What is Confession?
Confession, at its core, is a statement or affirmation of what we believe. It can be a statement of what we believe to be right, i.e., a confession of faith, or it can be a statement of what we believe to be wrong, i.e., a confession of sin. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, in its definition of confession, notes that confession is “uniting in a statement that has previously been made by someone else.”
Our most important confession is that Jesus Christ is Lord. Churches or groups of believers have at times written confessions that explain how they interpret God’s word, and provides a basis for agreement (the Augsburg Confession, Belgic Confession, and Westminster Confession are three examples of confessional statements that arose out of the Reformation).
Confession is also an admission of sin. Sometimes, it means revealing to others sin that was hidden. Sometimes others were well aware of the sin, and confession is an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and an opportunity to agree that something truly was wrong.
What things are we to confess?
I don’t think there is anything that we shouldn’t confess. We should not hide our faith, and we should not hide our sin. The question, then, is about who to confess to, and in what setting.
To whom should we confess (God, individual, church)?
How, or where, should we confess (publicly or privately)?
There are examples in Scripture of both public confession and private confession. Private confession could be made in prayer to God, or between individuals.
- Sins that are against another person should be confessed to that person.
- Sins that are against the church body should be confessed to the church body.
- Sins that take place in the public eye should be confessed publicly.
Why should we confess our sin?
For starters, God commands us to. But there are two significant reasons why we should confess our sin, and understanding these two reasons can help us in determining who should hear our confession.
- Confess sin in order to achieve reconciliation. When unity has been severed, or damage has been done to another person or group of people, we need to confess our sin to them in order to be reconciled. The other side of the coin in reconciliation is forgiveness, which the offended party needs to offer. The order is not important (someone may confront you with your sin before you confess), but reconciliation requires both confession and forgiveness.
All sin is offensive to God, so all sin should be confessed to God, but some sins also need to be confessed to other people, if those people have been hurt by our sin. If the sin was private, between you and God, then there is no need to reveal it to others, necessarily.
- Confess sin to keep from being dishonest. Sometimes, other people have no reason to believe that we have committed a certain sin, or that we haven’t committed a certain sin. Just because we have, doesn’t mean we need to tell them about it. However, there are also cases where someone may be led to believe that we have not committed a certain sin, and it would be dishonest to continue to give that false impression.