By David Kowalski
Confession of sin to God is a gateway through which His overcoming power is received. Pride is so ingrained in human hearts that we have a common tendency toward self-justification:
Every man’s way is right in his own eyes…– Proverbs 21:2 NASB
Moral flaws lead to flawed thinking and this flawed thinking makes the flawed living easier on the conscience and more likely to occur. In his poem “The Progress of Error” William Cowper speaks of this corrupt cycle:
Faults in the life breed errors in the brain,
And these reciprocally those again.
The mind and conduct mutually imprint
And stamp their image in each other’s mint.
This is why humbling ourselves and confessing our sins (homologeo — agreeing with God in both heart and mind about our sin) is fundamental to real change in our lives:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 NASB
This part of John’s letter was not written or distributed to Gnostics as some falsely claim. There was no Gnostic contingent present when this letter was publicly read. John’s teaching is directed toward those who had already come to believe in the gospel as he had:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete – 1 John 1:1-4 NASB
Note John’s use of the inclusive pronouns “we” and “us” in in 1 John 1:9 when he speaks of confessing our sins to God. When referring to outsiders such as Gnostics John used the pronoun “they”:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. – I John 2:19 NASB
Ongoing sin that is forensically (legally) forgiven may still be a practical barrier to God’s transforming work in our lives. He desires not only to save us from sin’s guilt but from sin’s presence in our conduct. Believing God forgives sin does not entail our disagreeing with Him about the nature of our sin.
Confessing our faith in God and His saving work does not mean we do not confess that it is wrong when we sin. We should agree with God about all of His truth – even if the truth makes us feel bad at the moment. The Christian life is not an exercise in always feeling good but in always striving to follow Jesus. Paul commented on how good it was for the Corinthian Christians to feel bad about the bad they had done:
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. – 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 NASB
God loves us so much that He wants not just to forgive us when we fall; He wants to correct the way we walk. He wants not only to cleanse us of the guilt of our sin through Christ’s blood; He wants to cleanse our unrighteous ways by His Spirit. To overcome sin we must walk in the Spirit, and to walk in the Spirit we must walk in His exposing and purifying light. God only gives his sanctifying grace to the humble and we will only choose to change when we see sin as God does, agreeing with both heart and mind that it is an evil thing that must be forsaken.
Confession is the open admission to God of our sin… to admit our guilt, assent to God’s sovereign standards, and agree with God that our actions are unacceptable… – Jerry White
Some in the church today openly reject the notion of homologeo. “Shut your eyes to all of your flaws,” they say, “and do not agree with God about the nature of sin.” They make a straw man of confession, falsely portraying it as an unhealthy, introspective, obsession over all of the minutiae in our lives that need improvement, sometimes claiming to have done this themselves before they discovered a “wonderful” new way of life through taking their sins lightly – hiding them from the light of the Spirit’s inward exposure.
I find that one’s conscience (through which God speaks) does not labor over all of the minutiae of one’s conduct all at once (provided one is not mentally ill). Individual items surface within our conscience that need the most urgent attention. Perhaps just now it is anger, bitterness, lust, or lying. Suppressing the conscience will suppress God’s transforming work in our lives. It will only lead to a seared conscience more inclined to repeat the sinful behavior. Let’s agree with God about our sins that we may begin to break the cycle of sinful conduct in our lives.
Therefore when I admonish you to confession I am admonishing you to be a Christian. – Martin Luther
I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. – Psalm 32:5 NASB
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