Confession and Forgiveness

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Over the years, the word “forgiveness” has been misdefined and misapplied that it has lost its original meaning. With the meaning watered down, the act of forgiveness has also become superficial and sentimental.

Do Christians Need to Confess Our Sins?

There are some in Christian circles who teach that Christ has forgiven our sins – past, present, and future – and therefore, we no longer have to confess our sins.

All our sins have been covered by the blood of Christ, blotted out and nailed to the cross, so confession of our sins – they argued – is to continue to keep the law in the dispensation of grace.

On the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12), those who do not see the need for confession of sins as part of the process for forgiveness maintain that Christ taught this prayer before His crucifixion and resurrection. The implication is that it is before the dispensation of grace. In other words, the Lord’s Prayer really belongs to the Old Testament.

On 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – they interpret it not as a believer’s regular confession of sins, but as a person’s confession of sin at the point of his conversion.

These errors in interpretation have resulted in the misapplication of God’s Word. It must be pointed out that the only part in the Lord’s Prayer that our Lord Jesus elaborated on was forgiveness. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15; see also Luke 6:36-37).

Our Lord’s elaboration on this point of forgiveness makes the point that our communion with God will be hindered if we do not actively seek communion with other believers through forgiveness.

The same point is made in 1 Peter 3:7, the Apostle Peter calls the husbands, “Dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). A husband’s failure to commune with his wife will adversely affect his communion with God.

What is Confession of Sins?

The word “confess” in Greek is homologeo [homo = same; logos = word]. Literally, “to confess” means “to say the same word.” To confess can mean to agree with a stated truth (see 1 John 4:2-3). To confess Christ is to agree with all the things that Jesus says about Himself. This profession is necessary for salvation (Romans 10:9-10). In John 9:22, the Jewish leaders made the threat that “if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.” And this threat was quite effective. John writes that there are some who believed that Jesus was the Christ, “but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue” (John 12:42).

In the context of our discussion on forgiveness, to confess means to agree with what God says about our sins.

Why Do Christians Need to Confess Our Sins?

If a believer’s sins have been forgiven, why is there a further need to confess his sin? There are several reasons.

  • To restore the relationship with God that has been damaged by sin.

God is both Judge and Father. God deals with sinners as the righteous Judge. A sinner stands condemned under the judgment of God. But we, who are believers, having placed our trust in Christ no longer come under the judgment of God. Christ has paid the price for our sins. We become the children of God. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).

Believers relate to God as Father. However, that does not mean that God does not discipline us. When we sin, God will set us straight. When gone astray, He will bring us back to the right path. That is God’s discipline. In fact, discipline is evidence that we are the true children of God (Hebrews 12:7-11).

There is a difference between the judgment of the sinner and the discipline of the son. The former is initiated by the wrath of God to punish sinners for their defiance. The latter is motivated by the love of God to train believers in obedience and holiness.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:
“God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance” (WCF, Chapter 11.5)

  • To impress upon us the seriousness of our own sins.

When the Bible says that we must forgive those who have offended us before we ask God for His forgiveness for our sins, it helps us to consider the seriousness of our sins.

There is a tendency to overestimate the wrong that has been done to us and underestimate the wrong that we have done against God. When we charge a person for being ungrateful to us for the little good that we have done for him, we ought to think about how ungrateful we have been for all the good that God has done for us.

Our Lord Jesus says that if we do not forgive those who have wronged us, God will not forgive our sins (Matthew 6:16; Mark 11:26; etc.). These passages do not suggest that our forgiveness of others’ wrong earns God’s forgiveness for our sins. Rather these passages serve to remind us that the forgiven must be forgiving. We, who have been forgiven much by God must also be forgiving for the little hurt that has been afflicted upon us.

  • To develop a heart of mercy and tenderness toward those who have wronged us (Ephesians 4:32).

Whenever we confess our sins and ask God for forgiveness, we also think of the other person and his need for forgiveness. God’s mercy and compassion for us ought to remind us of the other person’s need for mercy and compassion.

  • To prevent bitterness from taking root in our hearts.

A heart hardened against sin and an unwillingness to forgive are indications of bitterness taking hold of a person (Hebrews 12:15). When we are reluctant to forgive, we display unreasonableness and meanness in our attitude. It is like the servant who has been forgiven much by his master and yet refuses to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a fraction of what he has been forgiven (see Matthew 18:23-35).

Confession of and asking forgiveness for our sins foster our communion with God and closer fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pastoral Letter by Pastor Isaac Ong – Calvary’s Weekly Bulletin (17 February 2019)