Completely Forgiven? When Confession is Bad for You

Jesus died to set men free. Galatians 5:13 tells us that we have a holy calling to be free – to live free, walk free, stay free. One way that we can lose our freedom is to burden ourselves with ungodly demands and expectations. This can happen when we take scripture out of context. It can also happen when we read the Bible without an appreciation of what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf.

Let me ask you a simple question to see how well you know this. For the Christian, which of the following statements is true?

(a)    Jesus will forgive all your sins

(b)    Jesus has forgiven your past sins

(c)    Jesus has forgiven all your sins

If you said (a) you’re probably thinking of 1 John 1:9 which says:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Some Christians take this to mean that Jesus will forgive our sins as we confess them. In other words we are free and forgiven only from the moment of our last confession until our next sin. The implication is that we need to confess all our mistakes, listing them out one by one. But what happens if we miss one? What about the sins we neglect to confess? When we get to eternity will we hear God say, “Oops, you missed one about 10 years ago. Sorry, I don’t know you”? I’m being facetious to make an important point: either we have to confess all of our sins or we don’t.

If we read all of what John is saying we see that confession for the forgiveness of sins is a one-time event. In this passage of scripture (verses 5 to 10) John is addressing unbelievers not Christians. How do I know this? Because it is the unrighteous who need to be purified from all unrighteousness (v.9). John is identifying with sinners when he says “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” What does John say sinners should do? Confess your sins and start living for Jesus. John promises that if sinners confess, Jesus is faithful to forgive. And when Jesus forgives, you are well and truly forgiven!

John is not preaching a doctrine of human confession but a doctrine of divine forgiveness. To make this plain John even brackets the confession verse with the double assurance that the blood of Jesus forgives us from all sin (v.7) and purifies us from all unrighteousness (v.9). All means all. “All sin” includes the sins we haven’t done yet. This is good news!

If you said (b) maybe you were thinking of 2 Peter 1:9. Here Peter mentions in passing that Jesus has cleansed us from our “past sins”. Although Peter doesn’t say it, some take this to mean that Jesus has not cleansed us from our present and future sins. In other words, Jesus got us started at the cross but now it’s up to us to stay on course. We have to take care and work hard to stay in that place of forgiveness.

What is the work that is required? Usually this scripture is connected with 1 John 1:9 and the need to stay ‘fessed up. The Devil must love this. Instead of telling the lost about the forgiveness Jesus offers, the church is cloistered away confessing its sins over and over again. Just when we think we’re all done the Devil hints, “are you sure you didn’t miss some?” And then we start confessing the sins we don’t even know about, just to make sure our insurance policy is topped up.

So are we completely forgiven or aren’t we? Look at what the Bible says happened at the cross:

“He forgave us all our sins.” (Col 2:13)

“When this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.” (Heb 10:12)

“I write to you dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.” (1 Jn 2:12)

The Bible clearly teaches (c) – Jesus dealt with all our sin at the cross, past, present and future. If you are in Christ, you are completely forgiven. When we sin Jesus the Righteous One doesn’t judge us, He defends us (1 Jn 2:1) and then He teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions (Tit 2:12). When we sin we don’t fall out of grace, we fall into grace. Shall we then take this as a license to sin? Not at all. Why would we want to run back into that prison cell?

Jesus not only forgives all our sin but He surgically removes our sinful nature (Col 2:11) and gives us a new nature (2 Cor 5:17). Sin no longer dominates us. Thanks to His powerful and effective grace we are able to say “no” to sin (Tit 2:12). Thus Peter can reasonably speak of our sins and sin-dominated way of life as being wholly in the past (2 Pet 1:9).

Because of what Jesus has done, God not only forgives all our sins, He chooses to forget them too.

