Which sins are forgiven; just the ones we confess?
“Cover Idea for At-Risk Teen devotional”
Agree or disagree? I heard it said again with a tone of meek-and-mildness: God forgives us for every sin we confess to Him. What a gracious and merciful God that He would let us “sinner-goats” off the hook for our stubborn stupidity as long as we admit we’re stubborn and stupid. This may sound humble and honest, but is it the truth? Do you think it pleases the Father to hear you call yourself a sinner or a goat (as opposed to a sheep—although I’m not so sure they’re very much brighter)? Do you like it when your child approaches you only to rehearse his past failures and throw in a few self-condemning modifiers to sweeten the confession? Is that what you really want from him? Is this what the Father desires from us?
I must confess, it’s time to look at what we must confess, who we must confess it to, and why we must confess it.
The Greek word for “confess” is ὁμολογέω (homologéō), which comes from homoú, “together” and légō, “speak to a conclusion”—properly, to voice the same conclusion, i.e. agree (“confess”); to profess (confess) because in full agreement; to align with (endorse). [www.biblehub.com] The confession of our faith is a spiritual chiropractic exercise by which we align (or realign) ourselves to a singular, optimal, intended state of believing. It’s agreeing with God about what He declares as truth.
To be clear, we do not pick and choose what we will align ourselves to (we don’t invent our own “truth”), but rather, we come into agreement with God’s Word, Spirit, and Truth—what He has already predestined and declared. When we think and believe His way, we reap the benefit of such a confession, but our confession does not make the benefit come into being. Rather it aligns us to that which already existed beforehand. We enter in to His Truth!
So let me disassemble and reassemble a very common passage (often quoted by Billy Graham during his crusades):
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins andto cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
At first glance and due to frequent misuse of this verse, it would appear that 1 John 1:9 is the staple verse for a “confess-to-be-forgiven” theology. However, “context is king!” John writes 1:9 in contrast to 1:8. My own interpretation from Greek parsing: “If we should say [to others] that we are certainly not possessing a sin, we are presently, certainly deceiving ourselves.” Some interpret 1 John 1 as written to unbelievers. Consider the ones who had to drop their stones when Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let himbe thefirst to throw a stone at her.” No one in her right mind would claim to be sinless before Jesus, right? Yet, I believe believers and unbelievers alike can be deceived by sin and swing up into self-righteousness.
John’s point is, we might be able to fool others (1:6), but it’s a deeper deception to believe the lies we’ve told others. We must agree with God that we have a sin or two in our past—that we were indeed born sinners—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We should not deceive ourselves (1:8); instead, we [unbelievers and believers alike] should keep on confessing our sins [to one another] (1:9), rather than saying we have no sin (1:8).
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulnessofsin” (Heb. 3:13). “Therefore, confessyour sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16a).
One sure way to give yourself a wake-up call from self-deception is to tell someone your latest secret sin. It’s good for the soul. Keeps you humble. And notice that confessing sin to one another is not for forgiveness (people cannot atone for your sin), but for healing. Sin-denial can be deadly.
Now back to 1:9. John is saying, don’t hide or deny sin. That didn’t work for Adam and Eve and it still won’t work for us. God already knows it all and has already orchestrated the remedy. Instead, if you would, keep on owning what you’ve done wrong so you can be authentic and not self-deceived.
So then why is God’s forgiveness mentioned right after the exhortation to confess your sins [to one another]? It sure seems like the confession of sins is directed to God. I believe it’s because John wants us to have no doubt that God is faithful and just/right to forgive, so why would we hide?! The emphasis is on the faithfulness and righteousness of God, so why make a senseless claim to sinlessness? It would only be to boost your reputation among men, because you can’t fool God! 1:10drives the nail in that coffin!
Listen, we certainly need to confess that we have sinned, because hidden sin eats us alive; however, the confession is not for forgiveness. Confession does not produce forgiveness from God! Forgiveness was given at the cross. God is faithful, because His covenant in His blood was with Himself and not with us (Heb. 6:13); and He is just, because He did pay the price for our sins. So it’s judiciously right for Him to wipe our slates clean. What a grace! Why would we hide sin from a God who did away with it?!
John makes this abundantly clear in 2:1-2:
“My little children, I amwriting these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins,we have anAdvocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;and He Himself isthepropitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but alsoforthose ofthe whole world”
So which sins are paid for? More than that, who’s sins are paid for? Sounds like all sins for all people! That’s the gospel truth. That’s the story we confess. Sin is not the separating power it once was B.C. Sin has been rendered powerless and is no longer master. When was the last time you confessed that? Have you confessed your freedom and righteousness lately? The prodigal son, like a wee little pig, rehearsed his slave speech all the way home, but it was ignored by his over-joyed Father who welcomed him home as a restored sheep, not a pig. Was his forgiveness contingent upon his confession? Is conscious memory or verbal admission mandatory for forgiveness? What about the sins you don’t realize or forget? Can you fall short of heaven based on those ones? You see, the “confess-to-be-forgiven” theology creates a greater crisis than it resolves.
[We’ll pick this up again next month and discuss what we should be confessing to God.]