentance follows. Therefore, people speak of making an apology, saying, “I’m sorry” or such expressions. Our psychological world has taught us we can, and indeed must, forgive ourselves. This forgiveness is never connected to confession.
To know the removal of guilt and the restoration of fellowship with God and others, real confession followed by repentance is mandatory. When we repent, we tend to practice as little confession as possible. In these moments we reveal how small our faith is. We tend to run, hide, blame-shift, and cover-up as did Adam and Eve when they sinned.
When we are willing only to admit what we said, thought, or did that offended God or others, we merely are confessing the outworking of what is a much more serious sin. We need to recognize that our sins are a revelation of something we love more than God. The practices of our thoughts, affections, and actions expose a false faith and idolatrous worship. Thus, confession needs to say what God says about our idolatrous worship.
This kind of confession is not easy due to the blindness of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). This confession requires the revelation of God and the enlightening of the Holy Spirit so that it says what God says and is forgivable. No wonder John warns his readers in 1 John 5:21 to “keep yourself from idols.”
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Why is confession of sin such a vital biblical prerequisite to repentance and forgiveness?