“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight,
and am no longer worthy to be called your son” – Luke 15:21
I recently saw an article about reported “Peaceful Protesters” burning Bibles.  There’s a lot of riotous destruction and mayhem occurring in cities across our country. The criminal actions of a few are being allowed to drown out the peaceful productive demonstrations of others. And there’s a lot of misinformation, false accusations, and propaganda flying through the air. I see and hear and watch that and it reminds of how such things are generated by “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). But I have to admit, of all the actions of anarchists taking place, the burning of Bibles tempted me to not only anger, but hate. And that’s not good.
I am appalled by injustices perpetrated on people because of race. I am brokenhearted over the pervasive and persistent murder of the unborn. There are a lot of sinful activities that touch and grieve my heart in our day. But burning Bibles was for me a last straw. It pushed me, if not over the edge, to the precipice and leaning over the edge. Burning Bibles brought me to an unholy brink. The Bible is the word of God. The Bible is the HOLY WORD OF GOD. The Bible is how we and everyone else can come to know God. The Bible speaks to us of God’s grace, mercy, justice and love. The Bible is the source of spiritual nourishment. Jesus is the “Word made flesh.” There’s a reason why Jesus is described this way. The Bible is like no other book. The Bible lays out the narrow way to heaven and helps us experience God’s abundant life. Someone has described the Bible like this:
This Book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Christ is its subject, our good it’s design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently and prayerfully. It is given to you in life, will be open in the judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and condemns all who trifle with its holy precepts.”
I believe all that. The Bible is a wonderful provision of God. And so, when someone is so shortsighted, superficial and shallow in thought, so taken over by the “prince of the power of the air,” to burn God’s Book, well, it gets to me.
But here’s the thing. That Book I’m so enamored with also says:
- 1 Corinthians 13:1–3 – Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Without love, I’m nothing. Without love, nothing I do is anything as far as God is concerned. Jesus never acted without love. And I have to confess, what I was feeling toward those who burned the Bible was not love. As much as I rationalized and tried to see my feelings as righteous indignation, I don’t think they were. The Bible does say, “Be angry, and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26; Psalm 4:4). But folks, I was more than angry. So, I had to admit to God, “I have sinned.” And I had to admit, “I have sinned against You.”
I confess I found myself reacting like James and John who reacted towards the ungrateful Samaritans by asking Jesus, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” They even had a proof text of a prophet with Elijah. But they weren’t thinking with love. And so, Jesus, “rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know hat manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:54-56). Jesus convicted me with that portion of scripture (one I just so happen to be teaching through!). I was feeling ill will toward those Jesus came to save. I was allowing darkness to overcome light. I was wanting to “command fire to come down”
on those Jesus died for. That’s sinful. So, I had to confess, “I have sinned. I confess my sin to You Jesus. Please forgive me.”
I share this because I think maybe there are others being “riled up” like me because of the events of our day. I was brought to the brink of discrediting Jesus with a sinful reaction. Maybe you are at that point too. If so, then I’d like to share how to step back and get back on track. I want to speak to you about confession.
What Does Confession Mean?
The Apostle John was inspired by God to emphasize the truth and importance of entering into and eternal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. He said this in his Gospel (e.g. John 17:3). And he said this in his first epistle (1 John 1). In his inspired first epistle John address the problem of sin which is the obstacle to any relationship, especially an eternal relationship with God. He begins by pointing out the fallacy of denying we are a sinner:
1 John 1:8 – 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Who might be so bold as to claim they are without sin? The Gnostics of John’s day who believed in dualism, (that matter is inherently evil and only the spiritual immaterial is holy) used that belief to say that it wasn’t really them that sinned but their body. It was a convoluted way of thinking that was disguised in a proud self-elevating appeal to high knowledge.
Gnostic comes from the Greek term gnosis which means knowledge. Gnostics created an entire system of belief that refuted Jesus as God in the flesh and instead claimed He was merely one of many emanations from a Higher Being. The Gnostics in reality worshipped knowledge and claimed to have the knowledge necessary for a person to experience salvation. Their salvation wasn’t based on the redemptive work of God incarnate in Christ, but instead was based on acquiring certain knowledge that they believed would unlock what needed to be known about salvation and eternal life. That they believed in such a way that led them to deny their sin exposes how far their belief system caused them to depart from reality.
