Two Kinds of Confession

What does it mean to confess sin? In a very literal sense, the word confess means ‘to say the same thing.’ It means to agree or admit that something is true. So to confess sin means to admit or agree with a relevant party about the fact of your sin. Confessing sin is an important responsibility of every born again child of God, in at least two ways.

The Confession of Apology

First, you are responsible to confess sin whenever you commit sin. You should confess it to God (1 John 1:9). Why? To maintain a healthy relationship with Him. Sin does not annul your everlasting relationship with Jesus. Nothing ever will (Rom. 8:38-39, Heb. 13:5). But it does cause significant complications, such as decreased confidence, increased guilt and spiritual distance (Psa. 66:18). To maintain a thriving, conversant, confident relationship with God, you should acknowledge your sin whenever it occurs.

If you coveted in your heart, admit to God that you coveted. If you used His name in an irreverent manner, though no other person heard you, admit to Him that you used His name in vain. This is confession. It is agreeing with God about your sin. When you do this, you get onto God’s side of the issue and He forgives you entirely.

For more Bible teaching about what happens when you don’t confess your sin, click here.

But you should also confess your sin to any other person who knows about your sin and is affected by it (Prov. 28:13, Matt. 5:23-24). For instance, if you use God’s name in an irreverent manner, and other people hear you, you should confess your sin to them also. Why? To make it clear that you are on God’s side of the error and to restore your relationship with them.

This is obvious when the sin you commit hurts other people directly. For instance, if you speak angry words to another person, you should go back to them and admit that you spoke to them in anger. Request their forgiveness and make no excuses. This places you back onto their side of your error and restores the health of your relationship with them.

As a general principle, confess your sin to the scope of whomever you have offended. If your sin offended God (as all sin does), confess it to Him. If your sin offended another person, confess it to this person as well. And if your sin offended a group, then you should confess it to the group. This confession of apology enables strong, close relationships with God and with others.

The Confession of Accountability

Second, you are responsible to confess  your tendencies to sin. You find this principle in James 5:16. While this verse includes a basis for the confession of apology, it also encourages confession for the sake of accountability. I say this because the verses that follow encourage prayer for one another. What does this confession entail?

It is admitting to an appropriate group, within your fellowship of believers, your particular weaknesses. Why? So that you may pray for one another accurately. For instance, if I recognize that I have a regular tendency to speak angry words to other people, I am wise to share this tendency with some other fellow believers. Why? Not because I owe them an apology, but because I need their support in prayer.

We understand one another and can pray for one another more specifically and effectively when we know how to pray. Too many believers suffer quiet, lonely battles with sinful habits. They may confess their repeated sin to God, receiving repeated forgiveness. But to share your ongoing failure in a simple, humble, honest way with another appropriate brother or sister in Christ, or several, and to request prayer – this strengthens your position against your sin in a greater way.

R. Kent Hughs shares the following observations about this confession of accountability:

Prior to World War II in Nazi Germany, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer conducted an underground seminary for the training of young pastors in Pomerania, where he shared a common life with about twenty-five students. His experience produced a now famous spiritual classic, Life Together, in which he documents the Biblical insights gained from that experience. In the fifth and final chapter of the book, “Communion and Confession,” he gives some reasons for the practice of mutual confession.

Primary among them is the isolation that sin brings. Sin drives Christians apart and produces a hellish individualism—a deadening autonomy. Says Bonhoeffer, “Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.”2 But confession to a fellow brother or sister destroys this deadly autonomy. It pulls down the barrier of hypocrisy and allows the free flow of grace in the community.

The other main benefit of confession is that it brings healthy humiliation. Bonhoeffer goes on:

Thus confession helps to promote a poverty of spirit which is acceptable to God: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).[1]

Both forms of confession, for apology and for accountability, makes possible a strong, healthy Christian life. Are these practices a part of your Christian experience?


2 2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper and Row, 1954), p. 112.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, James: Faith That Works, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 265.


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