Confession is an idea that brings with it a plethora of feelings and ideas that vary from person to person. When you hear the word confession, do the ideas of joy and freedom come to your mind? Consider the words of 1 John 1:5-10:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
John begins with the observation that God is holy and upright (he is light v. 5) and from this theological observation comes the application (v. 6): Those who have fellowship with God will become holy and upright. It would be a lie to claim fellowship with God without having a resulting holiness. John then gives us the two results of walking in the light (v. 7): Fellowship with other believers and the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin.
Then comes the glory of confession. But before confession comes, recognition of sin is a necessity. If we claim to be without sin, and therefore without need of repentance and confession, we cannot claim to be Christians or have fellowship with God, rather “the truth is not in us.” But if we, instead of denying our need for confession, actually confess our sins, we have the joy of forgiveness already addressed in v. 7. Confession leads to forgiveness from God and a complete cleansing from unrighteousness.
With this in mind, I would like to point out the two aspects of confession that should be near and dear to all Christians. The first aspect of confession is freedom. In a world without the gospel of forgiveness, there is no freedom in confession. Without the glorious grace of God in the gospel, confession of sin only leads to greater guilt and shame. But with the reality of the gospel in mind, we see that confession leads to cleansing, not guilt. All people are invited to find freedom in repentance when Paul says “Have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12). We confess and turn, Jesus forgives.
This reality of forgiveness leads to joy, the second aspect of confession we ought to cherish. John told us in v. 9 that if we confess our sins, Jesus “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Though we deserve condemnation for our shameful deeds, God sent forth His son, not to judge us, but to save us. Since Jesus bore the wrath, and shame of sin, He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” In other words, Jesus’ forgiveness not only frees us from condemnation but also shows Jesus to still be faithful and just. What a joy it is to be cleansed and forgiven by a faithful and just savior. Praise God, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
When it comes to the freedom and joy of confession, few worship songs capture this reality better than this new song by Don Carson and Sandra McCracken. Listen below and click here to read more about this song.
Lyrics by Don Carson; music by Sandra McCracken
I used to nurture bitterness,
To count up every slight.
The world’s a moral wilderness,
And I have felt its blight.
Self-pity ruled, resentment reigned;
No one understood my pain.
I spiraled down in murky night,
Insisting that I had the right
To hate and hate again.
I am ashamed;
O, my Lord, forgive.
But then the gospel taught me how
To contemplate the cross.
For there Christ died for me—and now
I’ve glimpsed the bitter cost.
He bore abuse, and blows, and hate;
He did not retaliate.
Triumphant malice sneered and tossed
Blind rage at him—he never lost
The love that conquers hate.
I am ashamed;
O, my Lord, forgive.
To make no threat, to smile, forgive,
To love—and not because I must,
For Jesus showed me how to live
And trust the One who’s just;
To suffer wrong and feel the pain,
Certain that the loss is gain—
O God, I want so much to trust,
To follow Jesus on the cross,
To love and love again.