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Bible Q&A: Do We Confess to One Another, or Ask God for Forgiveness?

January 31, 2018

Question: Is “confessing” telling someone your sins, or asking God for forgiveness?

Answer: When it comes to “confessing sins,” there are examples of both in the Bible.

Two Biblical Patterns of Confession

For example, David says,

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)

Clearly, David is saying here that he confessed his transgression (or sin) to the Lord (and not to someone else), and that he was forgiven. This is normal in the Bible. Our sins are committed against God, so we confess our sins to him.

We find the same pattern in the New Testament in a parable told by Jesus:

“The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” (Luke 18:13-14)

However, we also find this encouraging pattern to confess our sins to one another:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16)

Two Important Truths About Confession

Here are a couple things to keep in mind:

1. You can confess your sins directly to God. You do not need to confess to a pastor, priest, or spiritual leader to be forgiven.

You do not need another human mediator, since (by faith) you already have Jesus Christ: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 2:5).

This is what Paul was talking about when he said,

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:13-18)

2. James tells us to confess our sins to one another.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16)

There may be a season of life when a person has confessed his or her sin to God (perhaps many times), and he still doesn’t feel forgiven. In these situations, it can be helpful to go to a trusted Christian pastor or friend and confide in them.

The purpose of doing this is not for them to tell you that you are forgiven. Only God can do this. The goal is for the pastor or friend to help you find, personalize, and trust the promises of the gospel. This might include listening carefully, sharing relevant Bible passages, and praying together.

Warmly in Christ,

Pastor Tim

[Photo Credit: Lightstock]

The Author
Tim Augustyn

Tim serves as the resident pastor, writer, and editor of Unlocking the Bible. He was born and raised in northern Wisconsin, came to faith in his 20's while working in the business world, and received a Master's in Divinity from Trinity International University. He is author of the children’s book Man on the Run, and co-author of The One Year Unlocking the Bible Devotional with Colin Smith. Tim and his wife, Janna, and their four kids live in Arlington Heights, Ill. Contact Tim at taugustyn@unlockingthebible.org.



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