Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness (Part 5 of 5)

When We Sin

If confession, repentance, and seeking God’s forgiveness is not the pattern when we sin, what is?  After all, believers do sin.  We have times when we do not walk in keeping with our identity.  Sometimes we walk according to the flesh.  Well, there is at least one verse that talks precisely about “when we sin”.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2).

What is it that we should do, what is it that we should remember “if anyone sins”?  We are to recognize that a one-time sacrifice (propitiation) for our sins has already been accomplished for us and for everyone in the world who has believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  And we are to remember that we have an Advocate who declares us righteous before the Father.  The Advocate and the sacrifice are one and the same, Jesus Christ.  There is no pride in this recognition of Christ as our Savior who has already completed the work of saving us.  There is only gratefulness and thanksgiving and praise.

But what about a serious sin, an addiction, a sin that we are having trouble shaking?  Shouldn’t some form of confession and seeking forgiveness be required to come “back to God”?  Let’s look at Paul’s approach to this topic.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2).  The Greek word for “caught” here is not “detected in the act.”  It is more of a “caught in a trap” thought; overtaken in a sin from which it is difficult to break free.  It sounds like what we would think of in today’s terms as an addiction or a besetting sin.

Now the one caught in a sin is not instructed to seek restoration through confession, repentance, and asking God for forgiveness.  No, they are to be restored in their spiritual life by brothers and sisters who are spiritual.  And this restoration is to be done with gentleness, not with shame or condemnation or looking down on our brother.  This restoration is done by those who are spiritual coming alongside.  Those who are spiritual understand how we walk by the Spirit by embracing the power of God’s grace to set us free from sin and sins.  They understand how our new self and new nature are fueled by the power of Christ in us.

Bearing one another’s burdens as we help someone through a sin crisis is extending grace to our friend.  I can speak from personal experience, as many of you could do as well, that helping someone navigate freedom from addictive behaviors can be burdensome on the helper.  But we bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ when we do this.

What brings believers freedom from sinful actions and attitudes?  The knowledge of grace.  The knowledge of who they are in Christ.  The knowledge that the power of Christ is flowing through them and empowering them to find freedom.  These answers to our sin may be short, but they are not just pat answers from Scripture.  I have seen this effect in the testimonies of believers from all around the world.

Grace itself teaches us to live godly lives, not a repeated pattern of confession, repentance, and seeking forgiveness from God.  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).  Walk in the power of God’s grace, my friends.  His death in your place – and the complete forgiveness that came with it – has set you free.

Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness (Part 4 of 5)

Forgiveness Under the Old and New Covenants

Let’s review what the New Testament says about our sins, even new or besetting sins.  “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us ALL our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).  All means all; past, present and future.  All of the guilt for your sins, all of the payment for your sins, all of the forgiveness for your sins needed to wipe the slate clean happened at the cross, and was applied to you the minute you believed.

The beauty of complete forgiveness is best understood in comparing the two covenants; the old and the new.  Let’s look at one passage in particular that makes a specific comparison between the two regarding the forgiveness of sin.  The writer of the book of Hebrews explains a clear distinction between the necessity of over and over forgiveness required under the old covenant and the once for all time forgiveness offered by Jesus and accomplished by His blood under the new covenant.

“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?  But in those sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins year by year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4).

Repeated sacrifices under the old covenant were necessary because the sacrifices only covered, did not take away, the worshippers’ sins.  The blood of bulls and goats could not take the sins away for good.  So repeated sacrifice and forgiveness was required.  Because the author is highlighting the contrast between the two covenants in this chapter, the phrase “the sacrifices can never make perfect those who offer them” under the old covenant suggests that something under the new covenant will make us “perfect” in terms of our guilt and forgiveness.  And this “perfect” is exactly what is coming under the new covenant.

Jumping to the new covenant as we continue in Hebrews chapter 10, “Then Jesus said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will.’  He takes away the first in order to establish the second” (Hebrews 10:9).  When Christ came, He took away the old covenant, “the first”, and established the new covenant, “the second”.  And what was established under the new covenant?

“By God’s will, we have been sanctified [past tense] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but Jesus, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.  For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:10-14).

Please hear these words, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”  That’s us!  There is no nuancing our way out of the straightforward reading of this promise.  Christ’s death was sufficient to perfect you, to eternally cleanse you, from your sin.  So much so that later in this same passage we read, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.  Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin [required].” (Hebrews 10:17-18).  God is not making a playlist of your sins.  God is not remembering your sins.  Why?  Because you have been completely forgiven.  No further offering; no confession, repentance, and seeking forgiveness is required to clear your sin debt with God.

