Confession: Do we need to confess our sins for forgiveness?
The whole Bible, from Genesis through Revelation, has been provided for our benefit.
II Timothy 3:16-17
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. [Emphasis added]
The Bible has many commands and promises regarding many things. But regarding every one of these, we must always ask a question. Are these commands and promises TO us and ABOUT us? For instance, Jesus Christ issued a command for His followers to sell everything they owned and to distribute the proceeds to the poor.
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. [Emphasis added]
The Bible also gives a command not to wear clothing that has multiple fabrics.
19 Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee. [Emphasis added]
There are even passages that tell believers they can have anything they ask for in prayer.
22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. [Emphasis added]
Are such promises ones we are to believe as promises to us? Are these commands we are to obey? As I often say, there is a whole lot of confusion about such things. But the answer to all this comes when we learn the full meaning of “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
II Timothy 2:15
15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]
Please take this next statement to heart. Apart from understanding the true meaning of the above passage you are subject to a world of confusion in understanding the commands and promises of God found in the Bible.
Along these same lines, let’s look at another promise that is claimed by many. The Bible clearly states that a person can be forgiven of their sins through their confession of those sins.
I John 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [Emphasis added]
What are we to think of this promise? Like many others, for some years I assumed this must be a promise to us today. In fact, there was a time when I thought this passage was linked to the command the Apostle Paul gives to be filled with the Spirit.
18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; [Emphasis added]
However, over a period of years of study I began to have many questions about all of this. Here are two:
- Why must I go to another author of Scripture [John, an apostle to Israel] to find the means to obeying a command given by the Apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles? Could it be that these two things are not related in such a way? Could it be that the Apostle Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:18 was consistent with a similar statement he made in another writing?
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. [Emphasis added]
Yes! Being under the influence of the Spirit of God is the same as being under the influence of the Word of God.
- If my sins are already completely forgiven by what Jesus Christ did at the cross, why must I also confess them for forgiveness? The explanation given was that only “positional” forgiveness was provided for ALL sins, not “experiential” forgiveness. But where is this distinction taught in the Bible? It is not! All our sins were forgiven at the cross of Christ where the complete debt for them was paid by Him.
7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; [Emphasis added]
Other writings of the Apostle Paul tell us the same thing.
14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: [Emphasis added]
Other things about our forgiveness are stated elsewhere in Paul’s writings.
13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; [Emphasis added]
Upon reading this, a question immediately comes to mind. Is the Apostle John’s statement in I John 1:9 a contradiction to the Apostle Paul’s concerning forgiveness? It would certainly look that way to the casual reader. Paul’s statements clearly present forgiveness as an existing reality for everyone apart from the need for confession.
II Corinthians 5:19
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. [Emphasis added]
Still other passages bring out even more information pertaining to all this.
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel [giving Israel a chance to have a change of mind and to accept Jesus as their “Prince” and “Savior”], and forgiveness of sins. [Emphasis added]
The fact of the matter is that the full scope of the forgiveness God provided through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection was not given until it was revealed through the Apostle Paul.
II Corinthians 5:15-17
15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. [Emphasis added]
Paul’s commission no longer views man on the plane of the flesh. It sees mankind as dead, where all earthly and fleshly distinctions have disappeared. Because Christ did His work for all mankind, all mankind is seen as candidates for eternal life, not just Israel. It has now been made known that the work Christ accomplished applies to all mankind, making salvation a possibility for anyone.
II Corinthians 5:18-21
18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
21 For he [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
This work of reconciliation does not provide salvation for the whole world of mankind, but the possibility of full reconciliation. God has done His part in providing a way for reconciliation, but for it to come full circle man must receive by faith what He did in providing it. In other words, one must accept [be receptive to] the fact that forgiveness was provided for all at the cross though what Christ did there.
18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. [Emphasis added]
This receiving of forgiveness is accepting the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It is all about accepting the forgiveness that Christ’s work provided. Apart from accepting this work that Christ did for our sins, there is no salvation.
Again, I Corinthians 15:1-4 lays it out plainly.
