Today, the teaching that confession of sins only applies to sinners and is unnecessary for believers has become popular. Unfortunately, this teaching has become an open door for sin. Only the Word of God will reveal the truth. Confession of sins for the believer was never given as a license to sin against God but to serve Him. Christian growth is impossible without a way to rid ourselves of sins we knowingly or unknowingly commit. Something designed by God’s grace for our freedom has turned from simple to complicated and from clear to ambiguous. Lately, much confusion has arisen over this part of God’s plan for our daily life. The Word of God can clarify this confusion and make the topic of confession of sins for the Christian easier to understand.
What if There is Only One Verse?
It has been taught 1 John 1:9 is the only verse in the New Testament instructing Christians to confess their sins. It isn’t (Acts 19:18), but let’s assume for a moment this is true. The question has been posed: How do you build a doctrine on one verse? There is only one scripture stating sinners need to believe in their heart God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with their mouth Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9, 10). Yet, we all agree this is true. All other verses tell us to believe in the Lord Jesus for salvation. In other words, other verses tell us what to do to believe, but not how to do it. Romans 10:9-10 tells us how to believe to receive salvation.
What Does Confess Mean?
The word used most often for confession of sins is repent. Although in the Old and New Testaments it is often used for unbelievers, most of the time (over 80%) it is used for believers. The verses in the New Testament instructing Christians to repent tell us what to do but not how to do it. First John 1:9 tells Christians how to repent: We are to confess our sins. The Greek word for confess is homologeo, homo meaning same and logeo meaning to speak or admit or acknowledge. Nowhere in scripture are believers told to list or name their sins. This is a distortion of the meaning of homologeo.
As a pastor, I saw many Christians come for counseling when they were finally ready to admit they had sinned. At first, they would try to cover their sins, and then blame others, surrounding their original sin with more sins. Carnality always breeds more carnality. By the time they would come to see me, much time had passed and they could not remember, must less name, all the sins they had added to the first. Was God holding them accountable to name each one? No. David’s sin did not begin with Bathsheba, but with staying home when he should have gone with his troops to battle (2 Samuel 11:1, 2). He got off his bed after sleeping all day, went to the balcony, saw a woman bathing, lusted after her, brought her into his bedroom, had sex with her and got her pregnant. He then brought her husband home, trying to get him drunk so he would go to bed with her. But as a faithful soldier, he would not go home to her and instead, stayed with the few guards at the gate. David still tried to cover his sins and had Uriah, her husband, murdered. Nine months later, an illegitimate child was born to them both.
After a year of sin, lies, and denial, David was confronted by Nathan the prophet. God knew David had sinned, Jesus knew, the Holy Spirit knew, as did the prophet. The only one who had to “say the same thing,” was David. He did not list his sins or name each one. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” He admitted or acknowledged his sins. Nathan immediately said, “Your sins are forgiven” (2 Samuel 12:13). A year’s worth of sins were cleansed in one moment. That is grace. When the prodigal came home, he did not tell his father how much money he had wasted, how many prostitutes he had slept with or how many times he had gotten drunk. He simply said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in Your sight” (Luke 15:21). He admitted or acknowledged his sins, was restored to fellowship with his father, and had his privileges restored.
What About Unknown Sins?
When we acknowledge what we know that we have sinned against God, he is also faithful and just to forgive us even from those sins we do not know, those sins surrounding the first sin. He cleanses us from all unrighteousness as a display of His great mercy. He who covers his sins will not prosper. But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy (Proverbs 28:13).
Spirit And Soul
Finally, which part of our being are we responsible for keeping clean? It is not our spirit. That was cleansed when we were born again and does not need to be made clean again. The blood of Jesus washed our spirits and will never need to wash it again. As Christians, we do not and cannot sin in our spirits (1 John 3:9). We sin in our souls, in thoughts which lead to words and actions. It takes the blood of Jesus to cleanse us in our souls as much as it did to cleanse our spirits at the new birth. Like Jesus told the disciples when He washed their feet, “He who is bathed (new birth) needs only to wash his feet (confession of sins), but is completely clean. Bathing takes place one time. Foot washing may need to take place many times. Water is needed for both as is Jesus’ blood for the Christian life. Salvation is for heaven and our relationship with God. Confession of sins is for our time in this life, fellowship with God, and daily victory over Satan.
Enjoy The Grace of God
Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater today. Grace is a wonderful doctrine and I truly believe it is the message of the hour being emphasized by God. Excesses do not negate the truth. The sinful excesses of many evangelists did not negate the healing movement. The excesses of shepherding did not negate the truth of the Charismatic Movement. The excesses of the faith movement did not negate the truth of the message. Like these other movements, the truth of grace will find its point of balance. Let’s enjoy the grace of God together!