If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1Jo 1:9). But what does it mean to confess our sins? When is a confession accepted by God? What are the ingredients to a proper confession? Does a confession to a priest satisfy God?
The first reference of a confession in Scriptures is in the book of Joshua. After the lot revealed Achan had caused Israel’s defeat and trouble, “Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me” (Jos 7:19). Achan accurately told what he did, and where the coveted goods were to be found.
There are some good qualities in Achan’s confession. He acknowledged that he “had sinned”. He did not call it a little mistake. He did not say he should have done better though he should have done better. He called his actions what it was before God and man; it was sin.
He also realized his sin was “against the Lord God of Israel”. God had given a command concerning the spoils of Jericho. Achan violated God’s commandment. He did not reflect against God’s earthly authority concerning the command he violated.
Achan was honest in sharing what quantity of goods he had stolen and where the goods were located. There were no surprises as to where the goods could be found and what the goods consisted of.
There was an important ingredient missing in Achan’s confession. The confession did not immediately come from a willing heart. The Law said when a person realized he sinned, he was to make it right (Lev 5:1-10). The day before, Joshua told the people to sanctify themselves. Did Achan search his heart and confess his sin? What did he do while the rest of Israel searched their hearts for the reason for Israel’s defeat? The account indicates that he only confessed his sin when the evidence could not be denied.
Achan needed to face the sentence of death even though he made a confession. This could be because he ignored the time of grace that may have been his had he voluntarily acknowledged his sin from the heart. The punishment could also have been befitting since 36 innocent men lost their lives because of his sin.
King David was also a man of human failings. Even though he was a good king, he needed to confess his sins. Psalms 32:1-5 indicates his process of struggling with guilt, confessing his sins and finding forgiveness with God. These verses indicate the guilt he lived with from the time he plotted to have Uriah slain until the day he faced the Prophet Nathan. Concealing the sin did nothing to quiet the inner unrest. He was a guilty man and he knew it.
When he was confronted with his sin, he took full responsibility for it. He was also ready to accept the consequences for his sin. When the child died he was ready to return to the normal duties of life (2Sa 12:20). He was forgiven by God for his sin.
Another Old Testament example of confessions made to God would be during the time of Ezra. He and others came from Babylon (Ezra 8:1) and witnessed the sin of intermarriage with the heathen (Ezra 9:1-2). Ezra prayed to God (Ezra 9:6-15) and confessed the abominable sin. Ezra may have been overwhelmed with Israel’s sin, but Shechaniah said “there is yet hope in Israel concerning this thing.” Confession coupled with a forsaking of sin is God’s way of dealing with sin. The people were then called to also make confession for their sins and separate themselves from the strange wives (Ezra 10:10-12, 19).
Today, man’s salvation includes the need for confession. Romans 10:10 says, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Our confession of sin is not needed to inform God of our sinful deeds. He knows our sins. Confession is our personal acknowledgment to God that reveals our contrition, humility and honesty.
While all sin needs to be confessed to God, there are also times when our sin needs to be confessed before men. The pride of a man hinders this from taking place as God desires. James 5:16 says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” The hurts and broken relationships caused by sin can be restored through proper confession of sins. The person who was wronged needs to see our sorrow for our sin. If restitution is needed, the offender will be willing to make it. He will seek to restore the relationship that was broken or marred by his sin.
When making a confession to another person, there are a few things we should not do. We cannot make a confession for another person. Confessions need to come from the heart and mouth of the one who did the wrong. We should not state why we did what we did. Wrong actions do not have justifiable motives and right actions do not need to be justified. Including why an action was done is our way of justifying our actions, not confessing them. We should also refrain from identifying the faults of the offended. They may well have their faults, but the reason for the sharing is to clear ourselves, not implicate or condemn another person.
One of the greatest promises of Scriptures indicates what God does when man confesses his sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9). This verse gives comfort to a weary sin-laden heart that desires to be free from the burden of sin. If we meet the conditions, we may claim the promise. God’s complete forgiveness of sins begins with a confession of the same. He also promises to deliver us from these sins. Our part is to turn from the ways of iniquity. We can claim this verse at our conversion and throughout our imperfect earthly pilgrimage.
Thank God for the simple way of unloading our sin. It is simple because it does not require great oratory abilities, just an honest acknowledgment from the heart. It is simplified when it comes from a humble heart. No careful wordings of self-justification are needed. If we confess to God, He will forgive. If we confess to others, they will often be more than ready to forgive also. Let us make sure we make suitable confession for our sins. God and His children are ready to give a positive response to the confessions we need to make.