The topic of confession and repentance has come up so often and has caused many Believers to live with condemnation, guilt and shame. The trouble with these two words is that they have taken on an entirely different meaning in English than in the original Greek.
The first question is this: when a believer sins, do they have to confess their sins before they are forgiven?
The answer is yes and no.
Scripture states over and over that Jesus has already forgiven all of the sins of mankind. The issue isn’t ‘if someone is forgiven’ rather it is ‘if someone believes they are forgiven.’ You see, what you believe becomes your reality. Whether it is truth or not is irrelevant because it becomes true to you.
Jesus made a great distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant when He died, rose again and ascended to the Father. The Old Covenant was all about performing acts to become forgiven- but remember all of these were shadows and copies of what was about to take place when Jesus came. The blood of goats only covered the sin of the priests and people but could never make their consciences clean. Jesus blood does not coverour sin, it removes it forever which means that it is removed from our conscience. Having no sin in our consciences means there is no reason for shame, guilt or condemnation to be there.
Hebrews 10:11-14 says, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins, but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Catch what is being said here. In the Old Covenant the priests performed their sacrifices over and over again to cover sin because the blood that they offered was of bulls and goats and could never take away the sins. It was a ‘shadow’ of what was going to happen with Jesus. The priests work was never completed so they could never rest- or sit down. BUT after Jesus made His ONE sacrifice for all time He SAT DOWN because His sacrifice was complete. He would never have to do it again.
Keep reading in Hebrews 10 to verse 22. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
We are cleansed from guilt in our consciences. But if we sin, we need to understand we were already forgiven even before we were born, which means we never had to ASK for forgiveness we just believed we were forgiven. So it doesn’t change after we become born-again.
The word ‘confess’ in scripture in the the original Greek (G1843, and G3670) means; “to agree, promise, acknowledge, not to deny.”
In fact there is only twice in the New Testament (after Jesus changed the covenant) where confession is mentioned in regards to sin.
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
Let’s look at 1 John 1:9- It would be foolish to take one verse out of scripture and interpret it any way we choose. Each portion in the Bible was never meant to be taken apart but rather taken as a whole. It was man who determined that there should be chapters and verses in the Bible. So it would be wise to read each portion the way it was originally written in order to understand what it is saying. Take 1 John for instance. It is a letter. The entire book of 1 John was written to someone. Who? The latter part of the first chapter was written to those who knew Jesus. Fathers, and children in the faith. But in the first part, John is speaking to those who haven’t yet believed. How do we know? John starts by saying he and others had touched Jesus, looked at Him and they were proclaiming Him to those John was writing to. Verse 3 says, “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
John wouldn’t have invited them to share in the fellowship he had with the Father and Jesus, if they were already believers. So we know, at least in the beginning, he was writing to those who weren’t yet in the fellowship. Then he goes on to say to them in the following verses, that God is light and has no darkness (sidenote: it is impossible that God would send sickness to someone to teach them something since He has no darkness…sickness isn’t light).
John is simply explaining that everyone has sinned. If anyone does not “confess” (acknowledge) sin then they are denying that they have sinned and they are lying. Our English context is what catches us here. We use the word “confess” in the terms that Catholicism uses it. Like a “confessional” where you must go to a priest and ‘confess’ your sins and the priest forgives you.
That is not what John is saying here. He simply means no one can deny the fact that we all have sinned.
So what is James speaking of then in chapter 5? Again, we must look at it in light of the entire book (letter) that James wrote. According to biblical scholars, James seems to have been the earliest epistle written. James wrote his letter before Paul’s letters and the incredible revelation he had of being saved by grace through faith.
James was writing to the ‘twelve tribes that were scattered in the dispersion’ which means he was writing to the Jews who were scattered during the persecution mentioned in Acts. They were referred to as ‘Hellenists.’ These Jews were believers however they still practiced the law. James referred to the Law of Liberty but he also reminded them that if they were keeping laws then to break one law meant they were ‘lawbreakers’ and were guilty of breaking all of the laws.
With that in mind, read James 5 again. You will discover that James was giving instructions to the Jewish believers. Is anyone suffering? Pray. Is anyone cheerful? Sing praises. Is anyone sick? Call the elders (those mature in the faith, not elder as in a position). The prayer of faith will restore the sick person and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven. (This ties sin and sickness together for the complete restorative work that Jesus accomplished).
Now we see the verse that we were looking at earlier; therefore (in light of all of that) confess your sins to one another (do not deny you sinned) and pray for one another.
In light of the scripture, is it necessary for a believer to confess his sins before he is forgiven?
By today’s english understanding–confess to people– no. Unless you have hurt someone with what you said or did, there is no need to tell people.
By the original scriptural meaning–do not deny that you have sinned–yes. Do not deny you have sinned and you will be cleansed. However, you are forgiven already.
So, go ahead and agree with someone-when they approach you with something that you have said or did (and you know that you messed up.) Confess–do not deny. But there is no need to tell everyone from the pastor to the neighbor everything that you have ever done in order to receive forgiveness. You are already forgiven, cleansed and guilt-free… just believe it.