Men have died, countries have gone to war, and marriages have been destroyed because of the human aversion to admitting our own error and sin. The act of confessing is humiliating. It threatens self, exposing it to the one who hears the confession, and makes agreement with the “enemy” that the unfavorable ideas about us are actually true. This tears at the very walls of self, threatening to shake it to the foundation. How many times have you seen a politician avoid confession for fear of losing a position, or a parent resist confession for fear of looking weak in a child’s eyes? The resistance to confession promises to protect us, to keep up the charade, to help us maintain our power and our image.
Confession is a dangerous thing to a life built on the goodness, rightness, and excellence of self. Without confession of guilt there is no innocence for the sinner. That means confession is a requirement for us all.
Confession Precedes Forgiveness
First John 1:9 clearly states that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The two things go together. Confession precedes forgiveness, just as our first confession precedes our salvation. As it says in Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” So our confession leads to our salvation. Confession is of ultimate importance in the life of faith. In fact, without it there is no faith. Only those who fail to confess their sin miss out on the grace and forgiveness of God.
Our resistance to confession does two things: it keeps us from the forgiveness our sins need, and it also calls God a liar because to fail to confess is to say “I have not sinned.” And “if we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). He says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
If this is the case, then how is confession not a daily part of our lives, from sunup to sundown? Surely if our sin requires confession, then each day must have its own time of confession.
But confession isn’t much talked about in the modern church, meaning the body of believers, beyond the confession of salvation and confession of crimes prosecutable in a court of law. Why do you suppose that is? What is our fear in the area of confession? Could it be all that it requires of man? Of the confessor it requires certain humility, embarrassment, and shame, especially when sin is confessed to or in the presence of another human being. The pain of failure and shame can be overwhelming. Just getting the words out can feel like death. So is it any wonder that we all avoid the act of confession as much as we do?
The Anatomy of Confession
What is confession, exactly? Is it simply saying, “I’m sorry”? Confession of the biblical sort is the act of verbalizing not only error and remorse but also truth. When we confess our sin we admit that we were wrong and that God was right. We admit our weakness and his strength, and we admit that we agree with God.
Confession isn’t a general statement like, “I’m sorry I was a jerk,” or “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” Confession gets specific. Thomas Watson puts this idea more poetically when he says, “A child of God will confess sin in particular; an unsound Christian will confess sin by wholesale—he will acknowledge that he is a sinner in general.” So proper confession calls out the sins we committed and not just the pain we inflicted. When we are honest and specific about sin, then we make agreement with God and confession is made.
Confession is best done instantly. Why wouldn’t it be? The sooner you can confess, the sooner you find your innocence.
As Thomas à Kempis didst say, “Spit out the poison with all speed, hasten to take the remedy, and thou shalt feel thyself better than if thou didst long defer it.”
Confession, like submission, is best done immediately.
In the life of the Christian there are two kinds of confession. There is the confession that we make to God regarding our guilt and need for his forgiveness. This is the saving kind of confession, the kind that saves us from our guilt and makes us innocent. And then there is the confession that we make to man regarding our guilt and our need for healing. In James 5:16 this kind of confession is explained: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” So confession both provides for our forgiveness and our healing.
Confess to God
First, let’s look at the confession we make to God for the forgiveness of our sins. The Bible is filled with God’s words about confession and forgiveness. In fact, the entire book exists for this purpose, to provide the sinner the forgiveness through Christ that is needed for eternal life. It’s no wonder that confession is talked about so much throughout the Bible.
And certainly our confession, when heard by man, reveals not only a fellow sinner who understands our own struggles, but God’s redeeming power in the life of that sinner. Your confession, when made and then redeemed by the forgiving power of the blood of Jesus, allows onlookers to see God at work and to get firsthand proof that he does heal our diseases and take away our sins (Ps. 103:3).
Another beauty of confession is the power that gets behind it. 1 John 2:1–2 reveals that when you confess, you don’t do it alone, but Christ confesses with you as an advocate for you and your forgiveness. We are promised that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” So our confession is not done alone or in our own strength, but with the power of Christ himself.
Confession leads to peace. There is nothing more nagging than our feelings of guilt. Guilt can haunt. But unconfessed guilt can also lead to turmoil of a more physical kind. Family problems, enemies, interpersonal relationships are greatly strained by the presence of unconfessed sin.
God wants your confession; he wants you to acknowledge your guilt and in the words of Hosea 5:15 to earnestly seek his face. Confession breeds earnestness. It reminds us not only of our rejection of God, but also of our need for him and his amazing grace.
God’s grace takes away the guilt of man in exchange for the innocence of Christ. It’s his exchanging his death for our life, and our willingness to offer up our death for the life that he lives in us. Those who die young confess this truth eagerly, “I am nothing and you are everything.” This confession repeats the words of Ephesians 2:8–9 and allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” In this kind of economy of faith, confession is the new innocence because of the grace that rewards it.
Confess to Man
Now let’s look at the confession we make to man that leads to healing. Isn’t it interesting that God provides confession not only as an avenue for the protection of our humility, but also as an avenue for healing? And this healing isn’t only the healing of physical and emotional pain, but of spiritual pain as well. God’s best exists for the believers in community in relationship to one another (Gen. 2:18).
Community is a part of who God is as seen in the Trinity. So life for believers is best lived in community, and one of the blessings of community is the gift of confession and prayer that we can share with one another. As we confess our sins to each other, we share God’s forgiveness with each other in a tangible, audible, maybe even tactile way that reminds our souls how true it is. God allows for our need for human interaction and assurance that God is who he says he is, and that forgiveness is available for all, in spite of what the world might say about our sinfulness.
But in our failure to confess to one another, many of us retreat to the comfort of confessing to a God we cannot see.
As much as we don’t like admitting we were wrong, it is somehow easier to say that to God than to man. Many times our confessions to God might be more statements we make to ourselves about being better next time and thankfulness that God is forgiving. They might never get to the heart of a confession that states the sin and accepts the responsibility for it. But in the presence of another human being we are less likely to be unsure of our confession. As we confess to another we are forced to come face-to-face with the ugliness of our sin and to voice our guilt as a semipublic testimony of our imperfectness and his perfect trustworthiness.
On the heels of confession comes the prayer of those believers who heard it. They are standing in the gap, praying for our healing from the crippling pain of sin and its effects on our bodies. Not that all suffering is caused by sin in our lives, but God promises to relieve our suffering as we confess our sin. It might not be the sin that we confess that caused our pain, but our feelings about the pain, our resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, worry, or doubt need confession.
No matter the case, confession of our sins and the transparency and authenticity that it brings is healthy for the soul and for the community. Your confession allows another person not only to have insight into their own sin but also to have the grace of God on that sin as well.
This is an excerpt adapted from Hayley and Michael DiMarco’s book, Die Young: Burying Yourself in Christ.
Hayley and Michael DiMarco are the best-selling authors of a combined total of over 30 books, including God Girl, God Guy, Dateable, Cupidity, and B4UD8. Their Nashville-based company, Hungry Planet, is focused on producing books that combine hard-hitting biblical truth with cutting-edge design.