For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Most would answer the question saying, “Of course you must!” However, there are some who would say, “There is no need, since Christ died once and for all.”
The question here is about our confession to God. When we sin against another person, James settles the question for us by saying: “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16a, ESV) Such acts are salubrious to our soul and body.
But do we need to confess our sins to God, since there are scriptures that seem to suggest otherwise?
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. (Romans 8:1) “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” (Romans 6:10, ESV) “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12, ESV)
Yet 1 John 1:9 (ESV) states “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
I have come across the views of those who debunk the need for believers to confess our sins. They interpret this verse as referring to unbelievers. Personally, I think it is confusing for believers reading a letter addressed to them to find that the “we” in that line refers to unbelievers.
A more convincing perspective is given by John MacArthur in his book The Freedom of Power and Forgiveness. MacArthur makes a critical distinction between what he calls judicial forgiveness and parental forgiveness.
Judicial forgiveness was bought by Christ when He died for us, justifying us, freeing us from condemnation so that we do not need to seek it again.
Parental forgiveness, on the other hand, is what 1 John 1:9 refers to. Our Father is displeased over His children’s recurring sin, about which He will chasten us for our good because He loves us.
Sin which remains unconfessed to God can exact a toll on our physical body, not to mention the spiritual consequences. David shared this experience in Psalm 32:3–5 (ESV).
God chastens us, knowing how much going our own way will end up destroying us. When we do confess our sin to God, we are agreeing with Him regarding what is not right. It is the first step to align ourselves with His way again. Confessing our sin thus makes the chastening unnecessary. God does not need to discipline the obedient.
But when we stubbornly resist His way and He disciplines us, Hebrews 12:10 says that His motivation is that we may share in His holiness, i.e. so that we might be like God.
So here is the end game when we do not confess our sin: our physical body suffers (along with other aspects of our lives), and we are not aligned with God’s will (and do not see it). These are the consequences of sin (reaping what we sow; Galatians 6:7) and not God’s judgment – that was settled with judicial forgiveness.
Because of His great love for us, unwilling to allow us to stray too far and too long, God will exercise His fatherly discipline to draw us back into fellowship with Him.
When we do confess, our fellowship with the Father is restored. He extends His parental forgiveness. He cleanses us of all unrighteousness, thus removing the consequences of the previously unconfessed sin. We are back on track to realise the best plan that He has for our lives.
Picture by TatyanaGl/Bigstock.com
Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup was a Methodist pastor for 28 years, during which he was also President of Trinity Annual Conference from 2005 to 2012 before he was elected Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore for the quadrennium till 2016.