Got back. Got sick. Better today.
Someone asks whether a Christian should confess his or her sins. This is a very helpful question!
Many of us were taught that believers should confess their sins regularly so they can be forgiven. The first chapter of First John says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Since the letter appears to be written to believers, albeit new believers, the suggestion is that believers should be continually confessing.
There are two primary concerns with this. One is logical and the other is Scriptural.
First, if confession of sin is required for forgiveness, then how can we be saved? I think we would all agree that forgiveness is part of salvation and those who are not forgiven are not saved. I think we would also agree that we all do things that are sinful, even after we come to Jesus for salvation. So, if we continue to do sinful things, and that sin is not forgiven until we confess, then none of us can ever be assured of salvation before we die.
Suppose you are driving one day and you get a phone call. You know you shouldn’t answer it, but it seems important so you talk while you drive. That’s against the law in your state, but you do it anyway. Something in the call distracts you for a moment and you don’t notice a red light ahead. You run the red light and are hit broadside and killed. Okay, you sinned by breaking the law about the phone. You sinned by running the red light. You sinned by causing danger and harm to others. And, without warning or chance to confess these sins, you died.
Obviously, that’s a dramatic scenario, but it happens. So, are your sins forgiven? You didn’t confess them. Is there some provision for sins to be confessed after death? If not, you are in trouble. Or—you could trust that all your sins are already forgiven through the finished work of the cross.
Some traditions require the regular confession of sins. One friend of mine tells of attending an event where the people were dismissed from the main sanctuary at the church with a prayer asking for forgiveness of their “many and grievous sins.” Then they walked to the fellowship hall and were welcomed with another prayer that asked again for forgiveness for their “many and grievous sins.” Someone in line wondered how many grievous sins had been committed in that thirty step walk from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall!
Now, I want to be sensitive. For some people this is very important and serious. But I would ask that this idea of regularly confessing sins be reconsidered. I agree that it is important for us to agree with God about the things that are sinful. (Agree is the meaning of the Greek word for confess.) Whatever you might think about sin in the life of the believer, we are not free to decide that the things God calls sin become less sinful for believers. In other words, sin is still sin and still is harmful. Many grace teachers do take sin too lightly. Lying, stealing, blasphemy—these are wrong in the life of the believer as well as the unbeliever. They still do damage. The extent of that damage may be different between the believer and the unbeliever, but sin still hurts us.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the Scripture. I think you will see that John has something quite different in mind from regularly confessing the fact that we have committed “many and grievous sins.”