“(Because of the cross) God is no longer counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19)

“I will forgive their sins and remember their sins no more.” (Hebs 8:12)

It is human nature to keep score but the love of God revealed in Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. When the heroes of faith are hailed in Hebrews 11 their sinful deeds are strangely absent. Moses the murderer and Rahab the prostitute are praised for their faith, not rebuked for their sins.

Yes there is freedom and reconciliation in confessing our shortcomings to one another (Jas 5:16). But there is no need for the Christian to keep on confessing sins to maintain God’s forgiveness. You don’t need to work for something that you already have!

You might say, “but confession keeps me humble.” But this is a false humility based on what you have done or not done. True humility comes from appreciating the significance of what Christ has done. Confession makes you sin-conscious and paranoid, but we are called to be Christ-conscious and free. Haven’t you heard? He was wounded and crushed for our sin. The punishment that brought us peace was on Him (Is 53:5). So walk in that peace.

You might say, “but confession restores my fellowship with God.” It is true that when we sin we might feel guilty even though God categorically declares us not guilty. It is also true that sin has destructive consequences. Mindful of the mess we made we might have godly sorrow (2 Cor 7:10). When we sin we should repent. But the Bible says we are led to repentance, not by being conscious of our badness, but by a revelation of His goodness (Rms 2:4). By all means be open about your failures and shortcomings, but do so from the solid ground of your secure position in Christ.

What does this mean?

It means that instead of being introspective, be Christ-centered. Instead of focusing on your mistakes, agree with what God says about you. Instead of flagellating yourself for your mistakes, start praising Jesus for the gift of His righteousness (Rms 5:17). Thank Him for making you righteous. Then “awake to righteousness and sin not” (1 Cor 15:34).

You might say “but I don’t feel righteous.” Well stop living according to your feelings and start agreeing with God’s word:

“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)

The gospel reveals the gift of righteousness that comes from God (Rms 1:17). There are only two things you can do with a gift. Receive it or reject it. We receive it by renouncing our self-righteousness, by confessing we are sinful and acknowledging our need for a Divine Savior.

When we surrender to Jesus – when we walk out of the enemy’s camp and into His – He marks us as one of His own (2 Cor 1:22). From that moment on we are eternally untouchable. No angel nor demon, nothing in life or death, nothing in the present or the future nor anything in creation can now separate us from His love (Rms 8:38). We may still have rough edges. We may be a work in progress. We may reap the bad fruit of our mistakes. But we need not fear judgment because we are safely hidden in Christ (Col 3:3). When God looks at us, He doesn’t see an imperfect human struggling with this and that. He sees our perfect, infallible High Priest Jesus:

“Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” (Heb 7:24-26)

Freedom is not found in observing empty human rituals. Freedom is found in Jesus.

30 Comments on Completely Forgiven? When Confession is Bad for You

  1. Alexandravidge // February 18, 2010 at 9:17 am // Reply

    Its always comforting to know that Jesus forgives ALL our sins. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Susana Vivas // May 28, 2010 at 4:08 am // Reply

    Love this! Amazing Grace! Thanks for the clarification, was looking for this! God bless you!

  3. This is wild. Thanks so much for posting this!

  4. Hi Paul,

    Are all people already forgiven by the one time sacrifice of Jesus or are they forgiven only when they believe?

    • Ha! Sam, I think you are testing me for I am sure you know the answer to this question as well as I do. We were forgiven 2000 years ago – at the cross, in Jesus’ dying act and with Jesus’ dying words (Col 2:13, 3:13). Divine forgiveness begins with Him – that’s grace. Our part is to respond positively – that’s faith.

      • Hi Paul! No I am not testing you 🙂 With reference to a sinner coming to Christ, John seems to imply in 1 John 1:9 that forgiveness is conditional on confession of sins. “IF we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” The ‘IF’ in the beginning seems to imply a ‘condition’. If we were forgiven 2000 years ago(which I believe), how is it that we will be forgiven only if we confess? What is John saying here?(Now I am fully convinced that a person once saved does not have to keep confessing or keep short accounts. This question is specifically with reference to a person first coming to Christ.) Thank you for shedding light on this issue. Thanks!!!

