A suspect is interrogated for hours under a bright light. He confesses because of fear. A churchgoer goes into a booth on one side with a priest on the other. He confesses out of habit. But what does confession really mean to a Christian, why is it necessary, to whom should it be done and how is it intrinsically linked to other important concepts? Let's take a closer look. We'll talk about two types of sinners, two types of confession and two types of forgiveness.
Now, we're all sinners, but the first type has no place in God's purpose. This is the deliberate sinner that brazenly disrespects God. Then there's the rest of us, born in sin and inclined to do bad, but with the opportunity and hopefully the desire to be better.
In a sense, God speaks to us through Acts 3:19:
“Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out".
This is the sinner God looks for, the one who turns around, and tries his best to imitate His Son.
However, to succeed, a Christian needs to realize one important thing: That, in a sense, they never CAN succeed. No matter what we do, we never can earn it. Our literal ONLY hope beyond this life, is God's mercy through Christ's ransom. Being at peace with this fact is key to our salvation.
And that leads to confession. One type of confession is acknowledgement, or public declaration. We confess that we're sinful, and recipients of the gift of life. But we also can and should confess to individual sins. First and foremost this should be to God in prayer.
1 John 1:9
“If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
But at times humans should be involved. Why? One reason is that these sins often affect other people. Jesus laid out the ideal standard when He said that brother should approach brother and work things out, but He also acknowledged that more help may be needed. What benefits come from this?
The Bible answers at James 5:16:
"openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. A righteous man’s supplication has a powerful effect".
If we need to be healed from spiritual sickness that led to a certain sin, then isolation won't help. Mature, caring Christians can listen and share advice from the Bible to help us get up again.
And that leads to the last topic of forgiveness. Only God can give absolute forgiveness. That isn't what elders or anyone else is offering. They don't have the authority to forgive sins as Jesus and his apostles were given. However as individuals, all of us have to forgive all the time in the sense of being merciful, letting things go and treating others how we want to be treated. And what can help us in that direction?
Again, it goes right back around to acknowledging that we are sinners, and confessing our own sins.