Despite the abuse, confession is still a biblical practice, whether for sins or for salvation in Christ. Make it part of your prayer life.
The NT apostolic community never set up an elaborate system for believers to confess their sins before pastors or priests, but the apostles and their disciples did confess them before God and exhorted the people (us) to do the same. They confessed other things too.
Let’s use the question-and-answer format for clarity and conciseness.
I.. What Is the Basic Meaning of the Word?
A.. the verb from homologeō (pronounced hoh-moh-loh-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard as in “get” and used 26 times), which is a compound: hom– (same), and log– (speak). It can mean “confess” in the sense of “agreeing and speaking” or “speaking agreement.” BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, says it means, depending on the context: (1) “to commit oneself to do something, for someone, promise, assure”; (2) “to share a common view or be of common mind about a matter, agree”; (3) “to concede that something is factual or true, grant, admit, confess”; (4) “to acknowledge something, ordinarily in public, acknowledge, claim, profess, praise.”
B.. The noun is homologia (pronounced hoh-moh-loh-gee-ah, and the “g” is also hard as in “get”). The idea is to speak something out loud.
C.. Another verb is exomologeō (pronounced ex-o-mo-log-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard as in “get. It is used 10 times). It adds the prefix ek– which means “out” as in “speaking out.” BDAG says it means: (1) “to indicate acceptance of an offer or proposal, promise, consent”; (2) “To make an admission of wrong-doing / sin, confess, admit”; (3) “To declare openly in acknowledgement, profess, acknowledge”; (4) from the meanings “confess” and “profess,” another meaning arose: praise (Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21; Rom. 15:9).
Let’s begin with confessing sins.
II.. What Does Confession of Sins Look Like?
A.. Confession of sin before God
1.. Aaron confessed his sins.
When Aaron and Miriam revolted against Moses—they were the eldest two siblings, after all—Aaron confessed his and his sister’s sins. God relented, but Miriam still had to live outside the camp for seven days. (Num. 12).
2.. David confessed his sin.
David sinned with Bathsheba. He spent the day and night fasting and lying on the ground in sackcloth. (2 Sam. 12:15-17). Ps. 32:5 says that David acknowledged his sin and did not cover up his iniquities. He said that he would confess his transgression to the Lord. David prayed Ps. 38:18, where he said he confessed his iniquity and he was troubled by his sin. Ps. 51 is one long confession. It is very edifying. I encourage everyone to read it.
3.. Nehemiah confessed his sins.
Nehemiah said, “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you” (Neh. 1:6-7, NIV). As a leader he should confess his people’s sins. He stands in for them. This is intercession.
See my post: What Is Biblical Intercession?
4.. Isaiah confessed his sins before a holy God.
When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up, he was looking at the true King. He felt unworthy. He confessed his sins (Is. 6:5).
5.. Peter confessed his sinfulness before Jesus.
When Jesus performed a miracle with a catch of fish, Peter jumped overboard and got to shore and kneeled before the Messiah and said he was a sinful man. Spending times with a man like Jesus can expose sins, for those who have self-awareness. Peter had it. (Luke 5:1-11).
6.. A tax collector confessed his sins.
In the illustration (parable) of the Pharisee and tax collector, the religious guy did not confess any sins. In fact, he pointed to the tax collector and thanked God he was not like him. On the other side, the tax collector saw himself as unworthy and confessed his sins to God (not a priest). “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” The Pharisee went away still unrighteous or unjustified, while the tax collector went away righteous or justified (Luke 18:9-14).
7.. Crowds confessed their sins at John’s baptism (Matt. 3:6; Mark 1:5).
8.. The crowds at Ephesus, hearing what happened to the seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were seized with fear and openly confessed what they had done (Acts 19:13-20). Some even brought their books and paperwork with spells and magic on them and burned them in a fire.
B.. Who may confess sins?
1.. Individual sinners may confess their sins.
In Lev. 5:5, when an individual realizes he has committed a sin, they must confess what they have done. In Matt. 6:12, in the Lord’s Model Prayer, Jesus said we should ask God to forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are in debt to us. “Debts” in this context means moral debts because they have broken normal rules of conduct, moral law and the Law of Moses.
2.. The High Priest may confess the sins of the people.
The Day of Atonement was for the repentance and forgiveness of the nation (Lev. 16). He lays hands on a goat’s head and transfers the people’s sins to the goat.
Ezra prayed for the people’s sins, when they had married the wrong people (Ezra 9:5-10:1). In the past, the Israelites married pagans who led them astray. Now they were doing the same thing. Ezra called them to repent and confess their sins (10:1).
Prophets can stand in for the people and confess the sins of the entire nation.
Isaiah prayed for the people’s sins, when he saw the LORD high and lifted up (Is. 6:5). He was stunned by how deeply his sins and the people’s sins went.
3.. Jeremiah stood in for the people.
In Jer. 14:7, he said, “Although our sins testify against us, do something, Lord, for the sake of your name, for we have often rebelled; we have sinned against you” (v. 7, NIV). Then he said we acknowledge (confess) their wickedness and the guilt of their ancestors. Then he stood in the gap and asked the Lord not to despise them or dishonor his glorious throne (vv. 20-21). If God rejected them completely, he would be dishonored.
4.. Daniel also confessed the current sins of his people and those of his ancestors (Dan. 9:7-11).