So if repeated confession, repentance, and seeking forgiveness from God is not the pattern of addressing sin in the New Testament, what are we to do when we sin?  I can think of two places where that exact question comes up in the letters of the New Testament.  We will look at those next time.

Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness (Part 3 of 5)

Embracing Our Complete Forgiveness

A big hurdle in understanding our complete forgiveness in Jesus and no need for continuing confession and forgiveness is two thousand years of church history, predominantly coming from the Catholic church.  If you have ever watched Father Brown on PBS, you have heard the well-known start of any good confession, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  It has been four days since my last confession …”  A true Catholic confession includes asking for forgiveness and agreeing to acts of penance and vowing to not sin again.

Somehow, a version of this practice has extended to the Protestant Sunday morning experience.  Maybe it is a sense of fairness that suggests that we should still pay for our sins even post-salvation.  After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch.  You cannot be let off scot-free when it comes to your sin.  Someone needs to pay and it better be you, the perpetrator.  And one way you can pay, even the score, and settle your debt with God is through confession, repentance, and seeking forgiveness.  But that completely misses the point and the result of God’s incredible grace.

And the point it misses is that God’s grace is exactly that; beautifully unfair.  That is what makes it grace.  God’s grace is incredibly free to you and me.  It cost us nothing.  At the cross, Christ took your place as an act of infinite love and grace, and when you believe in Jesus, your guilt is erased for all time.

Another challenge is I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Many believe this is describing an ongoing need for confession and forgiveness.  I believe that in the context of John’s letter as a whole, this verse is an invitation to unbelievers.  It describes what happens when we first acknowledge our sin and embrace Jesus as our Savior.  And God’s promise, in response to our belief in Jesus, is complete forgiveness and cleansing the hour we first believed.  I have written extensively in other places about why I believe this.  Here is a link if you are interested.

It is interesting that later in this same letter when John is clearly speaking to believers with the use of the phrase, “little children”, he emphasizes that we are already forgiven based on the finished work of Jesus.  “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake” (I John 2:12).

Another stumbling block that I briefly addressed in our introduction a few days ago is seeing our relationship with Jesus as similar to our human experience.  The human relationship is by its very nature often transactional.  I hurt you.  I acknowledge to you what I have done.  You choose to forgive me.  We confess to each other when we have sinned against our brother or sister.  A distance grows between us when we fail to do these things.  But our connection to Christ is NOT transactional; it is not “I confess and He forgives” in an ongoing nature.  No, we have already been completely forgiven.  You cannot look at our human relationships as a pattern for our new life with Jesus.

Like many things of grace, it is hard to accept a complete forgiveness because it sounds too good to be true.  We have all been taught to be suspicious of something that sounds too good to be true.  But this time, it is true.  God’s incredible grace is just that good.  But it does behoove us to ask, “Is that really so?  Is Jay just on some kind of complete forgiveness soapbox?  What does the Bible actually say about our sin?”  Let’s look at the Scriptures behind these ideas next time.

Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness (Part 2 of 5)

“Repent”:  a Word Study

Our first hurdle in believing our complete forgiveness in Christ is understanding the word “repent” and its use in the gospels.  Two thousand years of church history have distorted the word “repent” to mean some kind of sorrow or penance or ongoing confession of our sin.  But its use in the New Testament is much more straightforward and may not be what you have been taught.  So what exactly is meant by the word “repent” in the New Testament?

If we turn to our Blue Letter Bible app, we find the word “repent” used 26 times in the New American Standard version of the New Testament.  Every one of those times, it is translated from the Greek word “metanoeō”.  You might recognize “meta” means “change” as in our English word metamorphosis.  And “noeō” refers to how we think or perceive.  Strong’s Concordance defines “metanoeō” as “to change one’s mind or purpose.”

To repent is to change one’s mind or purpose.  What kind of change of mind is John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul referring to in the New Testament?

“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “ (Matthew 3:1-2).  What is John’s message?  As a preparer of the way for the Messiah, John is proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven is coming.”  And if you read the rest of what John had to say in the gospels, you learn that he is referring to the kingdom coming in the form of a person, Jesus.  And because of the coming of Jesus, there is something to change your mind about.

In Matthew chapter 4, we are introduced to Jesus’ first proclamation of the gospel and it is a repeat of John’s message.  “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ “ (Matthew 4:17).  There is something Jesus wants us to change our mind about and it is related to Him now being here – “the kingdom of heaven at hand.”

Mark expands on this message when he introduces us to Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel.  “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ “ (Mark 1:14-15).  Now we have our first clue regarding what we are called to change our mind about.  Here Jesus says that changing one’s mind involves believing in the gospel.  As Jesus continues to preach a message of repentance throughout the gospels, it boils down to changing our mind about how one is made right with God.

