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:
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.
But 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.
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.
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…)