      • Hi Sam, now I understand your question better. If John were saying that forgiveness was conditional on our confession, we would have to rewrite a lot of other verses in the Bible, eg:

        “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith plus confession…” (Eph 2:8)

        “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and confess all your sins, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rms 10:9)

        I don’t know why the original Greek word ean is so often translated “if” when “whosoever” seems far more accurate. Yes, there is a condition for forgiveness – you have to be a sinner. “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:15).

        For me the issue is not confession or anything we do – it’s all about Him and what He has done. People think I am against confession. I am neither for it nor against it. I am for life. If confessing sins helps release the life of Christ within you, then go for it. If confessing sins makes you sin-conscious and releases death, don’t do it. I’m not preaching a law, I’m preaching Jesus. My point is that salvation and acceptance is not conditional on your confession.

        So what about 1 Jn 1:9?

        John is writing to people who had been deceived into thinking they were without sin (1:8). They were in darkness (1:5) and in their deception were calling God a liar (1:10). The one thing that will stop you receiving God’s free gift of forgiveness is the lie that says you don’t need forgiveness. In this case, confession of sins can be helpful indeed!

        Some sinners know that they are sinners. They don’t need to declare that they are sinners – they already know! – they just need to repent and believe. Imagine a 60 year old who comes to Jesus. If he had to confess all his sins, he might die of old age before he got to the part about declaring Jesus as Lord!

        John is writing to sinners who did not think they were sinners at all. These sinners-who-thought-they-were-righteous were well and truly deceived. John is saying, “stop saying you’re righteous, agree with God’s true assessment of you, and receive the gift of His righteousness.”

        So the short version: sinners who believe they are hot-righteous-stuff would do well to take a long hard look in the mirror of the law, agree with what it says about their true state and have their need for Jesus brought into sharp relief. Sinners who already know they are lost and in need of a savior, have no such need for confession.

  5. Thank you for the excellent and Biblically-accurate post! I am linking to it from my own blogs.

    The notion that Christians need to continually confess their sins has been used to justify the practice of requiring Christians to have “accountability partners” to “keep them accountable” in “Christian accountability”. In reality, only Jesus has the authority to hold a Christian accountable (and He is no longer doing so because of His work on the cross), not another human being. A more detailed Bible-based analysis of the heterodoxy that is “Christian accountability” can be found in my blog:

    Once again, thanks for proclaiming the Biblical truth!

  6. C. Luda Troxel // October 28, 2010 at 5:24 pm // Reply

    This may seem an aside to your post, but one of the great epiphanies that we [Americans in particular] made early in the 19th Century was that an evolving interpretation of the Gospel (all the while Jesus being constant and eternal) is to the betterment of society in all areas. This was primary championed by the Quakers and the Methodists of the times…

    I was with the advent of the Quaker and the Methodist communities in America that the subject of sin and our social and divine responsibilities were deeply examined – and it was learned that lingering upon our sin isn’t a positive use of the love of God – rather a stubmling block to progress.

    This isn’t to say however that sin and our bind to it, or freedom from it should go ignored. There must be an acknowledgement of sin in our lives if we’re to fully understand the nature of eternal forgivenss. Moreover there must a a contrite heart if the fruits of God’s love are to burgeon.

    I am of the belief however that confession of sins is healthy for the person but moreover for the community. While any man or woman can confess his sins to God and know that forgivness is present, how do we account for the sins of our collective? It is in the trust of our spiritual leaders that we confess our sins not on our own belahf but for our community.

    • Thanks for your comment. I am intrigued by the notion that the sins of the collective are different from the sins of the individual. For instance, in any human system (eg, a free market economy), great evil can be done without fault being particularly attributed to specific individuals. It’s all part and parcel of the curse of sin. Bad stuff happens, even when none of us intend it. But the remedy for collective (or systemic) sin is just the same as the remedy for individual sin. It is Jesus. John the Baptist said as much when he identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). I can’t imagine a bigger collective than the world.