Jumping to the book of Acts, we see the context for how the apostles used the word repent.  In his famous sermon recorded in Acts chapter 2, Peter proclaims, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit“ (Acts 2:38).  The context of “repent” in this verse is the need for unbelievers to receive the gospel message and be forgiven.

Peter’s next recorded sermon includes the same call to repent.  “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).  Peter is again preaching a gospel message to those who have not yet received Christ.  “Repent and return” sounds like changing directions.  “You were believing one thing.  Now believe something new.  Believe the gospel message of Jesus Christ and your sins will be wiped away, your sins will be forgiven.”

The apostle Paul adds, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30).  Paul declares that the gospel message of repentance, the need to change your mind and believe in Jesus, is for all people everywhere.

Later in Paul’s testimony we read, “But I kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20).  Repent and turn.  Again, a gospel message of salvation.  Change your mind.  Do a one-eighty.  Turn from whatever you were believing and turn to God.

Finally we come full circle back to John the Baptist.  Paul reminds us of what John’s call to repentance was about.  “Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus’ “ (Acts 19:4).  John’s message of repentance and all those after him was the same; change your mind and believe in Jesus.

Now admittedly, this is a very brief overview of “repent”.  But I think it captures the flavor of its use in the New Testament.  When you put the use and context of “repent” together, “repent” has to do with basically one thing.  Change your mind about how you are made right with God.  Repentance is about salvation.  I believe it is that simple.  An expanded definition that I would give for the word “repent” as used in the New Testament is “change your mind about whatever you are trusting in now and believe the gospel message of Jesus Christ.”

So why have we added all these layers to repentance in our Christian experience?  I have some ideas that I will share next time.

Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness (Part 1 of 5)


In churches across America this week, there will be a time set aside to repent of your sins.  A time to confess your sins.  A time to seek God’s forgiveness.  But is this the pattern for addressing sin in the New Testament?

Before we answer that question, let’s talk about why this matters.  If you believe that you are completely forgiven, if you believe that there is no separation between you and the Father, and if you believe that you cannot stop the flow of love and grace that God is extending to His children, then any suggestion that God is holding your sins against you goes against all that we believe about our right standing with God.  Complete forgiveness, no distance or separation, no stopping the love of God are clear teachings of the New Testament.

When we suggest that confession, repentance, and seeking forgiveness from God are necessary for believers to get close to or stay close to God, we undermine all of these promises.  The cross worked, and any teaching of our current or besetting sins separating us from the Father is taking us back to an old covenant system of condemnation and separation; an old covenant system of sin management.

I have heard it preached this way.  Think about your human relationships.  When we sin against each other and don’t own up to that, there is a distance created in our connection.  (This is absolutely true, by the way.)  But the preaching illustration continues that it is the same with God.  Just like in human relationships, our fellowship with God is damaged by our sin.  A distance from God is created by our sin.

But this illustration completely misses a critical point.  Our life with Jesus is NOT like any human relationship.  It is founded completely upon His grace.  He is beyond gracious to us in every way.  Why?  Because our sin was taken care of at the cross.  Christ paid the price for us.  There is no more sacrifice, offering, repentance, or penance required of us once we have believed the gospel message of Jesus.  And teaching that there is more required adds a heaviness to our walk with Jesus that steals our joy.

Jesus said in many places that He came to make our joy full.  How can we be joyful, how can we live at peace, how can we experience His rest when we are taught to always be looking over our shoulder for where we are messing up?  Jesus taught what He taught, Jesus said what He said, and Jesus promised what He promised to bring us joy, peace, and rest.  He did not come to bring us angst, sorrow, or condemnation.

Do believers commit sins?  Yes.  Do I sin?  Yes.  And when I do, I agree with God that it is a sin.  This post isn’t about sweeping sin under the rug.  I am sorry when I sin.  I am sorry that I did not live into my new identity in Jesus.  And I am thankful that I have an Advocate in Jesus Christ who has paid the price and that sin is already forgiven.  There is no hand-wringing or promise of deeper commitment required.  Growing in grace is what helps us mature and grow into walking more and more in line with who we are in Christ.  Growing in grace helps us cooperate in godly ways with Christ living His life through us.

If anything in this introduction has cause a “uh?” or quizzical reaction, please stick with us for all five parts to this series.  There is a lot to unfold and maybe a few things to unlearn.  But I believe it will illuminate one more beautiful aspect of our freedom in Christ.  So back to our topic at the top; why do church leaders embrace this confession, repent, and seek forgiveness practice?  We will talk about it next time.