As we saw in the last article, true repentance is evidenced by turning to God.
Your definition of repentance will reveal whether you are living under grace or works. In the Old Testament, sinners repented by bringing a sacrifice of penance and confessing their sins (Num 5:7). But in the new we bring a sacrifice of praise and confess his name (Heb 13:15, AMP).
Confession seems to be a touchy subject, because if you think confessing sins is a prerequisite to receiving forgiveness, then you are in danger of setting aside the grace of God.
There is only one verse in the Bible where our confession is connected with His forgiveness and that is:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)
In this passage John is writing to unbelievers who were deceived because they thought they were without sin (see v.8). How do I know that John is talking to unbelievers and not Christians? Because he is addressing people who are walking in darkness (v.6), who need to be purified from all unrighteousness (v.9) and who, by insisting that they have never sinned, are making God out to be a liar (v.10).
What message does John have for sinners who don’t think they’re sinners? “Acknowledge your sinful state, turn to God and receive His gift of forgiveness.”
In the two instances where we see the word “sins” in 1 John 1:9, it is the Greek noun hamartia that is used. According to well-known Bible scholar William Vine, hamartia (“to be without a share in,” „a missing of the mark”) indicates “a principle or source of action, or an inward element producing acts . . . a governing principle or power.” In other words, it refers to the sin principle, or our sinful state on account of Adam’s sin. By using the noun form of this word, John was clearly not referring to our committing of individual acts of sin, or he would have used the verb form, hamartano.
In the light of this, you can see that 1 John 1:9 is not talking about confessing our sins every time we sin in thought or in deed. That’s why it is primarily a salvation verse, one that encourages the sinner to acknowledge and confess his sinful state or “sinnerhood,” get born again by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and have his sinful state through Adam replaced with a new righteous state through Christ. The heretical Gnostic doctrine did not subscribe to a belief in man’s sinful state. John was addressing this heresy directly in the first chapter of 1 John and encouraging the Gnostics to confess their sinful state and receive the Lord’s complete forgiveness and total cleansing from all their unrighteousness through His finished work at the cross.
In the second chapter John writes for the saints, and what does he tell them about our committing of sins after we’ve become believers? John answers this question in verse 1:
“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
This time, the words “sin” and “sins” are the Greek verb hamartano. John is now referring to believers’ committing of sins—their sinful thoughts and deeds. What does John say regarding this? He reminds us that when we fail as believers, we have an Advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ.
Because of our Lord Jesus and what He has accomplished at the cross, we have forgiveness and we still stand righteous before God even when we’ve missed it. As the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian believers who had failed that they were still the temple of the Holy Spirit, John reminds us of who we are in Christ and who we have representing us at God’s right hand.
I want to list three reasons why we don’t have to confess our sins to be forgiven:
You were forgiven through His blood
Under the old covenant law, there could be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22). What the law prefigured, Christ fulfilled. At the Last Supper Jesus explained the basis of our forgiveness:
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mat 26:28)
Note the absence of any qualifiers. Jesus did not say, “…provided they confess first.” It’s His blood from start to finish. 1 John 1 may have given you the impression that sinners are only forgiven when they confess. But John makes it clear that it is not our confession but “the blood of Jesus Christ (that) cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).
You were forgiven in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” (Eph 1:7)
What is the limiting measure of God’s forgiveness? Is it our performance? Is the state of our confession? No! We are forgiven according to the riches of God’s grace. God is not stingy with grace. How do we know God is gracious? Because He has forgiven us and His forgiveness is 100% a gift. If you have to do something to get it, then it is no longer a gift but an obligation, and God owes you nothing. The only thing you have to do is receive it, and the only way you won’t receive it is if you try to earn it through confession or other dead works.
We’re called to be Christ-conscious, not sin-conscious
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matt 6:33)
When you seek His kingdom and His righteousness first, all your unrighteous hang-ups will get taken care of. Make Jesus your focus. Hebrews 10:2 says that we’re not supposed to be conscious of our sins. How can we confess something we’re not conscious of? As a man thinks, so he is (Pro 23:7). If you think of yourself as a reformed sinner saved by grace, you’ll never be anything more than just a sinner. It’s smart for sinners to confess their sins (1 Jn 1:9), when confession means agreeing with God about our need for a Savior. But when a Christian confesses-to-be-forgiven, he’s acting like a sinner. He has become an unbelieving believer, a living contradiction. He’s like a married person who still acts as if he’s single. See yourself as God sees you. God calls you a son (Gal 4:6). Confess what you are, not what you were. Confess your sonship not your sinnership.
Nowhere in the New Testament do you find believers confessing their sins to be forgiven. Confessing-to-be-forgiven is an extra-Biblical church tradition. It is one of those things that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death (Pro 14:12). It is a work of the flesh that kills faith, nullifies grace, and treats as unholy the blood of the covenant that sanctifies us.
Why confess at all?
The word “confess” in 1 John 1:9 is the Greek homologeo, which means “to say the same thing as” or “to agree with.” To confess our sins, therefore, is to say the same things about our sins as God does: that it is sin, and that our sins have been forgiven and washed away by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (see Rev. 1:5). When you have sinned and realize you have sinned, true confession is agreeing with God’s Word and expressing your gratefulness to Him for the reality of your forgiveness in Christ.
True confession is a positive response to something that God has already done. It is verbalizing faith in His goodness and acknowledging your dependence upon Him (Rom. 10:9–10). It is saying “thank you Jesus for your blood that was poured out for my forgiveness. Because of You, I am forgiven!”
Can you see that the Bible’s answer to overcoming sin is always to remind believers of their righteous identity in Christ? This is not to encourage us to sin but to encourage us to look to our Lord Jesus, to see our sins punished at the cross and to live victoriously and gloriously for Him. That is what true repentance is all about—turning to the cross and returning to His grace! When you fail today, know that you can talk to God honestly about your failing, but do it with a revelation of the cross of our Lord Jesus. See your sins punished in His body and receive afresh His forgiveness and unmerited favor to reign over your sins.
Knowing that you have been forgiven by the grace of God is just about the best thing in the world! Forgiveness is a great gift and worth protecting; don’t let anyone take it from you. Don’t let anyone charge you for what Jesus has already paid for.