The Transformative Power of Confessing Weakness
Primary Scripture Text
The Connection Between Repentance and Confession
Repentance. Literally a change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God.
Repentance is such an important aspect of conversion that it is often stressed rather than saving faith, as when Christ said that there is joy in heaven among the angels over one sinner that repents (Lk 15:7). The apostles described the conversion of the Gentiles to Christ as God granting them “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
Confession. Admission, especially of guilt or sin; also, a statement of religious belief. “To confess” can mean to agree, to promise, or to admit something.
In the Bible. Two types of confession occur in the Bible. First, individuals confess that they have sinned and are therefore guilty before God, often confessing a particular sin (Lv 5:5; 1 Jn 1:9). In such confession one agrees or acknowledges that he or she has broken God’s Law (Ps 119:126), that its penalty is justly deserved (Rom 6:23), and that in some specific way God’s standard of holiness has not been met (Lv 19:2; Mt 5:48).
In OT times the high priest would confess the sins of the whole nation (Lv 16:21); the nation of Israel was expected to confess when it had rebelled against the Law of God (Lv 26:40; 2 Chr 7:14). Pious Jews were quick to confess; Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah confessed their nation’s sins, agreeing with God that his punishment of the people (including themselves) was just, yet praying for God’s mercy and deliverance (Dn 9:20; Ezr 10:1; Neh 1:6).
Second, individuals confess that God is God and that he rules the world (1 Chr 29:10–13), that he is faithful in showing his love and kindness (Ps 118:2–4), and that he has helped his people (Ps 105:1–6). Such confession or agreement, expressed publicly in worship or song (Ps 100:4), is spoken of in the OT as “blessing the Lord.”
The two types of confession are often combined in the Bible, producing many psalms of thanksgiving. In general those psalms contain some or all of the following ideas: (1) I sinned; (2) I became ill and nearly died; (3) I prayed to God, who delivered me; and (4) now I offer this song of confession, which I promised him (Pss 22; 30; 32; 34; 40; 51; 116). The same Hebrew word means both “praise” and “confession of sin”; the two meanings were part of a single concept. The psalmist began by admitting sin and God’s justice and ended by confessing God’s forgiveness and delivering power.
Both those meanings also occur in the NT. Christians confess (that is, they declare as a matter of conviction and allegiance) that Jesus is the Christ and that they belong to him. “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Mt 10:32 KJV). Not to confess Christ is the same as denying him (Mt 10:33; Lk 12:8; cf. 2 Tm 2:11–13; Rv 3:5). The Christian life therefore begins with a confession of faith, a public delaration before witnesses (Rom 10:9, 10; 1 Tm 6:12). An additional dimension of the Christian’s confession is provided in 1 John 4:2: one must confess that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” that is, acknowledge Jesus’ divinity and preexistence as the Son of God (that he “has come”; see also 1 Jn 4:15) as well as Jesus’ humanity and incarnation (that he has come “in the flesh”). The Greek word “confession” literally means “saying V 1, p 506 p 506 the same thing.” The Christian’s “good confession” is modeled after the pattern of Christ’s confession (1 Tm 6:12, 13).
In only a few passages does the NT discuss confession of sin. Those being baptized by John the Baptist publicly admitted their sins and repented (Mk 1:4, 5). All Christians, in fact, must agree with God that they are sinners; otherwise “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). James presented a fuller picture: when a Christian is ill, the elders are to visit and give the person opportunity to confess any sins. As in the psalms, forgiveness and healing (the moral and the physical) are tied to confession. Recalling that principle, James urged Christians to confess their sins to one another (Jas 5:13–16).