The Challenging Meaning of Confession

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A study of 1 John 1:8-10.

by: Rev. Bob Burridge

Some words in the Bible are misunderstood because we commonly hear them used in other ways than how the Scripture writers used them. The books of the Bible were written thousands of years ago in a different culture and language. The translations we rely upon attempt to find words familiar to us today that are closest to what the original authors intended.

There are also times when we modify things we read in the Bible because we don’t want to face what it says. One of those words is “confession”. People often just think it means that all you have to do is tell God or someone else that you are sorry for what you did or thought.

In First John 1:8-10 the idea of confession is brought up in a way that can make us feel uncomfortable when we face what it clearly says. That is part of what God intended as he moved John to write these words. It should make us uncomfortable. It is much easier to just breeze past passages like that and dismiss them without paying much attention to what they say about us.

1 John 1:8-10, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

The word translated as “confess” represents the Greek word John used when he wrote this letter. The Greek word is a form of the verb “homologe-o” (pronounced “homo-low-geh-oh”). It is a compound word putting together “homo-” (“the same”) with the root verb “logeo” which means to “speak or say”. The most basic meaning therefore is “to say the same thing, to agree with, consent, admit”.

John is challenging us here to admit our sins to God, to be saying the same thing about our wrong actions and attitudes as God would say as he looks upon us.

In our fallen condition we tend to minimize our sins, excuse them, or deny there is anything wrong with what we are thinking or doing. John points out that this is nothing less than self-deception. When we deny our sins it compounds the offense against God. He tells us that we sin, which means we would be calling him a liar.

Those who have been redeemed by God’s grace in Christ are set free from spiritual blindness and the dominion of sin, but they still live imperfectly in this earthly life. Sin may not be our master, but it is still there tempting us. We all still sin and should come continuously to our Savior admitting our sins and confessing our trust in his promised forgiveness.

King David when face with his own sins prayed in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Though it was uncomfortable for him, David wanted God to show him where he had gone wrong. He wanted to admit that he needed to be forgiven and directed in a better way.

The word “confess” in 1 John 1:9 is in the present tense. It is not just something we do one time when we come to Christ for salvation. It is a continuing way of life. We ought to be continually admitting our offenses against God.

The promise is that those who are growing in Christ by agreeing with him about their sins can count upon God’s forgiveness and that their guilt is paid for by our Savior’s atonement. It is a confirmation that the gospel of grace is at work in their otherwise self-deceiving hearts.

God is faithful to his promises, and he is just in how he deals with the guilt that separates us from him. He did not just forget the sins or brush them aside. In his death on the cross Jesus took our guilt upon himself to satisfy God’s justice in our place. When we come to him admitting our sins, truly repenting of them, and trusting in his accomplishment on the cross, we discover his amazing work of grace that transforms us into his children forever.

As those restored to his fellowship we ought to be more and more aware that we need his continuing forgiveness because we continually do things that are morally wrong, and neglect the things God calls us to do to promote his glory and honor.

Confession is more profound than making a “please forgive me for the following sins” list. It is admitting to God the horrors of your sin and guilt. It is admitting that your thoughts, words and deeds include things very offensive to the one we say we love supremely. It means you are sincere when you “agree with God”, and that you want to overcome your sins.

A person truly forgiven in Christ will want to face these uncomfortable realities, and will trust that God will make him able in Christ to be able to say “no” when those temptations are seen for what they are.

Colossians 1:13-14 describes this wonderful gift that is ours in Christ when it says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”