Confession has become a touchy subject in the grace community. Judging by some of the comments I have received in the past week, there are some folks who think we must never confess sins, that to do so is to slap Jesus in the face and run back into works-based religiosity.
It’s true that confession has been abused for two thousand years. Confessing to be forgiven is probably the number one work of the flesh. Yet I maintain that confession can be good for you. And as I explained in my last post, there is a world of difference between healthy and unhealthy confession.
In this final post in the series, I want to leave you with six examples of a good confession from the Bible. But first, let me give you a test that you can use to determine whether any confession is good or bad:
True Biblical confession is declaring faith in God; bad confession is giving voice to unbelief.
It is important that you understand this distinction. True confession is agreeing with God but bad confession is doubting him (eg: asking him to do what he’s already done, begging him to give what he’s already given). True confession always leaves you Christ-conscious but bad confession leaves you self-conscious.
1. Confession unto salvation
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. (Luke 18:13-14)
These seven words from the tax collector – “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” – are the difference between life and death, between justification and condemnation. The tax collector is confessing his need for mercy and he’s looking to God to get it. You don’t need to beat your chest to get saved, but you do need to put your faith in God and this man does. So even though this prayer comes before the cross, Jesus says the man went home justified. In other words, he went home a new man and a sinner no longer. The tax collector’s prayer passes the test. It is a good, life-saving confession. It is Romans 10:9 in action.
2. Confession of sonship
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father” (Rms 8:15).
Perhaps you have made the same confession as the tax collector. If so, don’t make it again. Once is enough. Don’t go around telling people you are a “miserable sinner” or a “sinner saved by grace.” If you’ve been born again, you are a sinner no more – you are a child of God. It’s smart for sinners to confess like the tax collector and ask God for mercy and grace. But you do not need to ask for what you have already received. To do so is to operate in unbelief and doubt.
The Holy Spirit in you cries out “Papa! Father!” (Gal 4:6, MSG). Since true confession is agreeing with God, we too cry out “Abba, Father.” We don’t stand at a distance beating our chests like the unsaved tax collector. We draw near as beloved children addressing the Almighty One as “Papa,” “Abba,” and “Father.” True confession means seeing yourself as God sees you and he sees you as a dearly loved child.
3. Confession of sins
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1, NKJV)
David had sinned and he knew it, yet he barely mentions his sin in this Psalm of repentance. Instead he makes 24 statements about the goodness of God. This is significant. Under the law of the day, David deserved to die yet here he in Psalm 51 appealing to God’s gracious nature – his lovingkindness and mercy. This is a Psalm full of faith in the goodness of God, thus it passes the confession test.
When you sin, don’t stare at your navel but lift your eyes to heaven. Take your cue from David and praise God for his goodness and mercy. Thank him that all your sins were taken away at the cross and that because of Jesus you are a sinner no more. You are righteous indeed. It takes no faith to confess your guilt and shame when you sin; it takes faith to look to the cross and declare, “Because of his grace I am still forgiven, I am still righteous, I am still a child of God. Thank you Jesus!”
4. Confession in times of suffering
He said to them, “I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me.” Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, don’t make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.” (Mat 26:38-39, CEV)
Confession is not just for sin; it’s for our sufferings as well. Jesus’ greatest need was experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. His soul was crushed with the weight of the world. Did Jesus put on a mask and pretend he had it altogether? No. He opened his mouth and confessed with honest transparency.
If you’re going through a rough patch, be encouraged by Jesus. He was so stressed, he sweated blood! Everyone gets stressed; it’s what you do when you’re stressed that makes the difference. What did Jesus do? He presented his requests to God – “don’t make me suffer” – but he did so in a way that expressed his faith in God’s goodness. It’s like he was saying, “I don’t know if I can go through with this Lord, but I trust you.” Do you see it? Honesty (“I’m dying here!”) plus faith (“your will be done”) equals grace to help us through our hour of need.
If you’re in an environment that places a big emphasis on walking in victory every day, you need to hear this: unless you are honest and open about your needs, you will never receive the grace propels us through life’s trials. Grace is for the needy and we are all needy. We’re just not all honest about it. Only the humble receive grace.
5. Confession and sickness
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. (Mat 9:27-30)
I guess there were many blind men in Israel but these two opened their mouths and confessed their great need to Jesus. Look what Jesus asked them. Do you believe? It’s like Jesus was on a faith-hunt. I’m sure Jesus could sense the faith in their hearts but he wanted them to speak it out. It’s as if they needed to hear their own good confession. Yes, Lord, we believe. Any time you say “Yes” to Jesus, that’s a good confession. It’s giving voice to the faith in our hearts.
I speak to sicknesses all the time. I tell them about Jesus by whose stripes we are healed. I command them to bow to King Jesus and they often do. To paraphrase Bill Johnson, not everyone I pray for gets healed, but more people get healed when I proclaim the name of Jesus than when I stay silent.
So far we have seen that a confession can be helpful when dealing with salvation, sonship, sin, suffering, and sickness. There is one more occasion when confession is good.
6. Confession as a sacrifice
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. (Heb 13:15)
The word for confess here is exactly the same as the word for confess in 1 John 1:9 and elsewhere. It is homologeo, meaning, to agree with God. Every time we praise God for his goodness and mercy, we are making a good confession.
The writer of Hebrews says this is to be our continual habit. You may be locked up in prison like Paul and Silas – praise him anyway, for he is good. Your life may be going down the toilet. Guess what – God is still good. Instead of giving voice to the trials of your life, speak to your storms about the goodness of your good God. Rebuke your problems, resist the devil, bless those who curse you, pray for your enemies and fight the good fight.
Gratitude is the language of faith. Anytime you give thanks to God, you are making a good confession. Want to be a good confessor? Then learn to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Th 5:18).
True confession = “Jesus!”
True confession is basically proclaiming “Jesus” over our lives. It is declaring the good news of his kingdom. It is proclaiming the gospel of his grace and saying “Thank you, Jesus!”
The devil would love for you to say No to Jesus but since you’re not going to do that, he will be content if you just say nothing at all. Don’t dismiss confession as an empty religious work. True confession is one of the ways we reveal the good news of God’s grace to a world that desperately needs to hear it:
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:17-18)