The Christian’s Confession of Sin (Guideline)

By Harold Hancock

We live in a time in which time to forget rather than confession is the path of restoration sought by many Christians, and accepted by some churches. Many questions have been asked about the Christian’s confession of sin, especially the “public confession.”

The Bible teaches that Christians ought always confess his faults unto God, and sometimes unto men. “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). “Confess your faults one to another, that ye may be healed” (Jas. 5:16). In the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:21), the son returned confessing, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight.”

Sometimes the knowledge and effect of our sins travel much faster and further than news of our repentance and confession. I remember the story of a lady who traveled through a certain town dropping feathers as she went. She then returned trying to recover them. Many had been blown by the wind and were irretrievable. So it is with some of our sins. Our best efforts can not undo all the harm that has been done.

A good rule to follow when possible is that the confession be as broad as the knowledge of the sin. This would assure us of always confessing our sins unto God, for He always knows of our sins (Heb. 4:13, 14). It would mean that sins that were public, or generally known, would be confessed publicly, or generally. I think we see this principle applied in the scriptures. In Mt. 18:15, we read, “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained a brother.” All responsibility toward men can be fulfilled by letting one person know of our repentance if our trespass is against one, and only one knows of it. In Gal. 2:12, we are told that Peter sinned before all; Paul rebuked him before all (Gal. 2:14). Could Peter’s confession have been less than before all to be effective? When a sin is carried before the church (Mt. 18:17), should not the church also be informed of the repentance?

Suppose that a teacher sees a student at his desk write 2+2=5. The teacher may inform the student of his mistake, and the student may correct it without anyone other than the teacher knowing of it. No harm will come. However, if the mistake is made at the board before all, then it must be corrected before all.

Are we saying one must “walk down the aisle” to confess sin? We care not how one goes about confessing his sins – whether he calls each individual and informs them, or acknowledges to all at once while they are assembled together. Just remember that when possible the confession should be as broad as the knowledge of the sin.

I am not sure all have grasped the importance of the confession. We must confess our sins to God to have forgiveness of them (1 Jn. 1:9). Without confession unto God, there is no forgiveness. We confess our faults one to another that we may be healed (Jas. 5:16). Again to be healed is to be forgiven. Compare Mt. 13:15 and Mk. 4:12. This is God’s plan of restoration. We have no more right to change it than to change the command of baptism for the remission of sins. The confession also relieves one of the burden of sin. David felt the hand of God pressing upon him while he kept silent about his sin. The burden was lifted when he acknowledged his sin and confessed his transgressions (Psa. 32:1-5).

A confession of sin lets all know where one stands. I like the story of the man with a peg leg who answered the invitation after a sermon on worldliness. He wanted all to know that he no longer danced just because he could not, but because he now felt it was wrong as well. All knew where he stood. What kind of a Christian are we if we are afraid to let all know where we stand? All of us sin (1 Jn. 1:8, 10). We need to make some kind of a confession. May we all make the ones we need to. It has long been said, “Confession is good for the soul.” Truly it is.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 4, p. 74
January 25, 1979