January 20, 2019 Confession

Confession

 

Scripture reading: I John 1:5-9.

 

Verse 9 of our passage reveals one of the greatest privileges that the Christian has: confessing our sins to the Father and the result, fellowship with God. Confession is both a duty and a privilege that brings peace of mind and unhindered fellowship.

 

In verse 5, we read:

 

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.[1]

 

What does the apostle mean by the word “light”? We can understand his meaning by how he uses the word in his gospel.

 

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.[2]

 

We see from this passage that darkness is associated with evil and light, by contrast, is the good. Indeed, these are the referents that Isaiah plainly makes in his book at 5:20:

 

20    Woe to those who call evil good

and good evil,

       who put darkness for light

and light for darkness, [3]

 

Many will recognize Hebrew parallelism here. The word “evil” is parallel to the word “darkness.” Thus, they mean the same thing to Isaiah. The word “good” is parallel to the word “light.” Thus, they mean the same thing to Isaiah.

 

One man of God has well summarized the meaning of “light” in verse 5 as God’s “moral excellence and efficacious purity.”[4]

The apostle goes on in verse 6:

 

6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.[5]

 

John is saying that if we claim to have fellowship with God and we are living without moral excellence (in other words, not in accordance with Christ’s commands) then we are not speaking the truth. Put more simply, disobedience disrupts fellowship between us and the Lord.

 

The Christian life is not one of uninterrupted fellowship with God. At least not for the vast majority of believers.[6] It is a life of being in fellowship for a time and then being out of fellowship for a time. These times may be short or they may be long and their duration depends on the believer. But, whether short or long there is an ebb and flow to our fellowship with the Lord and with one another.

 

I do not speak of salvation nor do I refer to judicial forgiveness. Both our salvation in eternity and the forgiveness of our sins before the final Bar of Judgment are settled forever by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Those who place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are forever made right with God judicially (Hebrews 9:12, 28; 10:10, 12, 14). I refer to an ongoing and flourishing fellowship, as well as a family forgiveness, not a judicial forgiveness.

 

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.[7]

 

“But if we walk in the light…” This refers to being under the shining of the Lord and, as we have seen, walking in his commandments (living in moral excellence). This doesn’t mean walking in his commandments perfectly. This is obvious because the last part of the verse talks about being cleansed from sin. Sin is still present in our lives but we are against it just as it is against us. It means that our minds are set upon pleasing the Lord (2 Cor 5:9).

 

If we walk in the light we have fellowship with one another. Sin not only disrupts fellowship with the Lord, it disrupts fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [8]

 

This entire epistle of John, from beginning to end, is written to believers in the Lord Jesus. Thus, the confession of sins here does not refer to some kind of confession that one may make when they first repent of their sins for initial salvation (although that may be an appropriate time for confession, as well). Rather, this confession is for us! It is for those who are in a covenant relationship with the Lord already and who desire to have a clear conscience before the Lord. It is so that we may have continual, vibrant fellowship with God and with one another. Thus, confession is an essential for a peaceful and happy life.

 

Just as with any Christian practice, there are always some confused persons who may not understand the warrant for it and may seek to avoid it. Hence, I am going to call witnesses for the practice. The apostle John is our first witness and he has already spoken. Verse 9 seems crystal clear, but let us call more.

 

I call King David.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

4    For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5    I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not cover my iniquity;

       I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”

and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah [9]

 

David was not only a person who was in a covenant relationship with God, but he had the Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:11) and he is described as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). When David was quiet – when he did not confess his sin – he groaned, meaning that his conscience bothered him and plagued him. But (second half of verse 5) when he confessed his sin to the Lord he received forgiveness! Praise the Lord!

 

Our second witness has more to say.

 

18    I confess my iniquity;

I am sorry for my sin. [10]

 

Thank you, King David!

 

I call Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived.

 

13    Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,

but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. [11]

 

Thank you, King Solomon. You were endowed with wisdom from above and we have allowed wisdom to speak!

 

I call the John the Baptist as a witness.

 

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

       “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

       ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

make his paths straight.’ ”

4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.[12]

 

Some may think that this is for when a person first comes to the Lord; after all, repentance is mentioned. And, I have already said it may be quite appropriate for a person to confess their sins when they repent for the first time. But we should remember that John’s ministry was actually under the Old Covenant. He was preaching to God’s people who were already in a covenant relationship with him. Their problem was that they had allowed sin to have control over their lives. So, John is calling them to repentance. He is baptizing them so that they consecrate themselves to the Lord anew. He offers them a new beginning as they anticipate the coming of the Lord Jesus.

