Sunday, August 07, 2022

Should I Go to Confession?

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Whenever some people hear the words “confess” or “confession”, they think of what is encouraged in some churches — regular visits to an appointed location to unload any sense of guilt. It is an example of understanding a word, verse or promise in the light of common practice, then supposing the scriptures support that human tradition.

Instead, we ought to judge what churches do today by what was — and still is — the word of God on the subject. “Christ died for our sins.” That historical event and his holy person make it possible for anyone to benefit by personally believing and confessing that it was for their sins Jesus died, rose, and ascended to the Father’s right hand.

Why Did John Write?

In this short letter, the apostle John frequently stops to tell us why he was constrained by the Holy Spirit to write as he did. I found it helpful to put a star in the margin each time the writer says, “For this cause I have written.” One reason was the influence of false teachers among his readers, deceivers who said, “We have no sin” or “We have not sinned”, yet claiming at the same time to abide in Christ. They diluted or denied their sins instead of admitting them.

Question: In Romans 10:9-10 I read that the way to be saved is to confess the Lord Jesus with my mouth and believe in my heart that God has raised him from the dead. But what about sins committed after I have taken that first step? Perhaps the people who want me to go to confession regularly are thinking of sins I committed since entering into that blessing?

Answer: Whether the sins were committed before or after you fully appreciated other precious truths is not the subject here. When anyone desires to experience communion with God here and now and becomes of aware of some thought or action inconsistent with that desire, let them lay hold of 1 John 1:9.

Firm or False

Forgiveness and cleansing are provided on the basis of two character traits essential to the nature of a holy God: his faithfulness and his justice. The promised blessing does not jeopardize these essential qualities. These, as well as his love, are expressed in the death, burial and resurrection of his beloved Son. They are on the penitent person’s side; both forgiveness and cleansing are guaranteed to those who believe his word and admit (confess) their sins. That is a firm foundation.

How about a false way of dealing with the nagging concern that all is not well? A study of this short letter will show it was intended (among several other things) to enable readers to identify and reject false teachers and their teaching: “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.” So, John describes the way his readers can recognize and reject wrong ideas about Christ, and what can be done when they know they have displeased God.

Diluting or Denying

Some try to get rid of guilt by diluting or denying their sins. Notice the “if we say” in verses 6, 8 and 10, and a similar phrase in 2:4, 6 and 9. John says false claims reveal something about the character of those who make them. They are self-deceived and the truth is not in them.

The promise to forgive and cleanse reveals the character of God; he is faithful (he cannot lie) and just (he always acts righteously even while displaying compassion to the undeserving). In this statement, the guarantee of forgiveness and cleansing is based on the character of God; his faithfulness and justice are not in any way compromised by forgiving and cleansing those believers who confess their sins in this manner.

God’s willingness to grant such mercy to offenders of his holiness was declared in the Old Testament, but the ground on which he did it was explained only in pictures to those under the law, with its sacrifices, robed priests as mediators and elaborate ritual; all fulfilled and dispensed with in Christ.

To return to any system resembling the one given in the OT is to ignore the person and work of Jesus Christ as Savior. It is to deny that his work is sufficient to satisfy God and grant peace to those who confess their sins to him. As Philip P. Bliss wrote:

“How wondrous a Savior is God’s blessed Son!
How great and eternal the work he has done!
God’s glory maintained by his death on the tree,
While mercy flows freely to you and to me.”

— Colin Anderson, January 2018

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