Confessing My Sin

Question from a Site Viewer
I have been struggling with confessing my sin in great detail to another person, instead of just confessing my sin with semi-specific generalizations. The former is harder. And my conscience seems to be pressing me to do the harder thing. But I’m trying to figure out what is God’s voice and what is mine. I know Scripture is my final authority, but I also wonder if the Spirit can convict me of something (like confessing my sin in detail) that isn’t necessarily prohibited in Scripture. At one and the same time, I want to let Scripture guide me and yet want my conscience appeased. But I don’t want to appease my conscience by doing something that isn’t Spirit-prompted and that will just embarrass and shame me.

Tim’s Answer
I understand the struggle you have about whether you should confess the specifics of your sin to another person. I think all true followers of Christ have had that struggle. We ask ourselves: “Is it simply our pride that keeps us from such confession?”

“Is it wise so to confess?”

“Would I be able to put this behind me if I confess?”

“Will I be hindered from walking with God if I do not confess?” There are numerous similar questions.

What you will find is that if you confess to others, such confession will not erase the sin from your mind. It will still be there as long as you choose to think about it. It will haunt your conscience, even if you confess to 50 different people. The telling of sin does not make it go away. And it is the nature of sin to persist.

But we are not without hope. If we confess to Him, He forgives and cleanses us (Psalm 32:1-5; 1 John 1:9). If, having confessed to God, we still feel unclean, then we know that such is not the voice of God. God by His nature cannot both cleanse and then pronounce us unclean. He is bound by His word to cleanse upon our confession and repentance to Him. He cannot then call us unclean.

But then we ask why we do not feel clean. We all have had sin that has haunted us for a long time after we have confessed. It comes back to condemn us over and over again. And we confess and confess. And every time it surfaces, we wonder if there is something more we need to do about the sin. The answer Biblically is a clear “no.” Having confessed, we are forgiven and cleansed.

At some point, having struggled over this matter, we reach the understanding that feeling is not the same as faith. Faith accounts God to be true to His Word. Feeling reflects our inward urgings. If we have confessed and still feel unclean, part of maturing as a Christian is to count God to be faithful to His word. When we feel condemned, we need to go back to the promise of God and cling to it.

Satan is a master accuser. We know this from Scripture (Revelation 12:10). He wants nothing more than for us to live in the condemnation of our sin. Such condemnation will destroy the work of God. And the more he can get us to focus on our sin, the less we will focus on our Savior. There _is_ no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, 33-34).

The antidote to all of this is to repent (literally “to turn) from focusing on our old sin and focus on Jesus Christ. Draw near to Him. Seek to serve Him. Do not let our minds control what we think, but make deliberate choices about where we focus. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6 to think about what is good. He tells us in Philippians 3:13 to forget the things that are behind. God has given us the ability to pull down those strongholds in the mind and build in their place a stronghold for the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

But this is always a process. Replacing thoughts of past sins with thoughts of the present and coming Christ is not generally an instantaneous success. And if we have thought about our sin a great deal, it will be more difficult to put it aside. But the battle is worth fighting. In many ways, the battle against the remembrance of sin is fought in the same way as the battle against ongoing sin. It is a battle to live by faith in the face of a mind that wants to drag us back into sin. See our article on overcoming sin for some ideas that may help. We overcome by renewing our minds (Romans 12:1-2) into the image of Christ, though daily prayer, Bible study and memorization, and training the mind to be thankful to God and focused on others.

This is the way, I believe, to overcome past sin.

But what about confessing to others? As I address in the article you read on confessing sin, there are times we should confess to others. And there are times when such confessing can be helpful to our lives. I think that such confession should provide no more details than what is necessary for the person listening to understand the ache that is attached to the confessor’s heart. There is certainly something that is healing when a godly person learns of our past sin and models God’s grace and mercy to us. I think such in-the-flesh examples help us understand our God’s position that past sin does not affect our present relationship with Him, a concept that we sometimes find difficult to accept.

My concern is that it seems such godly people are rare. I have seen the results of confessions where the person was not so godly. People have suffered big setbacks by salacious rumors that have leaked out from those who have not covered over the sin (See Proverbs 10:12; James 5:20; 1 Peter 4:8). And some who have never understood the forgiveness of God in their own lives will after hearing such a confession have a dimmer view of the confessor.

My suggestion to you is to seek the Spirit’s guidance. When you pray and are in His Word, and have no known sin that is unconfessed to God, what are the thoughts of your mind on the matter? When you feel like you are away from God, what are the thoughts? Is there a difference or are the thoughts the same? Stated another way, when are the times you feel like you should confess and when are the times you feel like that would not be the right thing to do, and how do such times correlate with your walk with God? And if you remain uncertain, you might want to talk to a godly person and ask them whether they think you should confess in detail your sin.

From my perspective, the important thing is having confessed to God and turned from the sin to follow Jesus. It is also important not to live a double life. If our sin has disqualified us from certain positions in the church, we should not hold such positions. And if our sin has wronged another and they know about the wrong, then I think God calls on us to confess our sin to them and seek their forgiveness (See Leviticus 5:1-5; Luke 17:3-4). If they do not know about the wrong, then I think it is important to do the thing that is most loving. If it is most loving to confess our wrong, then we should confess. If it is most loving not to burden the person with our wrong, then we should confess only to God.

May the Lord Jesus direct you and give you peace in this matter as you seek to follow Him.

living in God’s forgiveness,


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