The Truth about Confession of Sin

A Picture of a woman confessing her sins to a priest

The Catholic Version

The Roman Catholic denomination has the Sacrament of Penance which is also called the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation or Confession. This sacrament consists of the private confession of sins to a priest and the receiving of forgiveness. It is for sins committed after baptism.

The Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran denominations also practice the Sacrament of Penance. The Methodist and Episcopal denominations practice a form of it.

Even though the Sacrament of Penance has been well established for centuries, not one Bible verse validates it. The Bible does not say that sins should be confessed to a priest, let alone that forgiveness comes from such a confession.

The Protestant Version

Among the other protestant denominations a form of personal penance has developed. According to this belief, when a person becomes a Christian, God forgives him of all of his past sins. Any sins that he commits after this point in time, he must ask God to forgive them or they are not forgiven. Because of this, Christians are encouraged to daily reflect on the previous day and ask God to forgive each of the sins that they committed.

This belief is not found in the Bible. The Bible does not teach that when a person is saved only his past sins are forgiven. It also does not teach that unconfessed sins are not forgiven.

So what does the Bible say?

The Bible Truth

1 John 1:9 is a key verse for those who say that a person must ask God for forgiveness of each sin in order to get forgiveness. This verse is usually taken out of context and misunderstood.

One key word in this verse is confess ("if we confess our sins"). Confess in the Bible means to admit or acknowledge. So this verse is saying that we should acknowledge our sins. Acknowledging a sin would sound something like this, "Yesterday, I lied to my wife." It is as easy as that. If we do this, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

This is what happens if we acknowledge our sins.

But what happens if we do not acknowledge (confess) our sins? Do those sins stay unforgiven? This is the logical conclusion that most people draw, but this verse doesn't say that (in fact, no Bible verse says that).

The preceding and following verses tell what happens if we do not acknowledge our sins: we deceive ourselves; the truth is not in us; we make God a liar; and God's word is not in us. It says nothing about our sins not being forgiven.

In fact, a preceding verse (verse 7) states that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. There is no mention of a requirement of confession.

Following verses (2:1, 2) say that if we sin, we have an advocate (the same Greek word as comforter) and that Jesus is the propitiation of our sins and the sins of the whole world. Again, there is no mention of a requirement of confession.

The context of 1 John 1:9 assumes that God forgives sins whether asked to or not. Isn't this what you do with your children? When they do something wrong, you don't wait until they ask for forgiveness to forgive them. You don't hold that sin against them as long as they live just because they did not ask you to forgive that sin. No, you forgive them. You forgive them all the time without them asking. Why do we think that God the Father is a worse father than we who are human? This idea that God requires confession of sin before He will forgive is an insult to the love and mercy of God.

The Bible mentions forgiveness many times without inserting a requirement of asking for forgiveness (Matthew 12:31,32; 26:28; Mark 3:28; Luke 12:10; Romans 4:7; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; 1 John 2:12).

The fact that God forgives even when He is not asked to is the reason why the words "He is faithful and just" are in 1 John 1:9. Remember "confess" does not mean to ask for forgiveness. It means to acknowledge something, to admit something (in this case, sin in your life). What if you acknowledge your sin? Will God be offended by it? Will God strike you down dead? No, "He is faithful and just." God can be trusted (is faithful) to forgive because the sacrifice of His Son was for all sin. God is also just (He will do the right thing), He will forgive. He won't turn on Himself and suddenly not forgive you of a sin just because you acknowledge it. That is what 1 John 1:9 is saying. It is not saying that God will not forgive you of your sins if you don't acknowledge your sins.

There is nothing wrong with asking God to forgive you. He has already forgiven you and will always do so. The thing that is wrong is thinking that God will not forgive you if you don't ask Him to.

No More Individual Sacrifices

What difference is there between sacrificing a goat or lamb to get forgiveness from God and asking for forgiveness to get forgiveness? In both cases, the offender is trying to appease God.

Why are Christians today trying to appease God? He has already been appeased. That appeasement came from a one-time complete sacrifice: Jesus' death on the cross. It is enough. It appeases God. Hebrews 9 and 10 makes this point perfectly clear. Jesus' sacrifice cleans us, completes us, and makes us sacred.

What Happens when you Sin

When we become Christians, all of our sins (past, present, and future) are forgiven. Every sin we commit is forgiven (unless we refuse to forgive others or we do something hurtful against the Sacred Spirit).

When we sin, God does not turn His back on us because of the sin. He loves us. He is forgiving. He does not let the sin retract His outstretched arms. When we sin it is not God who turns his back, it is us who turn our backs on God. Our sin pulls us away from God. God is still standing there loving us with extraordinary love. We need to come back to God. That is why we must acknowledge our sin, so that we can see what our sin has done to us.

When you bring your forgiven sins to the front and acknowledge them, God does the same thing that He did when you first committed that sin, He forgives.

Warning: God forgiving all sin is not a license or approval for Christians to sin. When God forgives us, He is actually leaving the sin to us (for more on this, please read my article on How to Forgive). The sin still has its consequences and hurts so we should not do it.