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After writing about feeling guilty on Tuesday, it got me thinking some more about why Christians need confession of sin.

You often hear statements like this: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more or to make him love you less.”  And while it’s true that those who have been justified by grace through faith can never be more justified, we can hear a statement like this incorrectly.  Yes, God loves us fully in Christ, but this does not mean we are incapable of doing things that are displeasing to God. We can get out of step with the Spirit. We can grieve him too. Even after we have been redeemed, our sin continues to be offensive to God. And this has an effect.

Think of adoption.  You complete the paper work, pay the money and the child is yours. You are not sending him back.  Never, ever, ever. In one sense, this new child can’t do anything to make you love him more or less.  You will always love him deeply, more than he can possibly realize.  But you can still get upset, still be offended, still be very pleased or very displeased. In the same way, God still notices our sin and it disrupts our fellowship with him.

That’s why we confess, privately and corporately. Confession of sin is one of the missing ingredients in the life of today’s Christian. We feel bad all the time, but often it’s over the wrong things. And when we do feel sorry for our sin, we don’t know what to do with it. We feel like we would be cheapening the blood of Christ if we confessed again. So we hesitate to repent. We feel bad, but we don’t confess and enjoy a clean conscience.

And even less frequently do we bewail our sins together on Sunday morning. This is a shame. If your church does not regularly confess sin and receive God’s assurance of pardon you are missing an essential element of corporate worship. It’s in the weekly prayer of confession that we experience the gospel. It’s here that we find punk kids and Ph.D.’s humbled together, admitting the same human nature. It’s here we, like Pilgrim, can unload our burden at the foot of the cross.

Some of us become Christians and just go on our merry way, never thinking of sin, while others fixate on our failings and suffer from despair. One person feels no conviction of sin; the other person feels no relief from sin. Neither of these habits should mark the Christian. The Christian should often feel conviction, confess, and be cleansed.

The cleansing, mind you, is not like the expunging of a guilty record before the judge. That’s already been accomplished. This cleansing is more like the scraping of barnacles off the hull of a ship so it can move freely again. We need confession of sin before God like a child needs to own up to her mistakes before Mom and Dad, not to earn God’s love, but to rest in it and know it more fully.

1 John 1:9, then, is not just about getting saved. It’s also about living as a saved person and enjoying it.


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29 thoughts on “Why We Need Confession of Sin”

  1. Justin Langley says:

    Kevin, thanks very much for your regular help in what you share on this blog (not to mention the help you’ve provided in your books).

    I’m still struggling with understanding the place of confession, as you’re describing it, in the life of the believer. Can you give some New Testament evidence that our sin as believers “disrupts our fellowship” with God? I often hear the analogies, as you also mentioned, regarding our relationship with our parents or our spouses, but I can’t recall ever hearing/reading any NT grounding for this concept. Perhaps there is something obvious I’m overlooking, but I would really love for some help in this area.

  2. Ted Bigelow says:

    Hi Justin,

    Consider Mat. 6:14-15 as a place to start, and then Mat. 18:21-35. Please remember, both speak of the judge, who is also your heavenly Father.

    Kevin, having been a pastor for a good while, I’ve never met a person who has “become a Christian, and just goes on our merry way, never thinking of sin… and never “feels no conviction of sin.” That’s a seared conscience, brother.

    The apostle John is clear that “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

    Your foil to the guilt-ridden Christian is a non-Christian. A better foil is the proud and content-in-self Christian, I believe.

  3. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Good question. Well, clearly Jesus teaches that his followers should regularly ask for forgiveness (Matt. 6:12). And the Lord may discipline his children (Hebrews 12:3-11). This discipline, it seems from verse 4, may be designed to help us in our struggle against sin. And then there is James 4, which is addressed to “brothers” (4:11). At the very least, these are professing believers withing the covenant community (1:1-2). And James warns these brothers against living as enemies of God (v. 4). These folks need to repent. They are in absolute defiance of God’s commands. And God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (v. 6). They must cleans their hands and purify their hearts (OT ritual language). There certainly appears to be some disruption of the fellowship they should enjoy with God because they must now “draw near to God” that he might draw near to them (v. 8). I hope this helps. God bless.

  4. jeff weddle says:

    I think we fear sounding Catholic when we mention “confession.” COnfession means to say the same thing, to agree. When we confess our sin we are saying we agree with GOd’s opinion of it and His desire to work in us freedom from its bondage. When could that ever be wrong? In fearing to not sound Catholic we dump confession, just as we fear talking about being filled with the Spirit so we don’t sound whacko charismatical.

  5. Justin Langley says:

    Thanks, Ted and Kevin. Your comments on James 4 are particularly helpful. I need to do more work on this. I’m still a little uncomfortable with terms like “disruption” (although I think this may be a more helpful term than “breach,” which is the one I hear used more commonly); by using such language I don’t want to depict a “broken union” with Christ. At the same time, the force of the “warning passages” in Hebrews and elsewhere need to be felt and accounted for. Thanks again; this is helpful for me!

  6. Meredith Nienhuis says:

    Would John 16:7-11 be of help? Are we not moved to confession and repentance by the Holy Spirit, both believer and unbeliever? We read of the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts2). “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” (“Repent and be baptized.”) Perhaps the church’s observance of Pentecost should include much confession and repentance? We are to be in wholehearted fellowship with God but ohh i am so oft tempted to prostitute that relationship by sin or other gods that would take hold of me. So, may we heartily and humbly proclaim that confession is good for the soul?