  7. Wonderful article. Thanks! As far as moving past current sin, I love the paraphrase The Mirror Translation has from Galatians:

    Galatians 2:17-18 Mirror Translation – However, if in our quest to discover righteousness by faith in what Christ did for us, we find that it is still possible to stumble, do not now label yourself a sinner yet again! The fact that you sinned does not cancel the cross of Christ and gives you no reason to abandon justification by faith as if Christ is to be blamed for your distraction! That would be absurd! (Now all of a sudden you want to keep the law again to further add to your righteousness as if Christ did not achieve enough. Do not let your experience invent a new grace-law mixture doctrine.) 18 Only a con artist will try to be a law-man and a grace-man at the same time!

  8. Great Article. thanks for this. just wonderful and eye-opening.

  9. love this site keep up the good work through Jesus christ.

  10. I remember in 1John 5:16-17…

  11. What about 1 John 5:16-17

  12. I apreciate your taking the time to explain such a vital topic of our forgiveness. It is the childrens’ bread. May God bless you for your dedication. Thanks again!

  13. Hello Paul, help me understand, when you indicate Jesus’ forgiveness at the cross, then me or anyone refers to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John asking to clarify their writings of forgiveness, for instance Mark 11:25, And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Is this before the cross and old covenent or old law? I realize Mark wrote of his experiences with Jesus. Was Marks’ writing referring the time prior to Jesus sacrifice and his teachings? I am asking to clarify for me how this chapter correlates to what you are saying and what God did when he came down died for our sins. I asked this earlier and could find a response if you did respond. Forgice me for repition, I appreciate your help. Thank You Glenn

    • Actually Mark wrote about Peter’s experiences with Jesus. Since Mark 11:25 records what Jesus said and did before the cross, we must interpret that as a pre-cross teaching. It is in fact, pure law. It is a law you must keep OR you could put your faith in Jesus who is the end of the law for all who believe.

      • I believe, Thank You. I ask not because of lack of faith, lack of knowledge, the more I find the more clarity. And faith I have now, Thank You.

  14. Romans 5:12 teaches us that sin has infested the entire human race directly based on the sin of Adam and Eve, our first parents. God knows how we came to be the way we are. He knows that it was not our fault directly. We are sinners by a natural inheritance from Adam. We cannot help to sin. We sin even if we do not want to sin, until we meet our second elder brother, Jesus Christ, who overcame sin. He gives us the credit of this victory over sin. God looks at us with a degree of sympathy and understanding considering that a sinful nature was foisted onto us, simply by being humans. Therefore, it is by the provision of His grace that we can find release from the bondage of sin, not by any works of our own. We should rejoice in Christ Jesus that we are being set free from sin, instead of worrying about our sins. We don’t have to worry about something we cannot fix on our own. Let God worry about our sins. He will prompt us to the measure that He wants us to respect the exceeding sinfulness of sin, by the person of His Holy Spirit. We must remain in Christ. We must not run before Him. He is the sin specialist. We don’t tell Him how to do His work. Just abide in Him until He tells you to so something by His Holy Spirit.

  15. Hello! I really like to better understand John 5:16, someone could explain it, please? Everything I learn here is great, thanks!

  16. I am blessed to have known Jesus.

  17. I really wish I could buy your interpretation of 1 John 1:7 and 9. But it is too hard to swallow.
    I really don’t know how you got all your information out of this passage. Wish it were simpler. =(

  18. hi there what about when Paul says in Hebrews 10:26 (I’m paraphrasing here) if you continue sinning (after being saved) there no longer remains a sacrifice for your sins as you are re-crucifying Christ? I hope I got that verse close to correct

  19. I love your teaching keep it up

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