 

This principle remains true in the New Covenant.  God’s covenant people may allow sin to overtake them. When this happens we ought to repent. We, too, should confess our sins and start anew!

 

We have had four witnesses. The apostle John, King David, King Solomon, and John the Baptist. I wish to call a fifth witness and he will be the most important witness of all. Let us hear our Lord Jesus!

 

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.[13]

 

Offering the gift is for fellowship with God. Therefore, this means that when we are having fellowship with God and are conscious of sin between ourselves and others, or vice versa, we should first endeavor to make peace with our brother or sister, that is, deal with the sin or perceived sin. Otherwise, our fellowship with God will be hindered.

 

Again,

9 Pray then like this:

       “Our Father in heaven,

       hallowed be your name.

10    Your kingdom come,

       your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11    Give us this day our daily bread,

12    and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13    And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. [14]

 

Let me ask this: Are not our sins forgiven by faith in Christ and his sacrifice? Yes! They are forgiven judicially. They will not be held against us at the final judgment because Jesus paid for them! Thank the Lord! But there is still the matter of parental forgiveness. For the Father to forgive us as far as the family relationship is concerned, we must ask (verse 12) and we must forgive others who trespass (sin) against us (vss. 14-15). Parental forgiveness is conditional!

 

From the greatest witness, I go to the least witness. Nevertheless, he is a good witness by the very virtue of him being somewhat of a scoundrel! I call Simon the sorcerer.

 

5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city.

9 But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” 11 And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip.[15]

 

I pause half way through verse 13 for a reason. Take note that Simon became a believer and he was baptized. Not only baptized but “he continued with Philip,” meaning that he accompanied Philip in his ministry.

 

A little later the apostles Peter and John come down and lay hands on people and the people received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let us continue reading at verse 17:

 

17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.[16]

 

See then that a baptized believer, after sinning, is told to repent and pray – confess – so that he would receive forgiveness.

 

Next, I call the apostle James:

 

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.[17]

 

You see, it is good not only to confess our sins to God, but to one another.

 

Next, I call the author of the Didache. The Didache is the oldest Christian writing known to us outside the New Testament. It was probably written before 100 AD (the apostle John may still have been alive), used and accepted as a guiding document in the earliest years of the church and for centuries afterward.

 

“In the congregation, confess your sins, do not come to your prayer with an evil conscience.”[18]

 

We may debate the wisdom of confessing our sins in the congregation (some will find this too challenging), but two matters should be noted. First, the confession of sins was practiced in the apostolic era. And, second, the author understands that a bad conscience is associated with unconfessed sin.

 

I could call many church fathers from the earliest years of the church,[19] but time does not permit. However, allow me to call the author of the most highly respected and popular catechism of the Baptist Church, the Baptist Catechism. It was written in 1677 and is till used today – over 340 years! It was written by Benjamin Keach.

 

Question 109:

What is Prayer?
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies.

 

The Westminster Larger Catechism, the most popular Protestant catechism of all time, has almost the exact same wording. If time permitted I could call the greatest men of God the church has ever known. Men like Augustine, Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon,[20] Louis Berkhof, Richard Baxter,[21] Brother Lawrence, [22], Robert Govett, Arthur Pink, Watchman Nee,[23] Witness Lee,[24] Robert Yarbrough, and John MacArthur, to name only a very few. This list could be expanded a hundredfold.

 

One of the shortest and easiest summaries of confession is found in William MacDonald’s one-volume commentary of the New Testament, probably the most popular one volume commentary in modern times:

 

“In order for us to walk day by day in fellowship with God and with our fellow believers, we must confess our sins…We must drag them out into the open before God, call them by their names, take sides with God against them, and forsake them.”[25]

 

Why is confession important? Because it is the pathway to a clear conscience that is truly clear. Some may have a feeling of a clear conscience if their theology is awry (e.g., confusing justification with fellowship), but one’s conscience cannot truly be clear and free without confession.

 

Why is confession important?  Because God recommends it.

 

Why is confession important? Because it is the example of godly men and women of the Bible.

 

Why is confession important? Because it is has been the practice of the church ever since its founding in the first century and through the ages, subscribed to by every faithful expression of the genuine faith, and supported by the Scriptures.