  7. Cho says:

    thanks for this post
    its a great reminder

  8. JamesBrett says:

    it’s important, too, to note that (as far as i understand scripture) healing comes only when we confess our sins to one another. God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. but i don’t find any promise of healing until we actually confess to one another. i fear that’s why so many people go through life knowing in their heads they’re forgiven, but not feeling like it.

    maybe it’s that we can’t feel forgiveness until it’s demonstrated for us in the person of another member of the body of Christ? of course this would require that we respond to others’ confessions in the same way Christ himself does / would.

  9. Scott Kimbrough says:

    Classic editions of the Book of Common Prayer have the minister recite John 1.9 after the corporate confession. And Anglican services open with confession as the first act.

  10. John Thomson says:

    In 1 John 2 confession is in the context of a family relationship. We are ‘children’ whose sins are ‘forgiven’. We ‘know the Father’. Relationship is assumed. If we sin have ‘an advocate with the Father’. Confession restores broken communion; it enables us to ‘abide in him’. Abiding is ‘abiding in love (1 Jn 4). Our security is that we are accepted as Christ, the beloved, is (Eph 1). As he is, (before the father in love) so are we in this world (1 Jn 4) therefore we have confidence on the day of judgement.

    Christ abided in his father’s love by keeping his commandments (John 15).

    Parents love their children. However, disobedient children incur anger and strain familial relationships. Equally, obedient sons bring joy and increased love. Jesus says, ‘therefore my father loves me because I lay down my life’ (Jn 10).

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  12. Andrew Hall says:

    In our worship each week we set apart time for both personal and corporate confession of sin. Sometimes I find it very real, while at others I find it a bit rote. But that’s my fault, not the liturgy’s. As a Presbyterian church we don’t have a post-confession absolution per se, but we do hear promises from God’s Word assuring our pardon of sin in Christ.

    One thing that has become more important to me through this is that we are able to embrace these times of confession precisely because we already are forgiven, because we serve a God whose mercies never fail and who is full of grace for sinners who would dare unload their burdens on Jesus. It’s precisely what you said: “1 John 1:9, then, is not just about getting saved. It’s also about living as a saved person and enjoying it.” I think this sums it up so well.

    I think we have to know and believe this, or else our confession and woe over our sinfulness can turn into an empty, hopeless despair like that of Cain or Judas. Without faith, repentance still leads to death.

  13. Rodrigo Freitas says:

    I’m from Recife Brazil, and I was very blessed by the reading. All the glory be given to God!

  14. Raymond Coffey says:

    Kevin,
    Great post, especially the need for liturgical confession each week. One thing that Reformed folk do not do very well is understand the necessity of absolution, the declaration of forgiveness. It is one of the “keys” that has been neglected in our tradition. Lutherans have this right. Also, the “we” in I John 1:9 moves us beyond individualistic confession to corporate confession. We have tended to see this term as an editorial “we” rather than communal. Keep writing.

  15. Hans Zaepfel says:

    While individual and corporate confession is good, I find I experience my greatest release in confession one-on-one with another brother who has experienced sin and pain and suffering and God’s grace and who freely shares that with me.

  16. Phil Urie says:

    Once we are justified, God’s wrath will never visit a single sin. We are released or freed from wrath in total! And so will not confession and repentance bring release or freedom from God’s CHASTISEMENT also? Or would we rather say, “Ok, God my Father, I know I must be chastised, and I’m ready to take it”? Can we take it? Of course God does chastise His child, but the prayer of a righteous man availeth much (with our reconciled God). God does not afflict (His children) willingly (with chastisement. He would have us confess and be as the mule that does not need bit and bridle. Though God’s chastisement is good and right, it is not particularly pleasant or easy.

  17. La says:

    I’ve never been to a church that practiced corporate confession of sin.

    How is that usually done?

  18. Mark V says:

    La… The confession time at our church usually begins with a scriptural call to confession (like reading the 10 Commandments or a text like 2 Chronicles 7:14). Then we either pray a prayer of confession, allowing for silent time to talk with God personally or we sing a Song of Confession (last week’s was “Lord I Want to Be a Christian). This concludes with words of Assurance of Pardon (a text like Psalm 103:12 works.)

  19. Nathan Rose says:

    Kevin,

    Can you recommend any resources for incorporating confession in the church’s liturgy? Thanks.

  20. Siona Savini says:

    Kevin, is there biblical evidence to support the confession of sin to one another other than James 4? I understand the confession to the Lord but the corporate or one-on-one confession to another brother is assumed or implied but doesn’t seem to make it an explicit command to confess to one another. Always to and before the Lord, but what would be the necessity/biblical command to confess to and with others?

  21. Russell Fletcher says:

    Do we confess sins to get forgiveness or because we are already forgiven? I have heard there are two kinds of forgiveness but am having a hard time finding it in the bible. Also if we use 1 John 1:9 for believers how do I understand the second half of the verse? It would mean that I am unrighteousness and need purification with sin that is not confessed?? But I thought Christ was my substitute and I am righteous in Christ apart from my own merit? Also how do I understand 1 John 2:12 which says my sins are forgiven if 1 john says they may not be? Any help on this would be much appreciated!!

  22. M T says:

    Tonight I chatted a stranger online and had a sexual conversation. I confess and ask for your prayers. I can’t confess to my wife it would kill her. God help me

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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