6 examples of confession in the Bible
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.
Do you see the difference? Okay, here’s the first of our six examples of good confession.
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)
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thank you for writing this paul. i read it through tears yesterday, because within the last few days i have confessed in every one of these categories (except the first)… dealing with an abscessed tooth, my confessions have been all over the place!
within a 24 hour period, after going to the dentist for a random toothache and getting antibiotics and pain meds, i experienced a 12 hour stint of unrelenting and excruciating pain! i went from telling the infection/pain that it has no right to be in my body because Jesus already took it upon Himself… to thanking Jesus for being my perfect faithfulness, because when the pain meds had absolutely no effect, i knew that i was dealing with more than just an infection and pain… to whispering “Daddy help me” because between exhausted sobs, it was all i had the strength to say…
having experienced this, i believe that our confessions of faith are just like prayers… and God answers them. the next morning the tooth pain was gone! God is good!
Paul, I will try to keep this short. I was raised in the RCC (confess to a priest to be forgiven). I found hard core pornography in my home and did something I was too afraid to confess to the priest. So, as a child I felt like there was no hope for me. I developed OCD (scrupulosity) and severe depression. Later, I tried to get right with the RCC (still believing what I was taught as a child). No matter what I confessed, OCD would tell me I forgot something, lied about something, or just sinned again. I went to the assemblies of God and then several other denominations and was taught and believed that we are forgiven by confessing directly to God, never to a priest. Again, after a temporary relief, OCD and depression kicked in and I felt that I could not keep up with my sins, I could literally spend my entire life confessing directly to God and yet continue to suffer fear, guilt and self-condemnation. Finally, I found the Gospel of Grace and your writings. I believed I am completely forgiven, but after fifty years and with the utter horror of OCD and depression confusing my mind, I would not “feel” forgiven and out of sheer desperation and suffering crushing depression, I would sometimes ask for forgiveness for some sin that was tormenting my mind at the time. Then I read something you wrote where you linked asking for firgiveness with those terrifying verses in Hebrews. Again, I was utterly crushed to the point of asking Him to please let me die. Do you make allowances for people like me who have been taught wrong for decades and suffered unspeakably with OCD/depression to make a mistake in this area? Is there a SIMPLE way to look at forgiveness. I believe the scripture that says, “whoever believes in Him has forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). No asking, no begging, no torturing your brain to make sure you got it right. Is this the simple way to look at forgiveness and would you please help me with what you said about the Hebrews verses!! It seems they are talking about completely rejecting Jesus and going back to the Jewish sacrificial system – NOT struggling with conflicting teachings about how forgiveness works for Christians – especially when they have been taught wrong for decades and are burdened with severe mental illnesses (OCD & depression) that are so brutal that you end up asking Jesus to please end your life. Please help me with this!!
Hi David, would you mind telling me what I wrote about Hebrews that unsettled you? Perhaps you could send me a comment under the relevant post.
I have said from the very beginning that forgiveness is a gift, that there is nothing you can do to earn it, all you can do is receive it by faith. Acts 10:43 nails it; you believe in Jesus and you have his forgiveness (along with his righteousness, holiness, and all that other good stuff). The simple way to look at forgiveness is like this: it’s a gift. You can’t earn it, confess for it, or even ask God to give it because he already has. This is good news!
Every lie of the devil is designed to hide this truth from us because he knows that forgiveness is the beginning of grace. Miss forgiveness – by that I mean, not receive it – and you’ll miss grace. Forgiveness is not something God does, it’s something he gives. In the New Testament, it’s a noun, not a verb. We have been completely and eternally forgiven through the blood of the Lamb. Good, good news!
