What does the Bible say about confession and forgiveness?

Last updated on June 8, 2022

Kneel by the cross

When someone has treated another person badly or wrongly, this damages their relationship and brings the wrongdoer into a position of debt to the wronged party. He needs to compensate for the hurt or loss the other person has suffered – for example financially or emotionally. Forgiving the wrongdoer means to give up any claim for compensation, to let go of any negative emotions towards this person, and to restore the relationship whenever possible.

Jesus gives a wonderful example of forgiveness in a story about a father and a son in Luke 15:11-32. The son has hurt his father deeply by claiming the part of the father’s property that he is supposed to receive in the future, leaving for another country and wasting the money there. The father has lost hope of ever seeing his son again. But when the son ends up in big trouble, he realizes what he has done and returns home. The father does not reject him, but welcomes him with hugs, kisses and a festive meal. He forgives his son wholeheartedly.

We are in debt to God

The Bible says that every human being is in debt to the Lord God. Since God created us as good and righteous people whose purpose it was to glorify Him, He has every right to demand our perfect devotion. But since the first humans decided to disobey their Creator, they became sinful and so did all their descendants. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all affected by sin; we deny God the honor He is due and we continuously transgress against His commandment to love God above all and other people as ourselves. That leaves us guilty and damages our relationship with the Lord God.

God wants to forgive us

Since God is righteous, He won’t simply condone our offense and “forget about it”. The only way to restore the relationship between man and God is to remove the debt completely. But no human, not even the most respected religious expert, is able to do this. We can’t “buy” forgiveness with money or sacrifices or anything else. The whole earth belongs to God already; He does not need anything from us.

We can’t compensate for our sins by leading extra righteous lives. The prophet Isaiah says that even our good deeds are not pure (Isaiah 64:6). We are only making things worse by continually falling short of God’s standards. This is confirmed by the apostle Paul in Romans 3:20, where he says that no human being will be justified by works of the law. The law just shows us how sinful we actually are. The sobering conclusion is that we can’t get right with God ourselves.

The Lord is aware of our inability to get right with Him. But He does not want man to perish, and therefore He offers a solution Himself. God the Son was ready to take the burden of sin and guilt upon Himself and to pay the ransom by dying in our place. He poured out His blood for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). Jesus’ sacrifice was the only possible and ultimate solution to the problem of human sin. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”, Hebrews 9:22 says, and only a perfect sacrifice would suffice. Therefore, God the Son became man to shed His own blood for sinners.

How can we be forgiven?

Jesus has paid for our guilt. The only thing we need to do, is to confess our sin (or in other words: to say sorry, to acknowledge that we have done wrong). If we do this, God wants to forgive us and to restore the relationship. He is like the father in the story from Luke 15. He loves to forgive! The Bible says there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7).

What if I sin again?

Asking for, and receiving, forgiveness is not a single act. As long as we live on this earth, we keep falling into sin. The Bible is very realistic about that: “If we say we have no sins, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8). But the next verse makes clear that our sin does not need to separate us from God: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to clean us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Confessing our sins gives us freedom. If we are truly sorry for our sin, God will forgive us.

Do we need to confess every sin in order to be forgiven?

The verses quoted above prompt the question: If I die before I have confessed a particular sin, will God forgive me? Or will I be lost because of these unconfessed sins? No, you don’t need to be afraid of losing your salvation. Nobody can confess every sin he or she has done. We easily forget many of our sins. We only cause a barrier in our relationship with God when we deliberately refrain from confessing particular sins, because we enjoy our sin too much and do not want to abandon it. This damages our relationship with the Lord.

Relationship with God

Let me list some Bible verses about the tremendous change in your relationship with God that happens when you become a believer.

  • God adopts you as his child: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God”, 1 John 3:1.
  • You used to be darkness, but now you are light: “For at one time you were darkness. But now you are light in the Lord”, Ephesians 5:8.
  • You used to be spiritually dead, but God made you alive. “God… even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ”, Ephesians 2:4-5.
  • You have become a member of the church, which is the body of Christ: “Now you are the body of Christ”, 1 Corinthians 12:27.
  • You have received forgiveness for all your sins: “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name”, Acts 10:43.
  • You are God’s possession with a special position: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood. A holy nation, a people for His own possession”, 1 Peter 2:9.
  • You have an eternally secure position as a sheep in Jesus’ care: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. And no one will snatch them out of My hand”, John 10:28.

Does all of this change when we sin as believers? No, it still remains true. Does it change when we do not confess that sin before we die? No, it still remains true. These are all unconditional promises for God’s children, and descriptions of their position in God’s sight.

Confess your sins to God

Our position as a child of God has not changed. But the relationship has changed. A child can do something to make his parents angry or sad. But it does not mean he is not their child anymore. Yet he needs to confess and to better his life to repair his relationship with his parents. The same is true for God’s children. God’s love for you has not changed. You have not lost your salvation through sinning. But to be close to God again, to restore the relationship, you need to confess your sin and receive His forgiveness. Besides, when you are aware of a certain sin, why would you refrain from confessing it to God? Read Psalm 32 to find out how much hindrance it gave David, all the time he didn’t confess his sin with Bathsheba. We are called to confess our sins and break with them.

If you are a believer and you have unconfessed sins when you die, you will not end up in hell, but why would you leave these sins unconfessed? Don’t wait to confess them! Confessing your sins and receiving God’s forgiveness will help you to walk joyfully with the Lord every day of your life.

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