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Confession and Repentance

Christian, tell me why do you say that everyone must “confess” and “repent” of their sins? What gives you the right to be so judgmental?
Because…Nothing can be corrected until it is acknowledged that it NEEDS correction.

How many of you can identify with Fonzi of “Happy Days” in this clip? I know that I can! One of the hardest things to do is admit that I am wrrr..rr… that word! And the more wrrr… I am, and the more important the issue on which I am wrr…, the harder it is to admit. But the alternative is to keep digging the hole deeper. I can’t start climbing out until I can say that I am wrr… OK, I am WRONG, and I need to change. Enter, the Biblical concepts of confession and repentance.

“Confess” means to admit or agree with God that I am wrong. “Repent” means to regret that wrong, to regret it enough to completely reverse course, doing the opposite of that wrong from now on.

Here’s a hypothetical example:

It started simple and small, just rounding up when turning in expense reports for reimbursement on business travel. Then I realized that I could get by more cheaply than the company expected, turn in for the expected amount, and pocket the difference. Then I was in a bind during one trip, and claimed to take the client out for an expensive dinner when I really ate by myself at a hamburger joint. By a year later, I realized that I had reported hundreds of dollars under false pretenses.

I told myself that it was OK. It seemed like a lot of money to me, but not to the company. They could afford it. Besides, they owed me more than that for all the times I worked overtime, and for all the trash I took from the no-good suits upstairs.

God says “That is stealing.”

I say “But….”.

God says “No, that is taking something that does not belong to you.”

Do I dig in? Or do I say “God, you are right. I have been stealing, and I was wrong to do so. I will tell the company, pay back the money, and face any consequences including losing my job if necessary. I will never cheat on expense reports again.”

Which is easier to do? Initially, confession and repentance are not easy. My pride, my sense of self-preservation, my horror of being diminished in public … All of those make it difficult, seemingly impossible, to come clean and turn around to a new direction.

Which has the hope of forgiveness, reconciliation, and a fresh start, though? Only getting past myself will make the “ick” go away. You know: the closing down inside, the sick feeling that I’m vulnerable, that I am going to get caught and that all of my pretenses are going to be knocked down. The ick also includes the broken fellowship, the secrets kept, and the strained relationships. At some point, the pain of “ick” makes the work of confessing and repenting more than worth the effort (Proverbs 28:13).

This is true simply in everyday life, with offenses against friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances, and regardless of any “religious” connotation. How much more true it is when my offense is against God! Among much that the Bible tells about what God is like, what pleases or offends Him, this checklist is the best known (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:1-21):

  1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
    • Do I honor anything or anyone else more than I honor Him?
  2. “You shall not make for yourself an idol.”
    • Do I substitute anything or anyone else for a real relationship with Him?
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”
    • Do I take Him lightly, or treat His authority casually?
  4. “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy.”
    • Do I let other things crowd out my time with Him?
  5. “Honor your father and your mother.”
    • If I am a young person, do I resent my parents’ authority? If my parents are older, do I get impatient when they move more slowly?
  6. “You shall not murder.”
    • Do I wish ill toward anyone (remembering that, in Matthew 5:21-24, Jesus said that “angry enough to kill” counts)?
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.”
  8. “You shall not steal.”
    • Do I take anything that does not belong to me?
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
    • Do I lie to make myself look good, or someone else look bad?
  10. “You shall not covet … anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
    • Do I look at another’s blessings with resentment that I don’t have the same?

Answering “Yes” to any of these questions tells me that I have some confessing and repenting to do. Without going to God and asking His forgiveness, these offenses will continue as barriers to my close, loving relationship with Him.

Beyond these details, of all the issues on which I could be wrong, I am the most wrong on the most important issue of all: Who I am in relation to Who God Is. I am wrong:

By this point in this article, I could be pretty discouraged. I know that I don’t live up to any of these standards. But that gives me reason to appreciate the Gospel, the “Good News” that, if I trust Him and allow Him to, Jesus will fill in the gaps between what I am and what I should be (John 3:16-21, Romans 3:23-24, Isaiah 53:6). That’s why the Apostle John could say:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

And the Apostle Peter could put it like this:

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

Acts 3:19

It is not being judgmental to point someone toward the best thing that could happen to them 1. The relief of having sin forgiven and relationship restored is a tremendous gift from God. But no one can receive that gift if they don’t admit that they need it (confess) or if they have no intention of changing their attitude and behavior (repenting). Before Jesus can make me right, I must be willing to acknowledge that I am wrrr…. wrrnn… WRONG!

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. Caveat: The pointing must be done with gentleness, humility, and love. Arrogantly telling someone else to repent, as if I have no need of such things, only gives me something to confess!

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture reference links go to, which defaults to another good translation, the New International Version (NIV).  The site has 20 or more translations available for reference.