"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).
Confession of sin by believers involves a different understanding and application than we often realize. In the original Greek from which the New Testament is translated, the root word of confess, "homologeo," means "to say the same thing." Confessing our sins, therefore, means that we say the same thing about them that God says, as opposed to the commonly held notion of merely admitting that we have sinned. This raises the vital question: what does God say about our sins? Moreover, what is the first thing the Lord would have us know about our sins?
The Apostle John answers the question for us in an enigmatic description of the Lord Jesus Christ, found in the book of Revelation. Therein, John refers to our Lord as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). In the timeless heart and mind of God, the Lord Jesus' atoning death on the cross of Calvary existed before He even created humanity. This does not preclude the necessity of Christ's tangible sacrifice in space and time - "without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22). It does mean, however, that our Heavenly Father's supply of saving grace in the Lord Jesus preceded our need. Thus, the first truth about our sins always directs us to the person and work of Christ. Yes, the first truth whereby we confess, or say the same thing about our sins, is that our Lord died for us.
In this light of amazing grace and mercy, we remember and express, "Father, the Lord Jesus suffered and died on the cross for this sin"before we also honestly acknowledge, "Father, I have sinned." We begin our confession in remembrance of "the Lamb slain." Such truth, and our response thereunto, paves several necessary pathways in our journey of repentance and restoration of fellowship. First, we reestablish our Christ-focus and exaltation, the detour from which led us into sin to begin with. We also far more likely experience true contrition and "godly sorrow" as we consider that our sin led to our Savior's tortured, forsaken agony of death on the cross (II Corinthians 7:10). Finally, the remembrance of such sacrifice provides assurance that God truly desires to forgive and cleanse us for whatever sin we have committed. We join David in the confident affirmation, "There is forgiveness with Thee" (Psalm 130:4). Thereby will we be far more likely to believe and effectually avail ourselves of His restorative pardon.
It also becomes far more likely that we will take full responsibility for our waywardness, as opposed to the blame shifting that frequently tempts us. Focusing on the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus for our sins provides a purifying sensibility and motivation of our heart and mind. As the old saying goes, "The blood of Christ cleanses sin, not excuses." Remembering our Savior's tortured and forsaken agony helps us avoid adding insult to injury, as it were, by failing to place the responsibility for sin squarely on the shoulders where it belongs, namely, our own. "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me" (Psalm 51:3).
The Biblical understanding of confession, of saying the same thing about sin that God says, leads to a more effectual experience of the forgiveness and cleansing that maintains our walk of fellowship with Him. Indeed, we do our Lord, ourselves, and those with whom we live no favors by wallowing in the mire of sins and their resultant sense of alienation from God. Our Heavenly Father would quickly reestablish our walk with Him if we sin. His Son's sacrifice provides that way of forgiveness and cleansing. Our remembrance and affirmation thereof leads to genuine repentance, honest acknowledgement, and trusting confidence that if we fall, we can get up. The power of Christ's atonement and the Holy Spirit's application of such truth to our hearts accomplishes this vital restoration as we confess our sins, that is, as we say the same thing about them that God says.
"If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. And the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin."
(I John 1:7)