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
For those who receive this work of Christ for forgiveness and reconciliation, God’s very own perfect righteousness is provided for full reconciliation and the justification necessary for salvation. These are passages you should always want to remember.
II Corinthians 5:21
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. [Emphasis added]
It was by “the faith of Christ,” that is, His faithfulness to perform the work needed, that we can be saved apart from the works of the Mosaic Law.
Therefore, after considering all this, we need to realize that what I John 1:9 says is obviously about something else. That passage is talking about a national forgiveness for Israel, not a personal one for individuals today. What he is talking about is Israel’s need to accept her Messiah, her Savior, Jesus Christ. Israel will finally do that in the coming time of Tribulation after the Rapture, our resurrection. Let’s look at the passage again with this in mind.
I John 1:9
9 If we [Israel] confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [as a nation] our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [Emphasis added]
He is going to do this cleansing work for Israel when they enter the coming Millennial Kingdom that follows the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. Here is the promise that was initially given to Israel many centuries prior to the writing of I John 1:9.
II Chronicles 7:14
14 If my people [Israel, not America or us today], which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. [Emphasis added]
Again, contrary to popular opinion, this promise was not to us but to Israel. And this has nothing to do with the personal forgiveness of sins Christ provided us through His death, burial, and resurrection. Instead, this was a promise given to Israel. They had been told before that for God to forgive them and restore His blessing of them as a nation, they had to come confessing their sins.
40 If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;
41 And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
42 Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. [Emphasis added]
There was a partial fulfillment of this during Christ’s earthly ministry.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. [Emphasis added]
4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. [Emphasis added]
But the problem was that these people who came “confessing their sins” were such a small minority. It never spread to become national. However, in the coming Tribulation after the Rapture, there will come a time when national Israel will come to God “confessing their sins.”
All this by itself makes for another whole study. What you, today, need to understand about I John 1:9 is that it has nothing to do with you confessing personal sins for forgiveness. I John is one of several epistles that will have special meaning for Israel in the coming time of Tribulation before Christ’s return to set up His earthly kingdom. We just need to remember that all our personal sins were judged at the cross of Christ, and the penalty was fully paid on that occasion. All this may be more information than you wanted about all this, but this is valuable truth. You always need to know where you stand with God. The answer to that is that you have been completely forgiven of all your sins—past, present, and future. What peace of mind that knowledge provides! There is never any point in asking for forgiveness you already have. Also, confession of sins has no effect on all this at all. Today, you just need to give God thanks for the fact that you have been forgiven of all your sins, and sin is no longer an obstacle to your entrance into heaven.
This leads us then to the question regarding what we should do when we know we have sinned. I think you will be happy to know that we have been given guidance on that.
II Corinthians 7:8-9
8 For though I made you sorry with a letter [of rebuke], I do not repent [regret it], though I did repent [regret it for a time]: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season [a time].
9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance [a change of mind]: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage [loss] by us in nothing.
Paul wanted only the best for these people. But he had rebuked them for their sins, their wrongdoing. Apparently, he had mixed feelings at the time regarding his rebuke of them, but later was glad he said what he had said to them because they responded as he had hoped. They responded to his words well and came back into a life of obedience. That is exactly what we are to do. When by God’s Word we are caused to realize that we have sinned, we are then to simply step back into line with obedience to God’s Word. We are to put the matter behind us and move on.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended [“arrived” as we might say it today]: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. ]Emphasis added]
Is it wrong for a believer to confess his sins to God? Of course not! As with any father, our heavenly Father is glad to hear any one of us admit our wrongdoing, with the objective of doing better next time. We can also thank Him for the gracious forgiveness He has given us. We then simply move on with our lives, learning from our failures and working even more to live a life that is approved and rewarded by Him at the Judgement Seat of Christ. Meanwhile we can identify with Paul’s words.
24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. [Emphasis added]
No matter how hard we try we will never reach sinless perfection in this life. But we need to do everything we can to move steadily toward that goal. It is certainly wonderful to know that our sins, all of them, have been completely forgiven whether we confess them or not.
Suffering: Will we as Christians somehow escape it?