Confessing Our Sin

For five years, one particular sin trapped me. I knew it was wrong, and I also knew Christ was more rewarding than this sin. Still, for years this sin threw relentless body punches and kept knocking me down to the mat. Then, suddenly, it lost its power. What changed? I confessed my sin to someone I trusted. Confessing my sin to another Christian brought it into the light. Confession was the step of repentance that brought freedom.

Jonah, Nineveh and Taking Sin Seriously

Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh leads the people to repentance. Their display of repentance shows how seriously they took sin. “They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). They take God’s warning seriously, so they confess their sin.

I have a couch in my basement, which was a nightmare to move. The angles were awkward, barely small enough to fit through the door. It went down, but only after leaving its mark on the wall. I joked that it was no big deal because I could cover the marks with pictures. We can have a similar attitude towards our sin, treating it like scuff marks that can be cleaned or covered with little hassle. It took so long for me to confess to someone else because I didn’t take my sin as seriously as I should have. I treated my sin as a toothless teddy, not a devouring lion.

Unless we see our sin for what it truly is, true repentance and genuine confession won’t happen. Al Mohler says of repentance, “We demonstrate true repentance by a genuine hatred of sin with a Spirit-empowered desire to never engage in that sin again and a Spirit-driven determination to obey Jesus instead.” [1] Sin is not a scuff on the wall; we can’t hide behind posters and paint. Sin must be killed, and to do that, we must expose it to Christ.

Safe to Confess to God

John says we ought to confess our sin to God (1 John 1:9). James counsels Christians to confess their sin to each other (James 5:16). Unconfessed sin never dies. Hidden in the dark, it breads and grows. But as we confess our sin to God and other Christians, light shines on our sin and burns it away. It hurts, but it heals.

Before confession can happen, though, people need to feel safe. Following his call for confession, John says God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). By assuring us of God’s forgiveness and his cleansing of repentant sinners, John assures us it is safe to bring our sin to God. He adds to this assurance in the next few verses when he says, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Right now, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, advocating on our behalf. When our sin screams for our condemnation, Jesus pleads our case. Jesus always wins a verdict of “forgiven and justified” for everyone he represents. Sin cannot win when Jesus is your advocate (Heb 7:25). We can and should confess our sin to God because the heart of God embraces sinners.

Safe to Confess to Others

I am sure people can get on board with confessing sin to God. But are they confessing sin to others? That sounds dangerous. Maybe they had an awful experience of gossip, or maybe there is fear about how they will be perceived if they confess sin. God’s people should have God’s heart towards sinners. It is sad when Christians make the church an unsafe place for sinners. That should never happen. No one should ever feel that their church will cast them out for confessing their sin when Jesus, the Head of the Church, is also the Advocate for sinners (Eph 1:22 & 1 John 2:1-2).

Since confession is a step of repentance, churches must be safe places to confess sin. Gospel doctrine, as Ray Ortlund says in the book “The Gospel,” should cultivate a culture of grace in our churches, “When the gospel of Christ’s grace defines both the doctrine and the culture of a church, its members can safely confess and forsake sin. Even ‘extreme’ sinners find themselves wonderfully forgiven and freed.” [2]

We can make our churches a safe place to confess sin in a few ways. In our public prayers, make time for a confession. Daniel and Ezra both offered prayers of confession on behalf of the community. Having prayers of confession as part of our worship gathering shows confessing sin is a normal element of worshiping God.

Another way is for older, mature Christians to seek younger Christians and ask for prayer about the sins they are fighting. You don’t need to give all the details, but this simple step can shape a culture of grace. I once saw a 70-year-old youth leader ask his small group of 15-year-old guys to pray for him because he struggled to trust God’s goodness as his wife battled cancer. His humble request created a culture in that small group where guys were free, to be honest about sin. Confession tore down any facade of perfect saints and freed them to talk about their sin.

Sin is not safe in the Church because the Church is a safe place for confession of sin. In the Church, we can bring our sin into the light of Christ through confession of sin. We also forsake our sin, “so we too may walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Confessing our sin frees us to live in Christ, free from the power of sin because of Christ and the convicting and empowering work of the Holy Spirit.


[1] R. Albert Mohler Jr., Acts 1–12 for You, ed. Carl Laferton, God’s Word for You (The Good Book Company, 2018), 38.

[2] Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway, 2014), 73

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