What is the role of confession in the Christian life? Does God forgive us if we don’t acknowledge each particular sin? Confessing sin to God is commanded in Scripture and there are blessings attached.
We are called to repent of sins and turn to God for forgiveness, not just at the beginning of the Christian life (Mk. 1:15; Acts 2:38), but all through our lives . The Christian life is one of dying daily to self, turning away from our sins, and seeking to walk in holiness. Since we all sin frequently everyday, our confession of sin should likewise be daily. God promises that he will forgive and cleanse us from all sins, however great or terrible or frequent, because the blood of Christ is powerful to save.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” | 1 John 1:9-10
We believe that a person is redeemed and their sin is covered once for all by the blood of Christ upon repentance and faith at conversion (Luke 23:42-43; Rom. 10:9-10). So this begs the question: if we are already justified and forgiven forever at the moment of conversion, why is subsequent confession necessary?
The simplest answer is that while we are declared just in God’s sight now and at the final judgment, we still sin and experience its terrible effects in the present. Such sin displeases the Lord and, if left unchecked, harms us and others and harms our experience of close fellowship with God. Sin causes us shame and guilt and can still enslave the believer. God in his grace gives us forgiveness in Christ and cleansing, but all because of the blood of Jesus. Apart from confession, we do not experience the joy and peace this brings in our daily lives. Unconfessed sin works against the peace of one’s conscience.
It is best to see regular confession of sin to God not as a condition of justification (whether or not you are saved), but of sanctification (your growth in holiness and freedom from sin). By confessing our sins to God, we respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction, learn to hate our sin and love holiness, seek greater fellowship with God and trust daily in the death of Christ to save. If our justification were dependent on confessing every sin, none would be saved, for we all sin more than we are even aware of. As David writes in Psalm 19:12, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” So you should have no fear that your salvation depends on being able to catalog and confess each individual offense, for no one is able to do so!
In practice, I recommend that you make regular confession of sins to God part of your daily habit.
1. You may pray concerning your sin nature generally. Just as we tend to avoid the reality that we will die someday, we also don’t like to meditate on our own sinfulness. But it is necessary and healthy and essential to right theology. We must not only consider our individual sins, but the fact that we are sinners by nature. Confessing this to God and meditating on it serves to humble us, ground us in truth, and approach God with a yearning for his mercy.
2. We must also seek to confess sins specifically, even knowing we won’t remember everything. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in this. He will convict your heart and make known your sins, not to accuse you, but to cleanse you. Ask Him to make you aware of your faults, to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of your own heart. God knows you better than you know yourself.
3. You may also spend some time reading sections of Scripture that may help you realize your errors, such as the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20 and Deut. 5), the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Psalms of Confession (such as Psalm 51), Proverbs, or the latter portions of most of Paul’s letters. If nothing else, consider how you have broken the greatest commandments: have you failed to love God with all your being, and love your neighbor as yourself? None of us live, love, think, or behave as we ought, so we will find no peace trying to hide or ignore our sin. By his word and Spirit, God makes us aware of what is causing us guilt, shame, anxiety, sickness, and worse. He does not wound his people except to heal them.
Confess your sins daily to God, so he might apply the gracious work of Christ to your soul and give you peace. This is for your good and your progress in holiness.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” | Psalm 139:23-24