Confess Your Sins
Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah.
-- Acts 3:19-20
The Weight of Our Sins
In another section of this website, The Causes of Pain, I discuss the five reasons why we suffer. I explain that one of the reasons we experience difficulties in our life is because we act selfishly and foolishly. When we behave in a manner that goes against the way God wants us to live, we are essentially rebelling against Him. This rebellion is called sin, and it has consequences. Sometimes when we sin God disciplines us because He loves us and wants to get us back on the right path (Deuteronomy 8:5). But often the suffering we experience in these situations is the natural consequence of our selfishness and misdeeds. For example, when someone cheats on their spouse the common result is a costly and painful divorce. God doesn't need to be the source behind this kind of trouble, we bring it on ourselves through our unfaithfulness.
Our sins are like radiation, they are cumulative. Each time we sin we grow more spiritually sick. And unfortunately, we humans do not possess the ability to remove sin's contamination from our lives. Even worse, the Scriptures tell us that one single dose of sin kills us (Romans 5:12; James 2:10). Fortunately, as I describe in the section, Who God Is, Jesus Christ offers a cure for this terminal illness.
Why We Don't Like Confession
One practice that has become increasingly less emphasized within the church is the confession of sins. We don't like to talk about the importance of bringing our sins to God in prayer. Such an activity stirs up a sense of guilt that makes us uncomfortable. The problem can look something like the following.
If I talk to God about my sins, it means I will have to admit I am choosing to live in a way that displeases Him. It also requires me to take some kind of corrective action. I have to stop doing something that I am in the habit of doing or I have to start doing something that I am disinclined to participate in. I'm not sure I want to take on this burden so I avoid the discussion.
Moreover, if I come to God in confession, I may have to admit that I am trapped in an addiction. And this might mean I need to share my problems with others. I'm not sure I really want to go to all of this trouble. I find it easier to simply believe that God loves me the way I am and I prefer to remind myself that humans will always struggle with sin. So why stress about my failings?
Confession just creates more problems. And even if a person is willing to confess their sins it doesn't mean they'll stop sinning. I sin, I feel bad and confess, but then I fall back into sin, feel bad again and confess, and then I sin again. . . After you repeat this cycle several times, its reasonable to wonder if confession provides any real benefit.
One may even wonder what the purpose of confession is.
What is Confession
Confession is the surrendering of the soul. Here's what that entails. When we truly confess our sins to God, we are admitting the following things:
What I did (or failed to do) was against God's will and it should not have happened.
I take responsibility for the wrong that occurred.
I don't want this to reoccur in the future.
I am asking for God's help so that this won't happen again.
Indeed, the next time you confess one of your sins to God, be sure to go down this checklist to determine if you really are confessing it. Ask yourself whether you really believe that what you did (or failed to do) was wrong, whether you are willing to take responsibility for this situation, and whether you want God's help to permanently change your ways in this area.
The Role of Confession
I believe that confessing our specific sins is one of the key ingredients to improving our walk with God. Indeed, James writes, "Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world." (James 4:8). The message is clear, if we want to have a better relationship with God, we need to confess our sins.
David tells us in Psalm 32:3-5 that when we don't confess our sins we suffer:
When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
When we confess our sins, healing so often results. Proverbs 28:13 makes this clear. "People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy."
How to Confess Your Sins
What is God asking of you right now? Take a few moments to reflect on your spiritual condition. What have you done recently that God isn't pleased about? What have you been struggling with for a long time? Take these things to God. Speak them out loud to Him and take responsibility for these sins. Confess them. Here is a short, template prayer that you can use. (You can also use the button directly below it to download and print out this prayer if that would be helpful to you.)
I acknowledge my rebellion against you. I sinned when I ___________________ . I take responsibility for this. Please forgive me. And help me, so that this does not happen again. Show me what specific action I need to do in this area so that I can enjoy a better relationship with you and your healing power may come upon me.
In Jesus name, Amen.
Confess your Sins to Other Believers
Confession is the first step on the road to healing. In speaking specifically on the topic of how to get well, James indicates that confession and prayer are critical. And what's especially interesting here is that James is telling us to reveal our sins to fellow believers. "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results" (James 5:16). If you truly want to be free of your pain, you must be willing to humble yourself and share your spiritual struggles with a Christian.
Most people won't even share their minor weaknesses with others, certainly not their deeper sins. Yet each person must decide for themselves what is more important to them. Are you willing to humble yourself and admit to another that you are stuck in a particular sin and need help? Or would you rather protect your reputation, keep your sin a secret, and continue in your rebellion against God and face His discipline?
I can tell you from personal experience, it was only when I finally humbled myself and confessed my sin to a fellow Christian that I was able to break the chains of my shame. While this act didn't suddenly transform me into a mature and perfect follower of Jesus Christ, my confession did initiate a process that has moved me from an ivory tower academic to a hospital chaplain who seeks to encourage those who are hurting. And while I have certainly experienced some difficult times in my life since then, I know now more than ever that God loves me and is taking care of me.
Call to Confession
It may seem unrelated or even counterintuitive, but if you are experiencing significant grief and trials in your life right now, respond to it by confessing your sins to God. And if God prompts you or you are not making progress in your fight against sin, take James' advice and confess your sin to a mature Christian. Of all of the advice I provide on this website, I believe this is the most important step you can take. As the quote at the top of this page reveals, when we confess our sins to God we will experience times of refreshment and experience Jesus anew. If you have questions about this issue or need to talk to someone about your struggle, feel free to reach out to me by visiting my Contact page.