Why Do We Confess Sin?

Whether you’ve grown up going to church in the buckle of the Bible Belt, are new to the Christian faith, or have simply been around church for any length of time, either you or someone you know has asked the question “Why do we need to confess our sin?”. Some may phrase it “Why do we need to ask forgiveness for sins when Christ already paid the price on the cross for all sins; past, present, and future?” Is this like an ATM type of thing, where the money is there, but we don’t get the cash until we swipe the card and withdraw from an unlimited supply of grace? Is confession something we have to do to get God to apply His grace to our lives?

1 John 1:5-10 ESV

[5] This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6] If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. [7] But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. [8] If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10] If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

In seventh grade, I had to memorize 1 John for my Bible class at school. I’m still not sure how I managed that, and I think I can honestly say that this is probably the second time I’ve even looked at 1 John since I was in seventh grade. However, I do remember being confused by this passage though, because when I just read the passage again, I had to read it a few times before it became clear.

Let’s look at why this was confusing:

Verse 5 says that “God is light” and in Him “there is no darkness”.
Verse 6 says that “If we say we have fellowship with Him, but walk in darkness” we are liars.
Verse 7 says that “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light” then we have fellowship and are cleansed by Christ’s blood.
Verse 8 says that “If we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”
Verse 10 says that “If we say we have not sinned” we declare that He is a liar, and “His word is not in us”.

Then in the middle of all that, which can be confusing enough at a glance, we see verse 9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Much of the confusion, if not frustration, surrounding verse 9 is, I believe, due to a misunderstanding of what “confess” actually means. I always thought, and it seems to always have been communicated that “confess” means “to ask forgiveness”. So, I’m reading this asking “What in the world does asking for forgiveness have anything to do with claiming to walk in light but actually walking in darkness, and saying that I don’t have sin making me a liar?” It seems like apples and oranges right now.

The Greek word for “confess” is homologeō (Strong’s #3670) which literally means “To speak the same as”. This radically changes our understanding of what confession is and does for us. Confession is not merely asking for forgiveness of sins, but rather it is our “speaking the same” about ourselves as Christ speaks about us. Did you catch that?! Christ says “You are sinful, broken, and need a Savior” and confession is us saying “I am sinful, broken, and need a Savior.” It is a means of aligning our hearts with God’s heart. Confession is us putting ourselves in a position of humility by relying on God’s grace in the person and work of Jesus to be the perfection that we can’t be. So this shows us the meaning of 1 John 1:9: If we speak the same as God does concerning our sin (and our heart, as all sin is derived from an affection for something other than God), He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin.

This proper understanding helps us make sense of the other verses in this passage, making verse 9 seem less random. The other verses are very much about “God does this” and if we do things differently, then we are not in Him. So now we see that the entire passage is talking about the PROOF, not the cause, of us being “in Him” is that we speak of ourselves the same way He speaks of us, by walking in the light of His grace by admitting our need for a Savior.

6 responses to “Why Do We Confess Sin?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.