 

Why is confession important? Because it is key to a peaceful and joyful life!

 

Tonight, when you get ready for bed, take time to pray. In your prayer, thank God for his favor and his mercies, but also reflect on your day and confess your sins. And, know that they are forgiven! Sleep well!

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 1:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 3:18–19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 5:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Robert W. Yarbrough, 1-3 John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008), 50.

 

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 1:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] A saint who has been walking with the Lord for many years and who takes his/her consecration seriously, and who has experienced a great degree of sanctification, may have long periods of time with uninterrupted fellowship. Yet even these will stumble at times. And so, The London Baptist Confession of 1689 reads: “This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnant of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual, and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.” (Chapter 13, para 2)

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 1:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 1:8–9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 32:3–5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 38:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 28:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 3:1–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:23–24). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 6:9–15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 8:5–13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 8:17–22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jas 5:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[18] David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub, 1998), 172.

 

[19] Ibid (Clement, Hermas, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian)

[20] “If we are to walk with God at all it must be in the light, and if we once walk in the light with him, our condition will tally with the description of verse seven (I Jn 1:7); we shall see sin in ourselves and daily feel the blood of Jesus Christ cleansing us therefrom. Only on the footing of sin daily confessed and pardoned can there be any fellowship between us and the eternal God this side of heaven, for that footing is the only one consistent with the facts of the case.” (Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Expository Encyclopedia Sermons Vol 5 (Spurgeon's Expository Encyclopedia Sermons, Volume 5)(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996), 182.)

 

[21] His instructions for evening prayer: “Let the common mercies be more generally recorded (brought to God in prayer, CR), and the common sins generally confessed (yet neither of them therefore slighted, RB); and let the extraordinary mercies, and greater sins, have a more particular observation.” Richard Baxter, The practical works of Richard Baxter: with a preface, giving some account of the author, and of this edition of his practical works: an essay on his genius, works, and times: and a portrait., vol. 1, A Christian Directory (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Pubns, 1997), 469.

 

[22] “In humble adoration, we must confess to him our sins and weaknesses, lovingly asking for the help of his grace in our time of need.” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, New ed. (Brewster, MA: Whitaker House, 1982), 61.)

 

[23] "Proverbs 28:13 says, ‘He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.’ Brothers and sisters, we have to realize that all of our former sins must be confessed thoroughly. If we have sinned against man, we have to confess to man. If we have sinned against God, we have to confess to God. If we do not do this, we will suffer loss.

Mr. Roberts was once asked by a brother concerning the secret to Christian growth. He answered by asking, "When was the last time you made a confession?" The brother did not understand what this meant. He wondered if confession had to be made daily, as often as taking a meal, and he admitted that he had not made a confession for a few years. Later he found out what Mr. Roberts meant. A Christian grows by making confessions. When a man confesses to God what he has sinned against God, and confesses to man what he has sinned against man, he grows spiritually.

Brothers and sisters, many people do not feel sorry after they have sinned. The reason they do not feel sorry is they have failed in the matter of confession. After a person believes in the Lord, he will run a good race if he confesses thoroughly all the sins he has committed against God and man. He will run faster than many other Christians who have too little feeling concerning sin!" - Watchman Nee (Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 2) Vol. 21: The Christian (1934-1940), Issue #4)

 

[24]First John 1:7 indicates that if we have fellowship with God, we can see our sins in His light; then, according to what we have seen in His light, we are to confess this to God and deal with it before God in order to obtain God’s forgiveness and cleansing. Matthew 5 speaks of our problems with others; 1 John 1 speaks of our problem with God.” Also, “whenever he (a Christian, CR) is aware of this sin and still does not deal with it, he has a guilty conscience; his fellowship with the Lord is hindered, and his spiritual life and service are not normal. According to Matthew 5, if one remembers something that needs to be dealt with and neglects to deal with it, his fellowship with God is immediately interrupted. He must deal with it quickly until it is completely cleared up; then he can have fellowship once more with God. First John 1:7 states the same fact. If one recognizes his sin while in the light of fellowship and does not deal with it, his fellowship is immediately hindered. Therefore, if we are not conscious of the sins that we have committed, we do not need to deal with them. If, however, we are aware of them, we should deal with them quickly;” Witness Lee, Experience of Life (Anahein, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1988), 52-53.

 

[25] William MacDonald, Believer's Bible Commentary: New Testament (Wichita, Kansas: A and O Press, 1989), 1126.