What Confession Is and Isn’t

“Confession of sin is one of the missing ingredients in the life of today’s Christian. We feel bad all the time, but often it’s over the wrong things. And when we do feel sorry for our sin, we don’t know what to do with it. We feel like we would be cheapening the blood of Christ if we confessed again. So we hesitate to repent. We feel bad, but we don’t confess and enjoy a clean conscience.” Kevin DeYoung

“Repentance is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of a life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ.” Tish Warren

“The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.” Augustine

Confession is the acknowledgement to God of our sin, brokenness, and waywardness in order to be cleansed and restored to him. It’s an essential practice of the Christian, even though it’s often neglected or relegated to when we feel like we’ve really blown it. But with all the misunderstandings of confession, what is it?

Summary of Biblical Confession

  • Confession requires atonement for cleansing and forgiveness (Lev. 16:20-22; 1 John 1:9-2:2).
  • Confession is primarily Godward, even when we confess to one-another (Josh. 7:19-21; Ps. 51:4; James 5:16).
  • Confession requires us to see our sin as sin and to acknowledge it before God (1 John 1:8-10; Ps. 32:3-5; 51:3-4).
  • Confession is tied to humility, brokenness, dependence, and our need for God (Lev. 26:40; Ps. 51:7-12; Luke 5:8; 15:18-21; 18:13).
  • The goal of confession is to acknowledge our sin as we seek to turn from it, in order to restore fellowship with God through cleansing (Ps. 51:9-12; Zech. 1:3; Mal. 3:7; 1 John 1:9-2:2).
  • Confession is better when specific (Joshua 7:19-21; Acts 19:18).
  • Confession at times, where appropriate and needed, might need to be confessed to others (James 5:16; Luke 15:18-21).
  • God’s people should corporately confess their sins (Lev. 16:20-22; Neh. 1:4-11)
  • Confession happens at conversion (Matt. 3:5; Acts 19:18), but it’s also an ongoing practice for the believer (1 John 1:8-2:2). Believers are motivated to confess their sins because we know we already have forgiveness and now we seek restored fellowship and a clearing of anything that would disrupt our relationship.
  • God opposes the proud, self-justifying, and those who don’t think they have sin to confess, but he welcomes and embraces the humble, broken, contrite (Luke 5:29-32; 18:9-14; 1 Peter 5:5).
  • It is always better to deal with our sin in confession than to try to hide it or make up for it (Gen. 3:7-13; Prov. 28:13; Jer. 3:11-14).
  • In the OT, there were daily sacrifices as a reminder of their continual sin and posture of standing in need of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace (Num. 28:1-4; Heb. 10:11). Part of why confession must be a regular, ongoing rhythm is because we don’t just occasionally sin but we sin—through omission or commission, in act or intent, by false worship or idolatry as much as evil deeds—continually. Even the good we do is not of our own doing but requires God’s work in our life, so we also confess our need for God and our inability to obey him on our own.

What Confession Isn’t and What It Is

  • Confession is not a place to go but something to do.
  • Confession is not primarily done to others—unless you’ve sinned against them—but we confess to God.
  • Confession is not an irregular part of the Christian life we do on rare occasions but a daily rhythm in the Christian life.
  • Confession isn’t a way of getting God off our back but it’s how we get more of God in our life.
  • Confession isn’t mainly about us not having to feel bad and clearing the air but it’s restoring a relationship.
  • Confession isn’t only for the “big sins” or the really offensive ones but it’s for any and every sin.
  • Confession isn’t part of our vow to never to do something again but it’s part of our desire to seek God’s help to change because of how powerless we are.
  • Confession is not about beating ourselves up or feeling really guilty but it’s about being honest about who we are and what we’ve done so we can turn from (repent) and flee the things which only hurt us.
  • Confession isn’t an isolated activity but it must be paired with thanksgiving and clinging to the gospel.
  • Confession isn’t an act so we receive a ‘get out of jail free” card but it’s a genuine response of the heart when we realize what we’ve done and who we’ve done it against.
  • Confession isn’t about stealing our joy but it’s a means of restoring our joy.

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