Christians sometimes battle with guilt and condemnation even though God declares them “not guilty” and Christ has given us the gift of “no condemnation” (Rms 8:1). Some think that the way to shake off these bad feelings is to confess their sins. This is a little bit like saying “I feel condemnation because of what I have done, but if I now do something else I will come back under no condemnation.”
Implicit in this logic are two ideas which are opposed to Christ and the finished work of cross. The first idea says, “I can atone for my sin ” and the second says “my secure position in Christ is dependent on what I do rather than what He has done.”
While it is important to clean up our messes and take responsibility for our actions, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s forgiveness. There is a time and place for the confession, but the Christian never has to confess their sins to stay forgiven. Jesus forgave all our sins at the cross (Col 2:13). Contrary to what many believe, the Holy Spirit never convicts the Christian of their sin. He convicts sinners of their unbelief and He convicts the righteous of their righteousness (John 16:9-10).
So what are we supposed to do when we sin?
Repent! To repent means to change your mind, to agree with God, and to see things from His point of view. Repentance is not feeling sorry for yourself. Judas was so sorry for his sin he killed himself, but he never repented. Repentance is not a feeling of remorse; it’s a change of mind. The fruit of repentance will be seen in what you do after you change your mind.
But isn’t confession a part of repentance?
Sure, as long as it’s focused on the Lord and what He’s done. The problem with confession is that it can be introspective and sin-oriented. But we are called to be Christ-conscious, not sin-conscious. Confession of sin makes us aware of our badness but true repentance comes from a revelation of God’s goodness (Rms 2:4, KJV).
Those who insist we need to confess our sins sometimes point to Psalm 51 as a model prayer. This psalm was written after David committed adultery and killed a guy. You could say it’s a psalm of repentance but it bears little resemblance to what some people call repentance. For instance, in this psalm David makes 24 statements either appealing to, or describing, the goodness of God. Here they are:
- Have mercy on me, O God,
- according to your unfailing love,
- according to your great compassion,
- blot out my transgressions.
- Wash away all my iniquity,
- cleanse me from my sin.
- Surely you desire truth in the inner parts,
- you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
- Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean,
- wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
- Hide your face from my sins,
- blot out all my iniquity.
- Create in me a pure heart, O God
- renew a steadfast spirit within me.
- Do not cast me from your presence,
- or take your Holy Spirit from me
- Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
- and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
- Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
- the God who saves me…
- O Lord, open my lips…
- A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
- In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
- build up the walls of Jerusalem.
David also makes 4 statements that refer to his sin:
- For I know my transgressions,
- and my sin is always before me.
- Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
- Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
What do we learn about the character of God from this psalm?
We learn that He is merciful, His love never fails, and He has great compassion; He washes away and blots out our sin; He cleanses us and makes us whiter than snow; He hides His face from our sins; He desires truth and teaches us wisdom; He creates a pure heart within us and He renews our spirits; He doesn’t cast us from His presence but He restores, sustains and saves us; He desires to show us His good pleasure and favor.
And what do we learn about David’s sin?
Very little. David doesn’t even identify it (although it comes up in the title). David refers to his sin generally, but more than four-fifths of the character statements in the psalm pertain to the goodness of God. This is not introspection; this is active, living faith in a good God who forgives and makes things new.
And the amazing thing is that David lived under the condemning covenant of the law. Jesus had not died for his sins, yet David still had confidence that God’s loving-kindness is greater than his sin. This is an amazing revelation! In spite of the law which prescribed death as a just punishment for sin, somehow David was aware of God’s grace that was given “in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Tim 1:9).
David should have died for his sin. Instead, God forgave him (2 Sam 12:13). Even before the cross, God’s heart was inclined towards those who trusted in His goodness and mercy and who repented.
How much more then, should we, who live under a better covenant of no condemnation, trust in God’s grace when we sin? David lived under a covenant of death (2 Cor 3:7), but we relate to God through an everlasting covenant of peace (Is 54:10). Not only has God forgiven all our sins but He chooses to remember them no more (Heb 8:12). Why would we want to remind Him of our sins by confessing them?
To confess sins in the hope of getting forgiveness or getting free from condemnation is to act like a sinner. But God says we’re not sinners. He says we’re righteous. Once we were darkness but now we are light in the Lord (Eph 5:8). Once we were not a people but now we are the people of God (1 Pet 2:9).
God has justified us. God is for us. Nothing – not even our mistakes – can separate us from His love. So stop condemning yourself and start thanking Him. Stop dwelling on your badness and start trusting in His goodness.