A man who confesses his sins is doing something like this. In prayer to God, he names the sin he has committed, and he takes care to use the same name that the Bible uses. He does this because he is repentant and has turned away from that sin, rejecting it entirely. He thanks God for His promised forgiveness, and resolves by God’s grace to make restitution where restitution is appropriate. Restitution is necessary with sins like lying, theft, open bitterness, and sexual infidelity.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
We must first consider what confession of sin is and is not. Unless we think properly about this, we will stumble, and instead of receiving help from our confession, we will get ourselves into a horrible mess.
Confession of sins is not meritorious: to confess sins as a way of placing God in your debt is not dealing with sin; it is committing another sin. The context of all confession must be the free grace of justification.
Confession of sin is agreement: the word for confess in 1 John 1:9 is homologeo, which means that we are to agree with God about our sin. Adultery is adultery and not “an inappropriate relationship.” Lying is lying and not “creative diplomacy.”
There are three motives for confession that should be sufficient to encourage us to do what we need to do.
Confession is required by God. God requires believers to confess their sins in an ongoing way. The texts cited above make the point very plain. To obey Him in any way glorifies Him, and this kind of obedience is no exception.
Confession protects loved ones. Because Achan hid his sin, the nation of Israel was defeated in battle, and his family was eventually executed. We never sin in isolation, however hidden we may believe the sin to be.
Confession restores your soul. God disciplines you when you are living with unconfessed sin. We see this in Heb. 12:6, and in Ps. 32:4. Because this is disciplinary, and not punitive, the sooner you learn the lesson and confess, the better it will be for you. Moreover, confession establishes your soul. The difference between your life and the life of your friends who are walking with God is not that you sin and they don’t. The difference is found in the fact that they pick up after themselves.
But we also seek out motives for not confessing. We do not want the blow to our pride that confession of sin brings. While it is clearly the right thing to do, it is still hard to swallow. And so we come up with many reasons for not swallowing.
So we trivialize the sin. We say that the sin is too small to confess. We do not want to annoy God with our petty problems.
Or we surrender to the sin; we say that the sin is too big to confess. We do this when we say that the sin is more powerful than God, and give up all attempts to be free of it. This is the counsel of despair (Is. 1:18).
Another approach is to justify the sin. We do this when we say that what we did was really right. The adulteress wipes her mouth and says I have done no wrong (Prov. 30:20).
Or we might excuse the sin. We acknowledge that our behavior was wrong, but say there were extenuating circumstances. Saul does this when Samuel did not arrive on time, and the men were deserting the army (1 Sam. 13:12).
Another device is to blur the sin. We do this through the use of vague terms. We want forgiveness for anything we might have done. We can use the passive voice. Mistakes were made!
We can reassign responsibility for the sin. Again, we see the example of Adam and Eve. The woman You gave me. The serpent beguiled me. Adam says in effect that three were involved in the whole affair — God, the woman, and the man. Bad things have certainly happened but it was all downstream from God giving the woman, and the woman giving the fruit. Adam appeared to think that out of the three, only one was truly innocent.
Some just ignore the sin. We hope that the problem will just disappear if we ignore it long enough. But if time could erase sin, then Jesus didn’t have to die.
Procrastination is always an option. We can put off dealing with the sin. We know that the sin will have to be dealt with sometime, and so, we reason, why not tomorrow? But the Bible says that if we hear His voice today, we should not harden our hearts (Heb. 4:7).
Yet another device is to hide the sin. Adam and Eve sought to do this in the garden when they heard the Lord approaching (Gen.3:8). Our attempts to hide from God make about the same amount of sense. The omniscient Creator of all things is approaching. Quick! Hide in the bush!
When pressed, we sometimes embrace the sin. This is simply rebellion and defiance. We say that we will not confess, whether it is right or wrong. This is a common response with sins like anger, bitterness and pride.
Some people theologize the sin. We do this when we have doctrinal or theological reasons for our refusal to confess. ”1 am justified, so I don’t need to.” “The corporate confession at church is adequate” (1 John 1:10).
And last, some decide to buy the sin. This happens when restitution is required, and we see this as a cost too high to pay. But of course, true restitution is not a cost at all.
In response to all of the above, we should remember that the grace of God never means that we don’t have to confess our sins. It means that we get to confess them.