While I was growing up in the church, I remember an elder informing me once that when I sinned, my relationship with God was broken and I needed to confess my sin(s) in order to get that relationship back. In essence, confession re-establishes my relationship with Almighty God.
From where I stand now, I wouldn’t agree with a statement like that. I follow the path of OSAS (once saved, always saved) or perseverance of the saints. The confession of sins has come up quite a bit in discussions recently and I thought I would use this opportunity to share my thoughts on the confession of sin.
The major text used in discussing confession is found in 1 John 1:9 which says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (NLT)
Now, the reality is that if I take this verse all by itself, without any other Scripture, I could very easily articulate the idea that it is through our confession of sin that leads to our forgiveness. After all it is one of those if/then types of statements. (Some Biblical texts say if we confess our sins, then he is faithful…)
Some, as I have read and understood, point out that John was writing this to a group of unbelievers and as such, believers are exempt. Of course, the terminology John uses throughout his letter clearly indicates it is written to believers. Take for example John 2:1, 2:12, 2:20 etc. It is clear that John is writing this letter to the church.
However, this is where context comes into focus and will help us out quite a bit. While John is writing this letter to the church, he is also addressing a group of Agnostics who have risen, both in the area where the church was located and some who were actually in the church. One of the central claims of agnostic belief is that human reason cannot possibly know whether or not a deity exists. As there is no basis for knowledge, sin cannot be a reality and the forgiveness of sins is at the core message which was being preached among believers.
Knowing that John also is addressing a group of Agnostics within the ranks of the church helps to illuminate John 1:8 and 1:10. Those verses discuss those who claim to have no sin whatsoever which stand in contradiction to God’s Word.
There, context has been inserted and believers are off the hook and never have to confess their sins.
Wait a second.
Perhaps we should dig a little bit deeper.
Let’s begin with this fascinating word, confession. The term itself means that we are in agreement with a statement and or with someone. So from John 1:9 we would agree that we have sinned would fall short of what confession really is. There is more than realizing our helpless state. The Gospel which means Good News is not simply informing us that we messed up and the game is over but rather God has done something about our sins. We are confessing and agreeing with what the Scriptures declare concerning sin. When we confess our sins we are agreeing that, “God was in Christ, no longer counting men’s sins against him.” (2 Cor. 5:19)
It is not the confession of our sins that leads to forgiveness but our confession that Christ Jesus is Savior. When we place our faith in him and the work he accomplished, we are allowing our minds to be renewed by the Spirit of God and biblical repentance is taking place.
Confession of sin is not an aspect of our salvation but rather it is an aspect of our sanctification. Salvation comes by grace (Jesus’ work) though faith (belief in His completed work.) Confession needs to be viewed in its proper place, which is both positional and relational.
i. From a positional viewpoint, believers in Christ do not need to confess their sins.
When we come to Christ, by the Spirit who leads, guides, convicts and directs us, we are placed “into Christ Jesus.” We are baptized into his death and our old (sinful) nature dies. We are a new creation, we are redeemed, we become the righteousness of God in Christ, and we become children of God. From a positional stance, we are forgiven of all our sins, past, present and future. Christ died for every sin we have and ever will commit.
I use to confess every sin to God not because I was coming from a forgiven heart but because I felt it was part of my “To-Do” list and God kept tract of those sins. I always worried that I would stand before God and give account of those sins I had yet to confess. Lord knows I didn’t want that to weigh me down. In Christ, God sees me as being renewed by His Spirit into the image of Christ, His Son.
In Christ, we don’t need to confess our sins to be forgiven. John even brings this to light when he starts off with chapter 2 and says “…if anyone does sin, there is an advocate…” (1 John 2:1). It is clear that Jesus already stands as our advocate, standing in our place. Since we have been forgiven, we are not called to ask for more forgiveness. In Christ, we are forgiven-once and for all.
In Christ, we don’t need to confess our sins to be saved. As mentioned earlier, our salvation is not dependent upon what we do but rather what Christ has done. Our response to His work is faith and faith alone. It is from the heart of faith that confession flows.
In Christ, we don’t need to confess our sins to be accepted by God. God, in his love, accepted us just the way we are. As Christ suffered on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Jesus did not say, “Father, forgive them as soon as they clean up their acts.” He did not say, “Father, forgive them as soon as they are ready to confess their sins.” No, Jesus revealed the heart of mercy and compassion that beats within and cries out on our behalf because he loves us that much. His death allowed complete forgiveness to become a reality.
ii. From a relational viewpoint, believers in Christ should confess their sins.
Confessing our sins is a response to the work of Christ. The character and attitude of a believer should be marked by humility, gratitude and maturity. Confessing our sins should always be a reflection of what Christ has done for us. (Phil. 2:1-13)
Confessing our sins is a response to the call of Christ. When we place our faith in Christ, God the Father identifies us as his own children. We are adopted into his family and as his children; everything he calls us to is to maintain a close fellowship with him. The call of Christ is that we “abide in him.” (John 15:4)
Confessing our sins is a response to the law of Christ. The Law of Christ is to love God and love others. In the New Testament we are given roughly 47 verses which call believers to love one another, pray for one another, and care for one another. As followers of Christ, we are to love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. One aspect of our call is to confess our sins to each other. This is to allow the Spirit to work in us and through us for the sake of spiritual unity within the body of Christ. (John 13:34, James 5:16)