According to the Bible, confession means agreeing with God about who we are—sinners— acknowledging specific sins before God as we recognize them, and humbly admitting our sin to others. But we don't confess just to get our failures off our chest. We confess because God promises to both forgive and cleanse those who do (1 John 1:8-9).
We have curated a playlist for you, relevant to this topic.
Listen for free on Spotify!
When was the last time you really wanted a shower?
Muddy, sweaty, and maybe having been in an unsanitary place, you couldn’t wait to throw off your clothes and wash. How did it feel when you were finally able to be made clean?
According to the Bible, confession is the same sort of experience.
Confession starts with an honest understanding of ourselves (1 John 1:8)—that we’re dirty and in need of cleaning. This understanding is a precious gift given by God’s Spirit. And though it hurts to feel the pangs of guilt, it’s the first cut of the scalpel working towards our ultimate healing. We call this understanding of our sinfulness and the realization of our specific sins, conviction.
When convicted, we understand that, though we may have wronged others, we have ultimately wronged God above anyone else (Psalm 51:4). We understand that we have disobeyed God and rebelled against him in specific ways (Proverbs 28:13). True conviction doesn’t include excuses or downplaying what we’ve done.
Like the first humans, when we realize our sin, we naturally want to hide (Genesis 3:10). But hiding will only keep us from the healing we need (Proverbs 28:13), just like putting on more clothes or perfume on top of your dirty body won’t help.
True conviction prompted by God’s Spirit will drive us to confession.
God convicts us because he wants us to run to him and tell him just how we are. In fact, when those first humans sinned, God called out to them and went looking for them (Genesis 3:9).
He’s not afraid of what he’ll see, nor will he be surprised. He just wants us to tell him the truth, so he can make us clean. He wants our hearts to say,
“I acknowledged my sin to you . . . I will confess my transgressions to the LORD” (Psalm 32:5).
We go to God not to inform him of things he doesn’t know, or grovel for his forgiveness, or to feel good about ourselves because we’ve been honest, or to feel properly terrible about how bad we are.
We go to God to be cleansed and changed, just like when you realize you’re dirty you go take a shower.
There’s a prophecy in the book of Zechariah that says, “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity” (13:1 NIV).
God told his people long ago that he would provide the cleansing fountain for their sin.
One famous hymn-writer, reflecting on this verse, wrote a song called “There Is a Fountain.” One of the verses reminds us, “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.”
In other words, God provided a fountain of forgiveness at a cost only to himself, as his Son Jesus died for our sins.
The Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV). We know that if we were to approach God in our sin, his righteousness would require that we be punished. We would die in our sin in the purity of his presence. That’s what happens to unholy things in the presence of a holy God.
So how is it that we can find a joyous welcome and the offer of cleansing?
We can be cleansed because Jesus took all of our sins upon himself. He was clean, never stained, never dirtied by disobedience in God’s sight (1 Peter 2:22), for he was God himself. But he took his clean garments off and took on our dirty ones. So when Jesus went to stand before God, he was condemned in our place. Two-thousand years ago, on a Roman cross, Jesus took on God’s wrath for every sin that we committed.
Three days after his death, Jesus rose from the dead, breaking the power of sin. To everyone who believes in him, he offers his perfect righteousness as a gift, and gives us a new heart that is clean in God’s sight (Ezekiel 36:26). He washes us once and for all, symbolized by baptism (1 Peter 3:21). When we believe, God vows to see us no longer in the dirty clothes of our past, but in the clean clothes given to us by Christ (Isaiah 60:10).
As Christians, we will still sin. Though Jesus broke sin’s power and took away its punishment, its presence remains until he returns. Although we’ve been made new and cleansed entirely, as we grow in our relationship with God we will become more aware of our sinfulness and God’s holiness.
Jesus explains to his disciples that because of their faith in him, it’s like he has washed their whole body, but as they walk through life, they will realize that they regularly still need their feet washed (John 13:10). They’ll still sin—he’ll still wash them.
Instead of hiding or being ashamed, when we’re convicted of particular sinful actions and attitudes we run back and tell God of the dirt we see on ourselves and ask God to wash us again.
God’s Word tells us that God is compassionate towards us in our sin. When we confess to him, he promises to “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19 ESV), to remove them from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), and to remember our sins no more (Isaiah 43:25). He can do this because he has already dealt justly with our sin through the death of Christ.
There’s no time to lose. Unconfessed sin only festers (Psalm 32:3-4). Hidden sins will be brought to the light in judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Confessed sins are cleansed. There’s a fountain available to you.
God promises us that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV). God wants to purify you. Would you confess your sins and be cleansed today?
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
JAMES 5:16 ESV
And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
If we confess
he is faithful and just
to forgive us
our sins and
to cleanse us from all
Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community.
The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness.
Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light.
In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of a pious community.
In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and closed isolation of the heart. Sin must be brought into the light. What is unspoken is said openly and confessed. All that is secret and hidden comes to light.
It is a hard struggle until the sin crosses one’s lips in confession. But God breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron (Psalm 107:16).
Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of another Christian, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders, giving up all evil, giving the sinner’s heart to God and finding the forgiveness of all one’s sin in the community of Jesus Christ and other Christians.
Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power.