Sin by nature is deceiving. Sin will tell you that sinning is no big deal. Sin will tempt you to excuse yourself or minimize the sin in your life. Sin will deceive you so that you dismiss its seriousness in your life.
Like Satan sin is deceptive (cf. John 8:43-44). “Sin” (Greek noun hamartian from hamartia) means sin, a sinful deed, sinfulness, miss the mark, err, wander from the path, and refers to a willful transgression against a known law of God. Sin by nature is deceptive. That is why John says “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.” “Deceive” (Greek verb planomen from planao: Present/Active Indicative) means to constantly lead astray, mislead, deceive, seduce, go astray, be deluded, err, deceive oneself, sin.
If someone tells you they don’t have any sin they are self-deceived and the truth of God is not in them. Now in Christ we are completely cleansed from our sin and no sin is counted against us. But in reality, we still do sin. We can gain victory over sin, but if we are going to be truthful, we have to admit that we continue to struggle with and even at times sin in our life.
1 John 1:9 – 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But if when we sin, we “confess” (Greek verb homologmen from homologeo: Present/Active/Subjunctive) means if we agree with, if we confess, if we admit, if we acknowledge. The idea is if we see our sin as God sees it and admit our sin. This is not mere acknowledging our sin but seeing it as God sees it, as darkness that needs to be removed. Our role is to confess our sins.
God’s role is to be “faithful” (Greek adjective pistos) meaning trustworthy, faithful, trusting, reliable. He will be “just” (Greek adjective dikaios) meaning just, righteous, impartial, upright. God will “forgive” (Greek verb aphiemi: Aorist/Active/Subjunctive) meaning let go, leaven, disregard, dismiss, divorce, cancel, pardon, remit, forgive, abandon. And He will cleanse us from all “unrighteousness” (Greek noun adikias) or injustice, wrong, wickedness, wrong doing, unjust.
One commentary states:
Rather than denying sin, believers are asked to acknowledge it freely. When we admit our sin, we find, paradoxically, that God removes it. “Confess” (Greek, homologōmen) implies we must acknowledge that our sin is sin and admit that we committed it. The plural “sins” shows that confession includes specific acts of sin.
Once we confess sin, the character of God guarantees forgiveness. He is a faithful God who can be trusted to keep His promises (cf. Jeremiah 31:34). He is a righteous God who will forgive our sins because the death of Christ has already paid the penalty for them.
God’s character leads to forgiveness and cleansing. He forgives sin, as one might release a debtor from his obligation to pay. And He cleanses from all unrighteousness, not only by imputing righteousness to the sinner’s account but by gradually producing holy character in daily life.
God’s forgiveness of our sins is done on the basis of the blood of Jesus shed on the cross to pay our debt of sin. Sin is freely forgiven, but the cost of forgiveness was not cheap. If we remember that it may cause us to resist a little bit more.
1 John 1:10 – 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
God’s only requirement for forgiveness of sin is to own up to it and not try to excuse or rationalize it away on our own. No, we must admit our sinfulness. God says we are sinful. If we say we are not sinful we “make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” God is not a liar. We are sinful. The Bible from Genesis to Revelation is evidence that all humanity except for One Person Jesus Christ, has proven to be full of sin. The first three chapters of Paul’s inspired letter to the Romans establishes beyond doubt that both Jew and Gentile are all guilty of a great deal of sin. In Romans 3 he is moved by the Spirit to conclude:
- Romans 3:10–18 and 23 – 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” 13“Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” 15“Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17And the way of peace they have not known.” 18“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
That is the sinful state of all humanity for all time and for anyone to claim that they are without sin or that they have never sinned exposes them as delusional and contrary to God’s revelation that all humanity is sinful. To deny our sin is to call God a liar. That’s a fellowship breaker.
Jesus’ sinless life is a glaring contrast to sinful humanity. His bright blameless sinless life shines a holy light on our dark sinfulness. The closer we come to the God of light through Jesus, the more clearly we will see our sinfulness. But glory to God, along with the realization of our deep-rooted sin is the power of the blood of Jesus to help us deal with that sin. The atoning blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin when we trust in Him as Savior. And as we walk and live with Him as our Lord it leads to true deepening fellowship with God and joy in life.
