Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

Should Christians Confess Their Sins?

By Dennis Pollock


There is a single verse in the first epistle of John which at one time was extremely well loved, quoted, and accepted by nearly all the evangelical churches. A generation ago, no one considered it controversial; everyone accepted it at face value. After all, it was in the Bible.


Today that verse is questioned by millions of professing Christians. These people are not prepared to say that the Bible is in error, of course. But its plain sense meaning flies in the face of one of their favorite doctrines to such a degree that they are forced to either ignore it (and hope that everyone else does the same) or else suggest that whatever it means, it surely cannot mean what it obviously says.


The verse is this: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) This seems pretty straightforward. A Christian is powerfully tempted, yields to the sin of anger or lust, later feels bad about it, confesses his or her sin to God in repentance, asks forgiveness, and God forgives the errant believer and cleanses him or her from the sin. What's so controversial about that? That's how nearly all the church used to feel. Believers everywhere were convinced that this Scripture was perfectly reasonable and was meant by the Holy Spirit to be taken at face value. But these days that kind of interpretation is considered nearly heresy by a sizeable portion of the church.


Their reasoning goes like this: When we were born again through faith in Jesus, we were cleansed, forgiven, and accepted by God once and for all. Every one of our sins, past, present, and future was forgiven and covered to such an extent that there is no sin we can commit that ever needs any further forgiveness – we have already been forgiven. According to this perspective, to ask God to forgive us of any particular sin would be denying what Jesus did for us at our new birth.


A Punch in the Nose


So if God sees and knows that I am going to punch my cousin, Billy-Bob, in the nose tomorrow, that sin has already been forgiven. When tomorrow comes around, and I do indeed punch Billy-Bob in the nose, and then later in the day feel terrible about it, I have no business going to God with my sin and asking Him to forgive me. In fact, it would be an act of unbelief, according to these folks, and an insult to the cross of Jesus for me to ever repent, confess any sin, or ask forgiveness for anything I do, once I have trusted Jesus as my Savior.


Whether it is punching someone's nose, beating my wife, sleeping with my best friend's wife, or molesting little children, I should never, under any circumstances, ask God to forgive me. I should just march right on like a little Christian soldier, believing that all is well, and that God is so blind to my misbehavior that He never even noticed that I did any such thing.


I get where they are coming from. And in one sense I agree with them. In another sense I am convinced they could not be more wrong. I do recognize that when we become a child of God, it is for keeps. We are not God's child one day, and then commit some sin and cease to be a child of God until we put things right. When my children were small, they were my children on their good days, and they were just as much my kids on their bad days. Their many childish, immature behaviors never caused me to stop loving them.


And so it is with us and God. He does not abandon us when we mess up, and then re-adopt us as children when we repent, confess our sins, and receive forgiveness. Once we are born again, we live in a constant state of justification, in a legal sense. The blood of Jesus continually cleanses us from all sin, whether we are being powerfully filled with the Spirit or whether we are manifesting our old, selfish, sin nature.


Faithful and Just


This is an understanding most Christians share. But where we differ, and where I believe the "never-ask-forgiveness" crowd is horribly wrong, has to do with the proper Christian response after falling into sin and committing acts that are clearly declared by the Scriptures to be unlawful. John tells us exactly what we are to do in such a case – we are to confess our sin, and trust God to be " faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." But this is precisely what many cannot accept. In their minds, the idea of God forgiving all our past, present, and future sins surely means they are already forgiven, and asking for forgiveness is redundancy at best, and an insult to Jesus at worst.


Still, they have no answer for John's insistence that we confess our sins. One thing is certain. John is not talking about sinners here. He begins by saying "If we confess our sins…" Not if they confess or if wicked, ungodly sinners confess, but if we confess. If an unsaved man came to me, having spent many years as a violent gang member, and told me he wanted to be saved, I would never tell him: "That's great! What you need to do is to confess all your sins. Name them one by one and sin by sin, and make sure not to leave any out. And after you have confessed all your sins, God will forgive you and save you."


