Is Confession of Sin Required for Forgiveness?

Does God only forgive the sins we confess? Is confession of sin requires for the forgiveness of sin?

When it comes to the issue of the unforgivable sin, some people seem to believe that all sin is “unforgiven” until we confess it. In other words, you are not forgiven unless you confess.

This idea is drawn primarily from 1 John 1:9:

1 John 1:9 if we confess our sins

While I could get into the Greek, parse the words, diagram the sentence, look at the grammar, and perform word studies on this verse (which I have done in the past) I think that would bore you to tears. So let me just summarize for you what I believe 1 John 1:9 and the surrounding context teaches.

Confession and 1 John 1:9

Once a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, they begin their relationship with God just like any baby begins its relationship with its mother: in perfect harmony and peace. In the case of God’s family, the Father and the child are in perfect fellowship (1 John 1:3).

As we remain in fellowship, the blood of Jesus continually purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7). As new believers, we may not know all that God expects from members of His household. We may not know how to live according to rule and reign of God. As a result, it is probably not long—maybe only a few seconds—before the new believer sins. When this happens, what does God do? God forgives. Repentance and confession are not required because new believers often do not know how to properly behave as a member of the family of God.

I once sat with a brand new believer who used profanity in his very first prayer. I smiled to myself as I listened to him pray, and I believe God smiled also. Was the bad word a sin? Yes. Was God approving of this man’s sin? Of course not. But God is thrilled with every new person who is born into His family no matter how they come to Him.

All of us should be extremely grateful for this. I am convinced that all of us commit numerous sins every day which we do not realize are sinful. And if we had to specifically confess each one of these sins, we would spend all day trying to figure out what was sinful and what wasn’t, and confessing anything and everything which might potentially be sinful, just so that we could make sure we had confessed everything. Thankfully, we do not have to do this, because Jesus cleanses us from all sin, whether we confess it or not. ⇦ Tweet that!

Forgive our SinsBut there comes a day in the life of every believer when God decided to start working on us with a particular sin. There is no set order or timeframe on sins God seeks to liberate us from. God works with each person in His own time and His own way. But He does work on each one of us. God decides that a particular behavior or thought pattern in our life must change. He wants to make us look more like Jesus, and help us better reveal the light of the Gospel, and to do that, we must straighten out a particular area of our life.

So God instructs the Holy Spirit to begin working on us in that area. When this happens, God has already forgiven us for this sin.

But when we sin, God wants us to come to Him and admit what we have done, and thank Him for the forgiveness we have in Jesus Christ (1 John 1:8-9). This helps maintain our fellowship with God.

Family Relationship and Fellowship

It is like any parent-child relationship. If a child sins against a parent, and the parent asks the child about it, the worst thing is for the child to deny it. The child is caught, and denial only compounds the problem.

But if the child confesses what they have done, then the fellowship between parent and child is maintained. This is how it works with God as well.

God, your heavenly Father, loves you so much, that He has already forgiven you for all of your sins, past, present, and future.

There is no sin which you can commit which will surprise God or which will cause Him to separate you from His love. ⇦ Tweet that!

But when He makes us aware of a sin we are committing, He desires and expects us to agree with Him that we have sinned. If we do not agree, then this is essentially the same as calling God a liar (1 John 1:8) which only makes the damage in our fellowship greater. If, however, we agree with him that we have sinned, then the fellowship is restored.

Note as well that in the case of sin, it is never God who breaks fellowship with us, but we who break fellowship with God. When we sin, we turn away from God, but He never turns away from us. ⇦ Tweet that!

Our relationship with God is like a relationship with any family member. Once the relationship is established by birth, nothing can break it. But the fellowship can be radically damaged, and the only way to restore the fellowship is through confession.

This is how I understand 1 John 1:9. It is a call to maintain fellowship with God by agreeing with Him when He points out our sin.

God has already forgiven us for all our sins. But when we confess our sins, it is agreeing with Him that we have sinned, so that we can be restored to fellowship with Him. Confession restores fellowship within an already existing relationship.

(And in case you are wondering, you may not need to confess your sins to a priest either…)

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  1. Joshua says

    what if you been saved and don’t want to read the bible because it is to hard to understand. can you still make it to heaven?

    • says

      Of course! Remember that when the Bible was written, MOST people could not read.

      Having said that, I would recommend reading it! Find a translation that is easier to understand, like the New Living Translation.

      • Jen says

        Thank you for your quick response. I’ve been in torment over my brother. I first believed he was in heaven because I knew his heart but then Satan had me thinking he was in hell because he died of an accidental overdose (drugs are sin). However he was led to drugs I believe from his PTSD, alcoholism and depression. He always WANTED to do what was right and DID pray the prayer of salvation. Anyway, thank you.

  2. Debbie Thieme says

    Thanks Jeremy, good post. Obviously He knows what we have done. And He has already forgiven, as you say. So confession seems to be for our benefit, to help us clear our own consciences. That’s sort of how I am coming to understand it anyway.

