Confession is not limited by physical location
Broadly speaking, the life of a true believer is not governed by the rules and rituals like those found in the various denominations of Christendom where worshippers have to confess their sins to a priest in order to be assured of forgiveness and general favour with God.
The trouble with false doctrine is that it hijacks and perverts the language of scripture. By contrast, the Bible teaches that confession is primarily between the individual and God, not between the individual and a professional clergyman. As an example, we might consider Nehemiah’s confession at Shushan on behalf of his family; ‘I am confessing the sins of the Israelites that we have committed against you – both I myself and my family have sinned’ (Nehemiah 1:6b, NET). Although he was over 1500 kilometres from the temple in Jerusalem and although he engaged in no religious ceremony, his legitimate confession was heard and accepted by God. Some years earlier another man of God prayed like this: ‘O Lord, great and awesome God who is faithful to his covenant with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned!’ (Daniel 9:4-5a NET). This confession was made even as the temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins. Our geographical location does not limit access to the forgiveness and cleansing promised upon confession (1 John 1:9).
To acknowledge sin and seek forgiveness from a man instead of from God is not real confession at all but confusion. It is a denial of the precious New Testament truth of Christ’s mediatorial and intercessory work (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 12:24). If you are a genuine believer, then you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and can truly say, in the words of hymn writer Horatius Bonar, that ‘[our] sins, [our] guilt, in love divine, confess´d and borne by Thee’.
Confess with confidence:
Confession is not a form of atonement
This is the liberating truth of 1 John 1:9: ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness’ (NET). Nowhere in scripture is a sin atoned for because of the confession made by an offender; rather, as Christians, ‘we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement’ (Romans 5:11, KJV). Atonement is by Christ alone, not by confession. However, it is one thing to know and have trusted Christ as the atonement for your sins; it is another to grasp practically that His death deals as well with current and future sins.
Have you ever nurtured your guilt by confessing the same sin more than once? Did the first confession not count? Is it possible that you are either consciously or subconsciously trying to compensate for that sin? Will the Lord only know you are truly contrite if you confess it again, and again, and then maybe yet again? How long must you carry your sin before He knows you are sincere? It is a sad reality that many Christians who correctly deny that penance is taught in the scriptures practise in their personal lives this form of religious payment.
David’s confession is a better mode: ‘I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin’ (Psalm 32:5, ESV). It is worth enjoying the beauty of these past tense verbs: ‘acknowledged’, ‘You forgave’. We can confess confidently. One of the most liberating truths to bear in mind is that daily forgiveness is based on the same principle as when we were saved, the principle that ‘he is faithful and righteous’. Confess with confidence.
O Lord, with sorrow and with shame,
We meekly would confess,
How little we, who bear Thy Name,
Thy mind, Thy ways express.
(‘O Lord! When we the path retrace,’ James George Deck)
Confess clearly, specifically and decidedly:
Confession is not a ‘Hail Mary’
To confess is to declare, to profess, or to acknowledge the truth about a situation. The Greek word (homologeo) has different shades of meaning, ranging from a profession of faith to a promise, but in the context of 1 John 1:9 it is the act of agreeing with what God says about my sin. A true personal confession is to align oneself clearly and specifically with God’s mind.
The words of the prodigal son provide an example:, ‘father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired servants’ (Luke 15:18, Mounce). He first acknowledges, as specifically as possible, who he has sinned against: “I have sinned against heaven and before you’. He then recognizes the effect of his offence: ‘I am no longer worthy’. Another example is David’s confession in Psalm 51. Notice the number of verbs in this psalm: blot out, wash, cleanse, purge, make, hide, create, renew, cast me not, take not, restore, uphold, deliver. This is not the language of an unrepentant sinner seeking to obfuscate the reality of his guilt, for confession is not a last minute attempt to clear the airways. Rather, when we confess our sin we ought to be resolute, accurate and explicit. Anything less than this certainly raises questions about our motives.
Confession is not a lonely venture
You are not alone. Christ is your Shepherd (John 10:11), your High Priest (Hebrews 10:19-25), and your Advocate (1 John 2:1). As Shepherd He cares for you; as High Priest He comforts you; and with respect to your continual sin He comes alongside to restore the joy of salvation (Psalm 51:12).
Though worsted in life’s civil wars,
Defeat His love can never chill:
He’ll kiss the very battle scars,
And love me still; yea love me still.
Though failure prostrates in the dust,
And tears hope’s empty cup may fill,
This helps the contrite heart to trust:
He loves me still; He loves me still.
(‘He loves me still’, Caravanserai, I Y Ewan)
Confess at all times and in every place consciously, clearly, and confidently.