All of this is available to us as we walk in fellowship with Jesus. Now that is good reason to be joyful over the true fellowship we have with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. This fellowship with God is true because it is real. It is true because it requires us to be real and true about our own sinful condition. It is true because the shed blood of Jesus on the cross is the effective means by which God forgives sin in a faithful, just way. To all of that we should rejoice. And we will rejoice! Praise the Lord.
The Heart of Confession – “I have sinned”
John tells us its unacceptable to say, “we have no sin. . .. we have not sinned” (1 John 1:8 and 10). That being the case, to confess sin(s) therefore means to say, “I have sinned.” Admitting sin or confessing sin is at the heart of confession. When we confess our sins to God or anyone else it is expressed with the word “I have sinned.” Those three words are at the heart of true confession. Confession is owning up to our sin(s) by saying, “I have sinned.” Are you able, have you said “I have sinned” to God? Have you admitted your sins before God? There’s no forgiveness without confessing your sins. And without forgiveness for our sins, there is no entrance into heaven and eternal life granted by God.
“Confess your trespasses to one another”
As we have just seen, we are mandated by God in His word to confess our sins to Him. We do not need to go to a clergy member and confess our sins. We don’t have to go to “Confession” to be “absolved” of our sins. We need to go directly to God, through faith in Christ, by His grace and confess our sins to Him and by faith trust in His faithfulness and justice to forgive our sins. That is all that is necessary to be forgiven our sins.
Having said that, the Bible does also say, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). The word “trespasses” (Greek paraptōma) refers to a side slip, lapse, error, fault, offence, sin, fall beside or near something, a lapse or deviation from truth and uprightness. The idea here is to straighten out or confess offenses to those we sin against as well as to God.
There is a place for confession of our sins to others. Confessing our sins to someone it not limited to clergy. We can confess our sins to another Christian. Perhaps James had in mind here, the confession of sins to the one we, by our sin, have offended or wronged. But this is not compulsory. It’s a good idea and important to confess our sins to the one we have sinned against. It would be hard to see a relationship continuing or being healthy without confessing and addressing the sin between people. I would counsel that when at all possible, we should confess our sins to the ones we have sinned against and ask their forgiveness. But in the case where that is not possible, confession to God trumps all other confessions.
True and False Confession – “I have sinned”
The phrase “I have sinned” occurs 19 times in the Bible. When we look at each occurrence it helps us to determine what is true versus false confession.
First, insincere confession. Insincere confession is the confession of sin where there is no repentance; no intent to follow through and actually stop the offending sinful behavior. An example of this is when Pharaoh told Moses, “I have sinned this time” (Exodus 9:27) and “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you” (Exodus 10:16). In both these cases Pharaoh’s confession or admission of sin was only to alleviate some of the immediate pain of the judgments being brought against Him by God to get Him to let God’s people go and worship God in the wilderness. Insincere confession involves and ulterior motive other than genuine remorse for a sinful wrong done. Insincere confession is confession with an eye to repeating the offense confessed or at least no real desire to actually not commit the same offense again. Insincere confession is abhorrent to God. Pharaoh’s insincere confession led to destruction (cf. Exodus 12-15).
Second, manipulative confession. Manipulative confession is confession with an agenda. Balaam is an example of this sinful type of confession. God got Balaam’s attention by showing him He could speak through a mule just as much as a prophet. When Balaam came face to face with the Angel of the LORD, in fear he confessed, “I have sinned, for I did not know You stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases You, I will turn back” (Numbers 22:34). Like insincere confession, manipulative confession is self-serving. Balaam repeatedly pushed the LORD to let him bring a curse on God’s people. His sincere interest was in profiting as a prophet for Balak. Balaam repeatedly disregarded God’s prohibition of cursing Israel. God halted his efforts to curse Israel (Numbers 22). But Balaam sought to undermine Israel by using intermarriage and immorality to entice God’s people away from the LORD (Numbers 25). Balaam only confessed his sin to manipulate the situation to pursue his own ends. This too is a sinful and unacceptable confession.
