Three Questions Regarding Confession and Forgiveness by Tony Cooke

Three Questions Regarding Confession and Forgiveness
Tony Cooke

Confession and ForgivenessLast months article—Why You Don’t Have to Confess Sins (You Didn’t Commit)—evoked some questions, and I thought it would be good to address those as a follow-up.

Question 1: If Jesus already died for our sins (past tense) and they’re already forgiven, why would need to confess sins (present tense)?

Answer: Some reject the idea that 1 John 1:9 could indicate a "present tense" or "right now" forgiveness since we were already forgiven 2,000 years ago. However, if you reject 1 John 1:9 as applying to believers on that basis, you really need to be prepared "reassign" to unbelievers other Scriptures as well that point to a "present tense" receiving of forgiveness.

When we talk about a believer receiving forgiveness, we’re not saying that their forgiveness hasn’t already been provided for. However, forgiveness is freshly received, realized, and applied when we appropriate our faith afresh and anew in the light of acknowledged sin.

James 5:15 says, …And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. James did NOT say, “he was forgiven 2,000 years ago,” he said “he will be forgiven.” Legally, Jesus paid the penalty for his sins 2,000 years ago, but experientially, the person was receiving forgiveness at that time.

2 Corinthians 7:1 says, Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Again, legally, the cleansing was procured 2,000 years ago. Experientially, we receive it and experience it as we yield to, cooperate with, and trust in God.

Peter’s admonition to Simon indicates that the receiving of forgiveness occurs in the present tense. Keep in mind that Acts 8:13 says, "Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized…”

Acts 8:18-23
18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money,  
19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 
20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!  
21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.  
22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.  
23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” 

Peter did not tell Simon that he was already forgiven, but sternly admonished him to seek God in this matter.

The fact that grace has provided forgiveness does not mean that Christians have automatically received that forgiveness. I believe it’s in this light that John said, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

Legally, our sins were forgiveness 2,000 years ago. Experientially, we receive cleansing and forgiveness as needed by faith. This may also be why Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." The price for us to receive mercy was paid for 2,000 years ago. We receive that mercy experientially and progressively by faith.

To me, this is similar to a child being born into a family. He is 100% a child of his parents. He has their DNA, and everything about him is "family." When he’s five years old, he may go out and fall in a mud puddle. That doesn’t make him any less a child of his parents, but he does need a good bath to get the dirt off. 1 John 1:9 is that good bath, and I believe with all of my heart it does apply to Christians.

Question 2: What happens to a Christian who dies with unconfessed sin?

Answer: In one sense, I could answer that by saying, "Who HASN’T died with unconfessed sin?" The purpose of 1 John 1:9 is not to say that if a person committed 324,689 sins in their life, they’d better have confessed every single one of them or they’re not going to heaven. If that were the case, I think heaven is going to be a pretty empty place. Further, if a Christian thinks it’s their job to spend their life on an endless excavation project trying to think of and confess every single thing they’ve ever done wrong, that is a huge misdirection of time and energy, and shows a lack of understanding of both Scripture and God’s plan for our lives.

The confession that brings us into relationship with God is not 1 John 1:9, but Romans 10:9 (…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved). 1 John 1:9—confessing a sin—is not what causes a person to be saved to begin with, and I don’t believe that committing a sin causes a Christian to lose their salvation. James 3:2 says, "We all stumble in many ways…" I’m sure there are many things I’ve done wrong that I’ve forgotten about, and probably several mistakes I’ve made that I was oblivious to. That’s why 1 John 1:7 is so precious. "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. "

In "Three Big Words," Brother Hagin spoke of a time when he had inadvertently missed it, and said, "…you see, I was walking in all the light I had, and there was a continual cleansing of the blood for me as I walked in that light. We have all sinned and not realized it, but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin."

I think it’s safe to say that every believer has died with some unconfessed sin in their life, but our faith should not be in our perfection of confessing, but in the perfect work of His mercy and His blood. When a sin is not inadvertent but is known and realized, this is where 1 John 1:9 applies. When I refer to confessing a sin, I’m not talking about dwelling on it, wallowing in it, hashing and rehashing it. I’m not talking about walking in "sin consciousness” as it is often called. I’m simply referring to acknowledging and conceding to the truth of the word—saying what God says about it—and receiving the mercy that God has always had available to us, and moving forward with God.

