Church of Christ
Mission USA


Repentance, Confession of Sins and Forgiveness
Perry Sexton
      This article is brief, but covers the basics. If there are any questions or disagreements I will do my best in a follow up article (or privately) to clarify any point. This article concerns only the child of God in seeking forgiveness of sins of which he knows. The focus is on confessing sin: we must be specific in confessing the sins we know of before God (of course God always knows of all our sins), and we must be specific in confessing our sins to people who know of them. For example, the church knows that a brother has committed two different sins, but when he responds to the invitation or whenever he confesses he simply says: “I have sinned.” That is a “general confession.” How does the church know if he is repenting of either one or both of those known sins? Is he repenting of both of the known sins or only one of them? Or perhaps he is repenting of some other sin altogether. Who knows? Let us say he stole a cow from brother Jones and lied to brother Smith about a debt he owes Smith. How does Jones, Smith and the church know which sin he is repenting of? I think we should see the problem in making a “general confession” when known sin is involved. Furthermore, such is unscriptural (read on).

      Repentance involves a change of mind which brings about a change of action (a change of life).  Note the following definitions: Repent G3340 μετανοέω metanoeō Thayer Definition: 1) to change one’s mind, i.e. to repent 2) to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins; Repentance G3341 μετάνοια metanoia met-an'-oy-ah From G3340; (subjectively) compunction (for guilt, including reformation); by implication reversal (of [another’s] decision):—repentance. [Strong’s]

      It is too obvious to have to say it, but in light of what I have seen from some, I think it must be said: How can one have a “change of mind” about a matter without having the matter in his mind? How can any of the definitions (above) be brought about without the matter in mind? Furthermore, consider these key verses and ask the same questions: Matt 3:8; Luke 3:8; Acts 26:20; 2 Cor. 7:9-10; Heb. 6:1; Eph. 4:28. And how shall one confess sin without confessing sin???

      Confessing the sin or sins one has repented of should be understood as a natural course of action for those who know the Scriptures. Note the following definitions: Confess as in 1 John 1:9G3670 ὁμολογέω homologeō Thayer Definition: 1) to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent 2) to concede 2a) not to refuse, to promise 2b) not to deny 2b1) to confess 2b2) declare 2b3) to confess, i.e. to admit or declare one’s self guilty of what one is accused of 3) to profess 3a) to declare openly, speak out freely 3b) to profess one’s self the worshipper of one 4) to praise, celebrate.” Confess as in James 5:16  “G1843 ἐξομολογέω exomologeō Thayer Definition: 1) to confess 2) to profess 2a) acknowledge openly and joyfully 2b) to one’s honour: to celebrate, give praise to 2c) to profess that one will do something, to promise, agree, engage.”

      Must we confess our sins to God? Absolutely: “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). To confess sins means just that. Compare confessing Christ: Can one confess Christ without naming Him? Can one confess sin without naming it? How utterly absurd to think so! Yet, unbelievably, some brethren would say yes. It is amazing what some will do and say in order to hide or deny their sins.

      Must we confess our known sins to one another? Absolutely: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jam. 5:16). What do we not understand about “Confess your faults [sins] one to another”? As in the above definition: “2b3) to confess, i.e. to admit or declare one’s self guilty of what one is accused of 3) to profess 3a) to declare openly, speak out freely.” See example in first paragraph.

      A general confession is no confession at all concerning specifically known sin. Has the brother repented of this known sin or not? How can anyone know without proper confession?

      Forgiveness for sin is based upon repentance of the sin and confession of the sin. A sin known only by the offender must be in one’s mind in order for him to think differently about that sin and of course he must confess that sin to God in order to be forgiven of that known sin (1 John 1:9). A sin that is known by others must be confessed to them in order to be forgiven by them and God (Jam. 5:16). Note the following definition from Strong’s: ForgiveG863 ἀφίημι aphiēmi af-ee'-ay-mee From G575 and ἵημι hiēmi (to send; an intensive form of εἶμι eimi (to go)); to send forth, in various applications:—cry, forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let (alone, be, go, have), omit, put (send) away, remit, suffer, yield up.” WordWeb says of Forgiveness “The act of excusing a mistake or offense.” Is it not specific? Yes and other dictionaries show the same thing.

      Forgiveness by God, for the child of God, requires that the one in sin is to: repent of the sin, confess the sin and pray to God for forgiveness of the sin. Is it conceivable that a brother commits a known sin and does not repent of the sin nor does he confess the sin to God that God would forgive him? Not at all, if we believe the Scriptures (Luke 13:3, 5; 1 John 1:9). If the brother does not repent of the sin and does not confess the sin, it becomes “a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16). Suppose a brother has two known sins in his life, but he repents of only one and confesses just that one sin to God. Does God forgive him of both sins? Of course not! What of a known sin that one has repented of, but has not confessed, will God forgive those sins? No, not according to the Scriptures, such is “a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16, study the whole book). We must repent and confess our sins that we know of unto God in order to receive God’s forgiveness. 

      Of sins known to others, God forgives only the sins that are repented of and confessed to those who know of it (Jam. 5:16). The wrong we do to man must be corrected as much as possible.

      Are we to forgive a brother who commits a sin that is known, but does not repent of nor confess?  No, we cannot do so! We cannot forgive where God does not. We are not even to pray to God that God will forgive such (1 John 5:16). Such would be contrary to God’s will and all righteousness. We should pray to God that the brother would repent and make proper confession in order to be forgiven. We must also seek such by following God’s Word in dealing with these matters: admonish, rebuke and if necessary withdrawal of fellowship (2 Thess. 3:6).

      Are we to forgive those brethren who commit known sin against us, but will not repent of nor confess the sin? No, we cannot do so! The above applies again. Even if we do “forgive,” does God forgive when His requirements according to His righteousness have not been meet? We might “dream on,” but that is all it amounts to. Please note carefully what Jesus said in Luke 17:3 “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” Our forgiveness is conditional: “if he repent, forgive him.” As in all things, we are to have the same mind as God. We cannot forgive if the offender does not repent and we cannot know if he repents unless he so confesses.

      Having repented of known sins, must a brother confess all of those known sins he has committed in order to be forgiven by God? Yes, as seen above. Without proper confession it becomes “a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16).

      When a brother #1 is confronted by brother #2 because of various lies brother #1 has told to brother #2 and brother #1 seeks forgiveness from brother #2; must brother #1(the offender) name (confess) the lies he has told to brother #2? Of course! How do you read James 5:16??? God’s Word is clear on the matter: clear confession must be made. Otherwise, how may one know what sin he is to ask God forgiveness of for the offender? And how may the offended know what the offender is repenting of???

      Consider this comparison for asking forgiveness for known sin. Note the word “give” in the word “forgive.” Say to someone “Give me.” How are they going to know what you want unless you specify what you want? Try it on someone, I have. Say to someone “forgive me.” How are they going to know what you want forgiveness of unless you specify what you want forgiveness for?

      In all of this, we must have the mind of God in us. We accomplish this by learning God’s Word on the subject and believing it. We must have a desire and willingness to forgive sins in others who have sincerely repented and confessed those known sins.  But, we must not forgive where God does not forgive. We are not greater than God! ♥