  3. Matthew Richardson says

    O.K. Let me ask this. What is neccessary, in terms of confession/repentance, to get our names ito the Book of Life ? If all sins are forgiven to all people, why would’t everyone be in there ?

  4. Roger Fankhauser says

    Matthew – my take (can’t speak for Jeremy) – because of the death, butial, abd resurrection of Jesus, every barrier between nan and God has been removed but one, and that is belief in Jesus as the one who gives eternal life (john 3:18). Thus, one either receives God’s answer or rejects it. So, the one and only issue necessary to have our name appear in the book of life is bekieving in Jesus. At that moment, we are permanently placed in God’s family. Confession in 1 john has nothing to do with this. Here, confession is “cleaning our dirty feet” as we walk thru life as a follower of Christ. Confession is simply agreeing with Gid hat what we did was sin – there’s no formula. It can be as elaborate aa David’s confession in osalm 32 and psalm 51, or as simple as “Lord, I sinned.” He will never hold that sin against us to cause ys to lose sonship (ie, forever saved), He will restore the closeness of our relationship as family.

    So, no confession necessary to get into the book; confession restores us when we fail along the way.

    Feel free to ask questions of me if i am unclear.

  5. Roger Fankhauser says

    Matthew – not sure I get your question. Are you saying if we reject His forgiveness, we therefore lose our salvation, or, that we were never save din the first place?

    If we (we = persons who have believed in eternal life and are therefore secure in Him forever) sin, become aware of that sin (may have done it intentionally), choose tom ignore that sin and continue to practice it, then we (1) do NOT lose the judicial forgiveness of God that accompanies our salvation but (2) do not experience “family” forgiveness.

    Let’s see if this example helps: If the neighbor kid steals money out of my change jar and I discover it, I would immediately send him home. I have no obligation to him since I am not his father. BUT, if my son steals money out of the change jar, something different happens. he is my son and will always be my son. I cannot change that. He will experience consequences for that choice, but one of those consequences is not an override of DNA so that he is not my son. If he admits the crime (aka, the sin) we can begin to restore our family relationship – rebuild the closeness between us. If he denies it, and I know he did it (i.e., I’m not guessing), the relationship becomes more strained because of his choices. If he steals again or does something else, the consequences could become even more severe – maybe even being kicked out of the house. But even that severe action does not change the fact that he is my son, and, assuming I am a healthy father, I will still love him and desire that he repent. He has moved out of the close relationship with me, but he is still my son. he has rejected my grace (if you will) in allowing him to confess and change, but he is still my son.

    When I believed in Jesus, I became part of God’s family (John 1:12). I cannot change that (God does a host of things on our behalf the moment we believe…). Past that, I can deal with my sin as I become aware of it, or I can ignore it. But I don;t stop being His son. But I may not experience the benefit of his day-to-day forgiveness by choosing to disobey, even though my judicial forgiveness is unchanged.

  6. Matthew Richardson says

    God is a loving God but He is also a just God. He loves and wants to forgive His children as any good parent would. But He cannot pretend that nothing is wrong if one of His children is intentionally and unappologetically doing wrong. John 3:16 would seem to suggest that belief in Christ is enough to achieve salvation. But the devil himself believes. It is not enough. Belief in Christ is only the begining of salvation. The scripture teaches that we are to become new creations through Him. How can this be without sincere repentance, rejecting what we were to become what we should be. I have stated in another posting that God does not expct us to remember or even be aware of every sin we have committed. In His grace He is willing to forgive. But I don’t believe He can forgive a sin that we are unwilling to confess to and will not turn away from.

  7. Roger Fankhauser says

    So then, to summarize your post Matthew – salvation comes by faith plus works in your view. He only forgave some sins so gaining judicial forgiveness requires a proper response from me (aka, i must do or not do certain things, = works).

    Heartily disagree. I’ve already explained my view, so won’t restate it here.

    BTW: (1) nowhere does the Bible say the devil believes in Jesus for salvation. It says the demons believe in a monotheistic God (2) 2 Cir says we “are” a new creation, not that “we,are to become new creations.” God does want us to grow and change, but from a place of security. AS his Son, not to BECOME His son.

  8. Jeremy Myers says

    Good discussion here! Sorry I’ve been absent. Matthew, I pretty much agree with the direction that Debbie and Roger are going with this. (Thanks for weighing in!)

    Salvation is something different than receiving eternal life. Salvation means “deliverance” and there are different things we can be delivered from and different ways to receive this deliverance.

    As for forgiveness, yes, forgiveness of sins is necessary, but the forgiveness that is necessary has been freely given to all. But there is also ongoing forgiveness. This is not necessary to receive eternal life, but is necessary to remain in fellowship with God. In the article I linked to above, I referred to a different article about two types of forgiveness. It explains more. Here is the link:

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