Hi Paul, I wouldn’t know how to go back and find the exact post. Perhaps I misunderstood what you had written. It was equating “asking for forgiveness” with “trampling on the blood of Jesus”. This was never my intention. I do believe now that receiving complete forgiveness is included when you believe in Jesus, and is a gift we receive along with eternal life, righteousness, adoption as sons, acceptance. I was, however, taught differently for a very long time. I don’t know how else to explain it than I did above. If you are not familiar with the horrors of OCD (known among Christians as scrupulosity for centuries before the psychiatric community labeled it as OCD around 1970), it is considered one of the most debilitating of mental afflictions. I can only tell you that I believe I developed this (along with severe depression) as the result of being taught bad teaching about forgiveness as a child and then conflicting teachings as I tried desperately to find the truth about this. As you know, an overwhelming percentage of Protestant denominations still teach that 1 John 1:9 is how we appropriate forgiveness after becoming believers in Jesus. I have listened to Joseph Prince’s sermon on 1 John 1:9 and he talks about how he tried to make it work for him and found that he was obsessed with confessing for forgiveness (as I was) until he realized that the verse was intended for the gnostics. He did not condemn those who were still believing it, saying if it works for you, “more power to you”, but he was strongly encouraging everyone to break free of it and realize that as believers we have complete forgiveness. This is my best explanation right now – I am feeling a lot of anxiety and stress and it is difficult to get my mind to stop racing. I pray very often for the mental and emotional healing I need!! Bottom line is: I believe that I am completely forgiven because I believe in Jesus. I often don’t “feel” forgiven because of all the contradictory teachings I have been taught and that causes tremendous mental and emotional pain.
The interesting thing about our emotions is that they can’t distinguish between truth and fantasy. If you believe you must do things to earn forgiveness, you will feel the awful weight of dead religion. If you believe you have been forgiven and that God loves you, is thoroughly pleased with you, and accepts you, you will feel free. What we put our minds to, determines what we feel. Error binds us but the truth sets us free. This is why we must guard our minds and hearts and take care that we only drink the pure stuff and not the toxic mixture that many are dispensing.
I don’t say this to minimize the awfulness of OCD but to hopefully help you get free of it. If religion can make us sick; the good news of God’s grace can liberate us. I encourage you to make a habit of confessing what God says is true about you and to practice thanking him in all circumstances. Not thanking him for OCD and sickness – such things are not from him – but thanking him for his goodness and grace.
There is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. Take what you can receive and leave the rest.
Hi David . The confusion you have is most likely birthed in how you not view the worlds forgiveness and not your own .
Thank you, Paul. I greatly appreciate your encouragement. Thank you also for the great advice for my situation – confess what it true and thank Him for His goodness and grace.
Brother David, you are righteous by faith in Christ Jesus apart from your works and apart from your feelings. noone can change that, not even yourself. You are deeply loved. God wants you free. Rest in His love, rest in the truth that all of your sins are forgiven. in that way, you allow grace to flow in the area you are dealing with. Rest in Him and real rest you shall have.
I was also tortured by OCD and depression. I just wanted to encourage you to stick with this message or grace. It set me free on levels I never even dreamed. And I was stuck in a bad way. Just keep hearing and hearing (and reading and reading), and the Word will do the work itself without any effort of your own. If God can do it for me, He can for you! He already did on the cross!
Beloved, as far as heaven is concern (spiritually), our whole life’s sins were totally dealt with on the cross. But while we are still living in this body (mentally & emotionally), I agree with Paul that frequent confessions are needed for us to enjoy the full benefit of God’s forgiveness namely health, prosperity, wholeness, rest, peace and joy.
I know this is an old post but all the way from south Africa;I just want 2 express my gratitude for your work;im set free and blessed!
Please, read some of your posts on confesion of sins and trying to get clarification. I’m just 6weeks in this Grace camp. Seems like Paul ellis, A.w, Rob rufus difers on some point. I want to ask, if i sin, i know i need to admit my sin, but do i need to verbaly tell God that i have done this or that anytime i sin. Then you know sin is not just Adultery, lust, stealing e.t.c there are many faults we commit on daily basis. At times many times a day. Are we to confess all these sins too. Though not to be forgiven. Thanks
For what purpose are you confessing any sin?
I enjoyed the whole article. The last paragraph was most important to me. I have been trying to understand Romans 10: 17-18 since being saved 8 years ago. It seems so simple but not to me. No one has been able to explain it to me. Now, thanks to your last paragraph, I’m pretty close.
I have really been w wrestling with this can you tell me how 1 john 1:8-9 fits into this teaching. The apostle John told us to confess our sins
I have written several articles on this passage. You can find them in the Archives>Scripture Index. Thanks.
praise the lord Paul,
am pastor Brian in Uganda Africa thank you for sharing the truth with us
this really ministered to my life THANK YOU JESUS
It says all will confess their sins on judgement day. I saved is no sin its been covered forgotten as far as east to west so that means what? All will confess JESUS!
the forgiveness of God in our life help us to grow in faith