5.. We confess our sins to one another (Jas. 5:16).
C.. What are the results of confessing sins?
1.. We receive God’s mercy.
Prov. 28:13 says that if we conceal our sins, we don’t prosper, but if we confess and renounce our sins, we find mercy.
2.. We receive God’s forgiveness.
Ps. 32:5 says that David decided to confess his sins and not cover them up. He received forgiveness.
3.. We are purified.
1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us all unrighteousness. Teachers nowadays say that verse is not for believers in Jesus, because the first chapter of 1 John is for unbelievers and proto-gnostics. Of course this is wrong because 1 John 1:7 says that if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sins. Believers need to confess their sins, too. So the first chapter was written for believers. First John 1:9 is for everyone who needs it, believers or unbelievers.
4.. We are justified before God.
We already look at Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee went away unrighteous or unjustified, but the tax collector went away righteous or justified.
Paul writes that by our faith in Christ we are blessed because our transgressions are forgiven and sins are covered, and God does not count our sins against us (Rom. 4:7-8). This not counting our sins against us is the same as being declare righteous. See my post What Is Imputation?
III.. What Is Our Confession about Christ?
A.. We confess Christ in our lives for a testimony.
1.. Jesus encouraged us to confess or acknowledge him before others.
He said: “I say to you, ‘Everyone who acknowledges me before people—the Son of man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.’” (Luke 12:8, my translation). See Rev. 3:5, also.
2.. Thomas confessed Jesus as Lord and God (John 20:28).
3.. Paul urges us to confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9), which comes from the heart, not just intellectual assent.
4.. We cannot say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit, so the meaning must come from the heart and prompted by the Spirit, not just empty words.
5.. At the end of the age, everyone is going to bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord (Php. 2:11).
B.. We confess Jesus is the Messiah.
1.. Peter said he was the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16).
2.. John said he wrote these signs, so that we may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing we may have life in his name (John 20:31). Apparently, we are supposed to go from believing to speaking.
3.. Paul went into the synagogue in Thessalonica and proclaimed the Messiahship of Jesus (Acts 17:2-3).
4.. Whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:23). Let’s all acknowledge the Son, and then our relationship with the Father is secure.
C.. We confess that Jesus is the Son of God.
1.. As noted Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16).
2.. At the cross, the Roman soldier said that the Lord was the Son of God (Matt. 27:54).
3.. As noted, John wrote about his signs so that we would believe that Jesus was the Son of God (John 20:31).
4.. If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him, and he lives in God (1 John 4:15).
5.. We offer up continuous praise to God, the fruit of the lips that confess his name (Heb. 13:15).
IV.. What Are Other Elements to Confession?
A.. We confess certain teachings about Christ.
1.. Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God (1 John 4:2).
2.. Only deceivers say that Jesus has not come in the flesh (2 John 7).
B.. We confess trustworthy sayings.
1.. A trustworthy saying is that Jesus came into the word to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).
2.. A trustworthy saying is that bodily exercise has some value, but godliness has value both here and in eternity (1 Tim. 4:8-9).
3.. Here is another trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; If we disown him, he will also disown us; and if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:11-13). It is a good idea to confess that verse.
4.. We confess this trustworthy saying: We have been saved by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified [declared righteous] by his grace, we might become heirs having hope of eternal life (Titus 3:8, NIV).
C.. We confess basic teachings.
1.. We confess that Jesus was raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-5).
2.. We confess that “Jesus appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:16, NIV). That is a great progression of the events in Christ’s life.
3.. We already looked at 2 Tim. 2:11-13.
4.. He saved us by the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
How does this post help me grow in Christ and my prayer life?
For many decades, a teaching has been circulating throughout the American church, called the “faith teaching” or the “Word of Faith.” They really hit hard the positive confession idea. They were not 100% wrong, but they took things too far. They assumed that our words create reality, as if we did not need God. They could write their ticket to any destination or any material blessing they wanted.
See my post: Is ‘Decreeing’ Biblical for Christians?
So of course these teachers took their many donations from Joe Factoryworker and Jane Shopkeeper and bought big houses and other luxury items. Yes, we need to confess some positive things, like the Lordship of Jesus and sound doctrine. However, material blessing and our power to create reality by words is difficult to prove from Scripture, for God is the only one who can do this. If these teachers appeared to have success in their doctrine of positive confession, which got them everything they ever dreamed of, then God honored his Son and their faith, not their presumption. And they may have used their donations for their own fleshly desires.
And now another odd doctrine is circulating around the world by a grace teacher, who was steeped in the Word of faith movement. He says that 1 John 1:9 does not belong to believers, but only to unbelievers. No, all the epistles are for believers, even the first chapter of John’s first epistle. 1 John 1:7 demonstrates this. Therefore, 1 John 1:9 belongs to anyone who needs it, believer or unbeliever. No, don’t obsess over your sins, but don’t allow this grace teacher to slam the door shut on this wonderful verse. Use it!
In any case, keep your confession Christ centered, pray out loud, and confess your sins, if the Spirit convicts you (see my post Does the Spirit Convict Believers?), and trust God that he will answer your prayers of any kind. Confess Jesus’s Lordship, his Sonship, his Messiahship, sound doctrine, his salvation for us, and his forgiveness of our sins.
At that link, look for the NIV Study Bible, BDAG, and Mounce.