If you were the devil and you wanted to keep Christians barren, sick and ineffective, there is one simple thing that you could do: you would hide or distort the revelation that we have been totally and eternally forgiven.
Show me any Christian who is making a mark for God today, and I’ll show you someone who knows they have been forgiven. Complete and unconditional forgiveness is the foundation of our faith. It is what separates Christianity from all the man-made religions of the world. Yet many sincere believers do not know for sure whether they are forgiven. And if you’re not sure about that, you won’t know for certain whether God wants to heal the sick, raise the dead and drive out demons.
When I started this blog I wrote quite a lot about forgiveness and how it’s a gift that can never be earned. At that time I received many comments from sincere believers who objected to what I had to say about confessing sins. Confession seems to be a touchy subject. By confession, I mean reviewing your sins and shortcomings. I don’t want to belittle confession but I do want to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy confession. If talking and being open about things brings life to you, then do it. But – and this is a big but – if you think confessing sins is a prerequisite to receiving forgiveness, then you are in danger of setting aside the grace of God.
As we will see in this quick study, confessing-to-be-forgiven is one of the most diabolical lies that has ever been taught. It is also one of the most effective – just look at what it has done to us. Instead of discipling nations we’re cloistered in small groups trying to manage each other’s sin. Instead of exercising authority over sin and sickness, we’re enslaving ourselves with the yoke of law. Instead of drawing from the well of salvation with joy and telling others the good news, we’re weeping at the altar like a bad advertisement.
I want to draw some very clear lines in the sand, so in this short series I will outline 12 reasons why believers never, ever, have to confess their sins to be forgiven. If it appears that I’m preaching the negative, it is only to highlight the many positive things that the Bible says about your forgiveness – things that we can be certain about. I’m going to travel fast and light across a lot of ground. I will list scriptures but leave you to study them at your leisure. My hope is that you will come to a firm conviction about your forgiven-ness, that you will thank God for what He has done and live free. Then I hope you will go and tell others the good news of God’s grace. Everyone needs the gift of forgiveness.
Without further ado, here are the first three reasons why we don’t have to confess our sins to be forgiven:
1. It’s not in the Bible
“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)
This is the only verse in the Bible where our confession is connected with His forgiveness. The Greek word for confess is homologeo which means to acknowledge, concede or agree with. In this passage John is writing to unbelievers who were deceived because they thought they were without sin (see v.8). How do I know that John is talking to unbelievers and not Christians? Because he is addressing people who are walking in darkness (v.6), who need to be purified from all unrighteousness (v.9) and who, by insisting that they have never sinned, are making God out to be a liar (v.10).
What message does John have for sinners who don’t think they’re sinners? “Acknowledge your sinful state, turn to God and receive His gift of forgiveness.” There’s only one thing that stops a sinner from receiving God’s grace and that’s unbelief. If you don’t see your need for forgiveness, you are well and truly lost. You may claim to know God but He doesn’t know you. There’s only one way to the Father and that’s through Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. God made provision for your redemption and forgiveness at the cross, but you will never see it unless you acknowledge (ie: confess) your need for a Savior.
And what message does John have for those of us who have already turned to Jesus? Do we need to confess too? We already have! Remember, confession means agreeing with God. When you first surrendered to the Lord, you might have prayed “thank you for forgiving me.” That’s confession. You were acknowledging that you had a sin problem and in need of God’s forgiveness. In the New Testament people sometimes confessed their sins when they were baptized (Mt 3:6). How many times do you need to be baptized before you are baptized? Just once. How many times do you need to say yes to God before you are in agreement with God? Just once. And how many times do you need to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness before you have received it? Just once. (And for those of you interested in Greek verb tenses, see my note in the comments below.)
2. You were forgiven 2000 years ago
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:13-14)
We all need to forgive and be forgiven, but when it comes to sin, your forgiven-ness is a done deal. Jesus forgave all your sins at the cross long before you were born, long before you did anything. Your performance never came into it. I said above that 1 John 1 was written for unbelievers who don’t see their need for forgiveness. In the second chapter John writes for the saints, and what does he tell them? “Your sins have been forgiven on account of His name” (1 Jn 2:12). If your sins have already been forgiven, what are you confessing for?
3. You were forgiven through His blood
Under the old covenant law, there could be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22). What the law prefigured, Christ fulfilled. At the Last Supper Jesus explained the basis of our forgiveness:
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mat 26:28)
Note the absence of any qualifiers. Jesus did not say, “…provided they confess first.” It’s His blood from start to finish. 1 John 1 may have given you the impression that sinners are only forgiven when they confess. But John makes it clear that it is not our confession but “the blood of Jesus Christ (that) cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7). So why confess at all? Remember, Biblical confession is not listing everything that’s wrong with you. True confession is a positive response to something that God has already done. It is verbalizing faith. It is saying “thank you Jesus for your blood that was poured out for my forgiveness. Because of You, I am forgiven!”
Never forget that you are forgiven
What is the number one reason why Christians are barren and ineffective in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus? According to 2 Peter 1:9, it is forgetting that we have been cleansed from our old sins. To keep the church weak and impotent, the enemy only needs to get us to forget our forgiven-ness. Indeed, forgiveness is easy to forget when we sin. And that’s why it is important to confess the word of God over ourselves. So the next time you stumble, don’t get introspective but put your faith into action. Look at yourself in the mirror and declare with confidence that you have been forgiven by the blood of the Lamb!
In Part II of this study we will look at three more promises about forgiveness and three more reasons why Christians don’t need to confess their sins to receive them.
- Is forgiveness something God does or gives?
- Where does forgiveness come from? And why does it matter?
- Why do people need to receive the gift of forgiveness if the whole world is forgiven?