Third, forced confession. The only time some people will confess their sins is when they are caught red handed. Such was the case with Achan who God exposed as having disobeyed God’s command to not take anything from the people of the city of Jericho when God brought the victory. Achan only confessed when confronted by Joshua. Then Achan said, “Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I have done” (Joshua 7:20). Having God’s convicting spotlight shone on you exposing your sin leaves you no other real alternative. This is a confession that led to judgment (Joshua 7). In the final judgment, the spotlight of God’s truth will be shined on those who have refused to trust Christ as Savior. Then confession will be forced, and judgment will be enforced. Forced confession does not lead to reconciliation or remission of sin.
Fourth, political confession. Political confession is confession to secure political advantage. King Saul is a good example of this. When he disobeyed the LORD and the prophet Samuel confronted him on it, Saul said, “I have sinned, yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, . . .” (1 Samuel 15:30; c.f. also 15:24). Here Saul confessed because he was concerned with saving face before the leaders of Israel. Again, this was confession with a self-serving agenda. Many a king or politician has confessed a sin they are caught red handed in. They confess only because their political pundits and advisers know that people can be very forgiving. Their confession isn’t genuine, it is only a tactic to remove and politically negative consequences. It’s sinful confession. 
Fifth, embarrassing confession. When King Saul was pursuing David to kill him, the LORD delivered Saul into David’s hands. David was such a man of character that he chose not to use this advantage for fear of touching the anointed king of God. When Saul became aware of this, he was embarrassed by the contrast of David’s character to his lack thereof. Therefore, we see Saul confess, “I have sinned. Return, my son David. For I will harm you no more, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Indeed, I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21). This is confession to try and save face. Saul was exposed as a fool, so he did what those around him felt was the appropriate response. When a person confesses their sins simply because they are embarrassed, that confession remains sinful.
Sixth, exposed confession. This is confession that is the result of having one’s sins exposed. This is similar to the previous inadequate confessions, but here we need to see that sin is always eventually exposed. David is our example of such exposed confession. David sinned with Bathsheba. He orchestrated the premeditated murder of Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba, and then he hid his sin for over a year (2 Samuel 11-12). But God has a way of exposing sin and bringing it out in the open. And that’s what He did. Through the prophet Nathan David’s sin was exposed. And when it was David said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:13).
It would have been better, a better sign of character for David to have responded to the conviction of the LORD for his heinous lustful sin and violence. But he didn’t. God wouldn’t allow David to get away with such sin. God holds His children to a higher standard that others (e.g. Hebrews 12). But once exposed, David’s heart was broken before the LORD. And that is a good thing. David is the man after God’s own heart. And when the LORD put His finger on David’s heart, he burst forth with true confession (cf. Psalm 51 for David’s heart and words on his confession).
Unfortunately for David, he would again need to repent and confess his sins before the LORD when allowed himself to be tempted into relying on his troops and human resources instead of the LORD’s provision (2 Samuel 24). Looking at David we see that when we get older, our sins tend to have worse effects and we feel them worse as well. When confronted by the LORD it states, “And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So, David said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done’ but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant for I have done very foolishly” (2 Samuel 24:10). When David saw the consequences of his sin on his people he heartbrokenly said, “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house” (2 Samuel 24:17). But David, even with sincere true confession, had to suffer the justice of God. Confession does not always alleviate the consequence of sinful behavior; it only guarantees forgiveness for the sins.
Seventh, sickbed confession. Some people wait until they are on their sickbed to confess their sins. They have to be brought to the end of life to hurry up and confess their sins so the next life will be secured favorably for them. Elihu in the book of Job, accuses Job of this. He says “Man is also chastened with pain on his bed, and with strong pain in many of his bones” (Job 33:19). Elihu insinuates that only after such pain will a person then look at people and say, “I have sinned, and perverted what was right, and it did not profit me’” (Job 24:27). It’s a sad thing that sickness and pain are sometimes what God has to allow into a person’s life to bring them face to face with their sin and hopefully to a confession of that sin.
Eighth, acted on confession. Nehemiah had a heart for his people and his country. God elevated him to an influential position in Persia. But his heart was still in the Holy Land. So, he prayed in part, “Both my father’s house and I have sinned” (Nehemiah 1:6). And in response to that prayer, God gave Nehemiah favor with the King of Persia who granted permission for him to return and rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1-2). It’s a wonderful story and shows how confession opens the door to God’s blessings. Nehemiah not only confessed sin, he acted in a way to do something about the sin he confessed. Confess your sins to God and pray for our country, and then seek Him for direction in how to make a difference regarding the sins you confessed. Who knows, maybe God will give us favor and revive us like He did with Nehemiah.