If I’ve missed it, I don’t confess (acknowledge) it so that God will love me again or so that I can re-gain my salvation. God never stopped loving me, nor had I lost my salvation. Let’s illustrate this with a practical example. Let’s say that Joe Christian is driving down the road. He has trusted Jesus as his Savior, he is born-again, a new creation, etc. As he’s driving down the road, he drops something and takes his eyes off the road as he reaches down to pick it up. When he looks back up, he’s swerved into the other lane and he sees himself heading right into a semi-truck. In the split second before impact, he panics, says a cuss word, and is immediately killed before he has a chance to confess his sin.

Does Joe go to hell because he didn’t have a chance to "make things right" before he died? For whatever my opinion is worth, I say absolutely not. He was a child of God who trusted Jesus as his Savior. His salvation was never based on his perfection or his performance in any way, shape, or form. Confession (being honest with God) is not a last second "delete" button to make sure all of our sins are forgiven right before we die. It is a lifestyle that involves being honest with God, acknowledging truth, receiving his mercy and forgiveness as needed (the very forgiveness He procured for us 2,000 years ago), and moving forward with God.

I am not going to reject the healthy, biblical practice of being honest with God and making adjustments when I’ve missed it just because someone died with unconfessed sin. Likewise, I’m not going to do away with the doctrine of water baptism just because the repentant thief on the cross didn’t have a chance to get water baptized before he died. There are people who turn "confession" into a religious work whereby they are trying to earn something that can only be received by faith, but there are others who want to completely reassign 1 John 1:9 away from believers. I reject both extremes and am endeavoring to walk in (and to teach) a healthy biblical lifestyle that honors God’s word and Jesus’ wonderful redemptive work on our behalf.

Question 3: If a Christian is struggling with sickness, we don’t tell them to confess their sickness, but to confess healing. If a Christian is struggling with lack, we don’t tell them to confess their lack, but to confess abundance. Why, then, would we tell a Christian who has sinned to confess his sin? To be consistent, wouldn’t we tell them to confess their righteousness in Christ?

Answer: If "confess" means to "dwell upon, wallow in, hash and reshash," then I would agree completely that we’ve got a problem. Unfortunately, for some, that’s what confession of sin has meant, especially those that don’t understand their right standing with God based on the grace of God.

However, if "confession" means "to acknowledge, to concede, or to admit"(along with "saying the same thing")—which is what it means—then it makes perfect sense. A sick person usually acknowledges they’re sick before trust God for healing (Mark 2:17). A person dealing with lack usually acknowledges they have need of provision before making a concerted effort to receive provision. A Christian who has sinned, according to 1 John 1:9, acknowledges their fault as they receive forgiveness.

If we look at this domestically, if I offend or hurt my wife in some way, I don’t simply "confess my marriage." Common courtesy and love requires that I say, "Honey, I’m sorry I hurt you." All the while, I can realize that she is my wife, that I have a covenant with her, that we are life partners, etc.

Likewise, if I sin against God, I can acknowledge my error and turn from it, all the while acknowledging that God continues to love me, that I am His child, that I am in covenant with Him based on the blood of His Son.

Acts 19:18-20 says, "…many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed."

Again, confession doesn’t mean wallowing in the problem or not being "righteousness conscious." It simply means that you acknowledge that there’s a problem that needs to be turned from. There’s an old saying that, "You can’t fix a problem you don’t have."

The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians a very sharp letter addressing an ongoing problem of sin in their lives, and when they repented, he said to them, "For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:8-10).

If a Christian sins, it is perfectly scriptural and logical to acknowledge it (confess it), turn from it, enjoy the forgiveness of God that was procured 2,00 years ago, and also receive empowerment from the grace of God that teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:12). By the way, I’m all for confessing and celebrating our righteousness in Christ, and there are many Scriptures that support that as well.