Have you ever confessed to a brother or sister in Christ that you messed up, or brought a sin you committed before God? Whether or not confession has been a common part of your spirituality, it’s a tool that God has given to all people so that we can live in the freedom from sin that Jesus has won for us. Just as much as we all have sin in our lives, we all have need of confession. However, over the years we have often gotten confession wrong, turning it into either a rote practice with a man in a box or a shameful thing wrapped up with guilt and anxiety. We can make the mistake of making constant confession our only way to be free or reserve confession for only the “worst” sins. But God’s word gives us clear vision for why we confess, how, and to whom.
I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
The Wrong Reasons for Confession
First, it’s worth mentioning what’s not in those verses. It doesn’t say that we confess to avoid the consequences of our sin. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross takes away the penalty of our sin before God, but not always the consequences of our sin on this fallen earth. Our sins can have relational and even legal consequences, and confession is not a way to escape those.
Additionally, it doesn’t say that we confess to feel better. While God does often comfort us when we confess to Him, the purpose of confession is not a feeling but freedom. If we continue in sin and use confession as a crutch to get rid of the shame while we persist in doing wrong, then we miss God’s heart for confession. God’s purpose for us is to sanctify us from all unrighteousness, not anesthetize us from it.
Restored Relationship with God
John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. This statement is simple in meaning but expansive in its implications. When we sin, we turn away from God and choose to neglect the relationship with God that Jesus won for us on the cross. While our sin does not negate the power of the cross to keep us in covenant with God, it does impair our relational experience of God. But if we confess our sins, God forgives our turning away from Him and restores the relationship. Because of that, our first step after realizing we have sinned should be confessing to God for forgiveness and restoration of relationship. When we turn back to the Father’s heart for us and the counsel of the Holy Spirit, we will get the strength and wisdom we need to turn from sin and learn from our mistakes.
Cleansing from Unrighteousness
That leads into the second thing I John says will happen if we confess our sins to God: “He…will purify us from all unrighteousness.” When sin reveals impurity in our lives, it’s God’s heart to cleanse us from the sin so that He may present us as “a pure and spotless bride.” When we confess our sins to God, we enter a process where God is invited in to clean up our lives. If we hide our sins from God, they fester in darkness. We might be able to keep our failings under locks for a while, but eventually the odor of unrighteousness will begin to leak into other areas of our lives. But when we invite God in by confessing, He can show us the steps to walking in righteousness and anchor us in the truth: the truth about God and the truth of our identity in God. He is able to purify any sin, no matter how difficult or persistent.
That We May Be Healed
The Bible instructs us to confess not only to God, but also to each other. James 5:16 says we should confess to one another and pray that we might be healed. Because every sin affects our relationships with people in one way or another, God in His wisdom makes it so that we can be healed by confessing to one another. When we sin, it hurts us inside and out, altering how we see ourselves and how we relate to others. We may carry shame or guilt that wounds us internally and tempts us to pull away from others. When we confess to others and have them pray with us, we are restored relationally and healed internally from the guilt and shame that sin can put on us. While confessing to others can be scary, it is a powerful step toward freedom, allowing us to overcome the shame and isolation that could lead us back into further sin.
So, with this in mind, let’s be people who are quick to walk in freedom from sin by confessing to God and to trusted brothers and sisters when we mess up. I believe that as we confess rightly and biblically, we will be people who are not held back by shame or guilt, and who know to trust God with everything in our lives at all times. Let’s walk in full confidence of the grace of Jesus Christ and throw all our sins down at his feet and before His church so that we can walk unburdened.