That would be ridiculous. By the time most of us come to Christ we have committed innumerable sins, and it would take months just to name them all, if we could ever remember them. We would not tell a sinner to confess and name all his sins before he could ever hope to be saved. But John says, "If we confess our sins" God will cleanse us. If a Christian is overtaken in some powerful temptation and yields to the lusts of the flesh, he or she needs to go to God with it, confess it, and be cleansed.


You may ask, "But if the believer's sins have not pushed him out of God's family, what is the point of confessing sins and being cleansed? He was a child of God before sinning, during his sin, and after his sin. If he is still in God's family, why confess?"


Restoration of Fellowship


The reason is that we need a restoration of fellowship. Even though our relationship is not broken, our fellowship can be. Every married person knows this. In nearly every marriage there are times of sharp conflict, followed by those awkward "seasons of silence." The couple have not ceased to be husband and wife. They are still married. But their fellowship has been broken. The easy laughter, the kidding, the sweet times of hugs and loving words have come to a temporary halt. The couple may still be polite; they may still say the necessary words to carry on their daily activities, but things are different. There is a chill in the air, and they both know it. Finally, one or both make an overture of peace toward the other and the loving, warm relationship is restored.


In some sense, this can be the case in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, with the Lord Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that we are not to "grieve" the Holy Spirit, to act in such a way that displeases Him. Peter tells husbands to live with their wives in an understanding and compassionate manner, "that your prayers may not be hindered." This doesn't mean that every time a husband is rude to his wife, he loses his salvation. But something of the free accessibility to the throne of God is lost when men are harsh with their wives. The Holy Spirit becomes grieved and all the prayer and faith in the world may not be able to open the windows of heaven in such a case.


In Ezekiel's writings, God says, "I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols…" (Ezekiel 6:9). I have always found this one of the most fascinating Scriptures in the Old Testament. Here we have the Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, declaring that the idolatry of Israel crushed Him. It would seem that even God can get His feelings hurt when His children turn from Him and live idolatrous lives.


Insulting the Spirit of Grace


In Hebrews we read:


Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:28-29)


Again, we have the idea of hurting God, in this case "insulting the Spirit of grace." Today we have a sizeable group of Christians and pastors who insist that no matter how greatly we have offended God, insulted God, crushed God, grieved the Holy Spirit, or crucified Jesus afresh, we are never by any means – we are never, never, never, never, never to apologize, ask forgiveness, or even allow ourselves to feel badly about it. We must simply move forward and never think another thing about it.


This is, of course, ridiculous. When we sin, when we flagrantly disobey the express commands of God, we are to come running to our Father and confess our sins, not to reapply for sonship, but to "clear the air" and return to that intimate, loving place of fellowship where our prayers are no longer hindered by our willful rebellion. God will be "faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."


Instinctive Need


Even if John's admonition were not in the Bible, Christians who walk closely to Jesus instinctively recognize their need to confess their sins. It is the most natural thing in the world to ask God's forgiveness when we know we have offended Him. Sadly, many who attend some of the "never-repent" churches are terribly conflicted. Their heart wants to run to God and repent and ask His forgiveness. But pastor says they must never repent; they must never ask forgiveness. Who to listen to: the words of the apostle John, or the glib words of their pastor who tells them that real Christians never ask forgiveness for anything. Sadly many listen to their pastor rather than to the word of God. They just carry on and try to pretend like nothing ever happened.


I vote for the apostle John. And I vote for the words of Jesus, who taught us to pray, "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us." (Luke 11:4)





For a full listing of all articles, written and audio, go to our Devo Catalog Page.



        For inspirational devos, bios of Christian leaders, free downloads, and the latest SOGM news:
Sign up to receive E-newsletter

Your donations are needed and greatly appreciated!



Just for you!

Missions Outreach

A major part of Spirit of Grace Ministries is our ministry in the great continent of Africa. There is a tremendous harvest going on in the world these days, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Above is a brief music video featuring video clips and pics from our recent mission in Nigeria in Oct/Nov, 2019.

Audio Devo: "Why is there suffering?"

People have debated this question for millennia. And we cannot speak concerning specific individual questions of suffering, but the Bible clearly speaks as to why suffering has always been a part of the human experience.