Ninth, humble confession. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5-6). Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and was a prophet of Judah. He was heart broken over the spiritual state of God’s people. And when God allowed Israel to be defeated, it was devastating to him. But towards the end of Micah’s minor prophetic book, he confesses the sins saying:
- Micah 7:7–9 – 7Therefore I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me. 8 Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; When I fall, I will arise; When I sit in darkness, The Lord will be a light to me. 9 I will bear the indignation of the Lord, Because I have sinned against Him, Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to the light; I will see His righteousness.
Í will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against Him.” The prophets of old stepped in as intercessors and confessors of the sins of God’s people. And God always hears what the humble cry out to Him. Confession, if it is to be true and effective, must always be uttered with humble words from a humble heart.
Tenth, despairing confession. “I have sinned and betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). Those were the words of Judas who betrayed Jesus. The account goes on to state the chief priests responded, “What is that to us? You see to it!” And Judas did. It says of Judas, “Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself (Matthew 27:4-5). This is not the right outcome of true confession.
Peter and the other Apostles betrayed and forsook Jesus. But they didn’t go out and hang themselves. What was the difference? The difference was the other Apostles looked to Jesus and were reconciled by His blood. Judas only looked at himself and what he had done and that led to suicide. At the end of John’s gospel Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love Me?” Peter had to count the cost of following Jesus at that point. Reconciliation and restoration involved giving Jesus even the shame and disappointment of his sinful failings. Peter chose right and was restored (John 21). Judas chose despair and self loathing and he was not.
Eleventh, true confession. But the greatest example of what true confession is, is found in a parable of Jesus. In this parable a son leaves home and indulges in prodigal living. He wastes all his inheritance and ends up envying the pig slop of the swine he was reduced to tending. But then, he remembers his father and the home he left behind. He is brought to his senses and says, “I will rise and go to my father and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” (Luke 15:18-19). And the prodigal follows through on those intentions (Luke 15:21). The result? His father runs to him and welcomes him back (cf. Luke 15:11-32).
This is a picture of how God will receive sinners back if they will only humbly come to Him. Truly, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The parable of the Prodigal Son is a picture of true confession. It’s a picture of a confession of sin which is real not fake, pure and not with an agenda or ulterior motives, selfless instead of selfishly self-centered.
“I have sinned.” When was the last time you said that to God? Is your confession true? Or is your confession insincere, manipulative, forced, politically motivated, due to embarrassment, because of being exposed, a last gasp sickbed effort? Is your confession jut another expression trying to get people to feel sorry for you? Is it faithless like the confession of Judas? Or is your confession true? Is it humble with intentions to act on making things right? Is your confession true?
We individually, as well as we corporately, need to revisit confession. If we have sinned, we need to admit and confess that to God. And where we can, we need to confess our sins to those we have sinned against. If we choose confession, genuine true confession of sin, then we can be sure our Heavenly Father will welcome us back with open arms and celebration. Will you, in Jesus’ name, confess your sins today, now?
Here is a suggested prayer of confession to help you take a first step in the right direction:
Father in heaven, I come to You in Jesus’ name. I admit and confess that I have sinned against You. Please help me to remember and confess my sins to You. I have sinned against You by: ______________________________________________________________________.
Now, as I have confessed my sins to You, please forgive my sins. I don’t ask Your forgiveness based on any good work of my own. I only ask Your forgiveness because I believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. Please help me to not repeat my sins. I receive Your forgiveness of sin by faith in Jesus. Thank You for this wonderful gift of Your grace. Please fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Please help me to live for You; to bring glory to Your name. And please help me to be quick to confess and repent of any sin in the future. Please make me what You desire me to be, so I can do what you call me to do, for Your glory, until Jesus’ return. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Complete Biblical Library Commentary – The Complete Biblical Library – Hebrews-Jude.
 See also Shimei who confessed his sinful treatment of David only because he feared retaliation form David (2 Samuel 19:20 in context).