How specific should we be in the confession of sins?

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Confession of sins

The Bible teaches the confession of sins to God (James 5:16; 1 John 1:9). “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). But some ask: should we confess our sins to God in detail? Doesn’t He already know everything?

God Knows Everything

God is Omniscient – all knowing – (1 John 3:20; Proverbs 15:3). David declared, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off” (Psalm 139:1-24). This suggests that before the thought has been formed into words, the Lord knows it. And He sees the beginning from the end (Revelation 21:6). For “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

Confessions Should Be Specific

Even though God knows everything, the sinner needs to confess his sins in detail just as an offender needs to admit his crime before an earthly judge. The sinner can’t generalize or oversimplify his sins in confession. He should first search his soul, then confess what the Spirit is convicting him with (Acts 2:37; John 16:8).

Rather than confessing generally, a sinner should be specific. A husband that does something that causes his wife great pain is expected to admit his specific sin and not just say, “whatever I did, I am sorry for.” David stresses this truth, “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity” (Psalm 32:5).

God Cares

The Lord understands our weak human nature. “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17–18).

Christ is both “merciful and faithful” and this was infinitely revealed at the cross (John 3:16). These two qualities are needed for justice. Mercy alone can be too forgiving and might ignore justice. Faithfulness gives a balance to mercy, as it takes into consideration the rights and obligations of both the offender and the offended. As the high priest, Christ must be understanding to the offender, but He must also be just and not disregard God’s law.

Forgiveness and Cleansing

God doesn’t only forgive the sinner but He also cleanses him from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). All sin defiles, and when the sinner is forgiven he is cleansed from those sins for which he has received forgiveness. When confessing his sin, David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalms 51:10). The Lord has made provision that every sin may be overcome (Romans 8:1–4). This day-by-day cleansing from sin and growth in grace is called sanctification (Romans 6:19). The first step, when the sinner forsakes his sins and accepts Christ, is called justification (Romans 5:1).

Confession Leads to Peace

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The sinner is presented in Bible as God’s enemy (Romans 5:10; 8:7; John 15:18, 24; 17:14; James 4:4). He has no peace (Isaiah 57:20). But through justification by faith, he can receive the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Before, while still under the guilt of sin, the sinner has fear and trouble in his conscience. Now, with his sins forgiven, he has peace in his heart, knowing that all his guilt has been erased.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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