Why should I confess my sins if they are forgiven already?


Posted by Matt Postiff November 20, 2009 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Interpretation 
The issue of the forgiveness of sins is obviously dear to all Christians. But some believers have found it difficult to understand how a Christian's sins can be said to be completely forgiven (Col. 2:13, 1 John 2:12) and yet at the same time that confession of sin is a necessary element of the Christian's life (1 John 1:9, James 4:8, 5:15-16; see also Lev. 5:5, Num. 5:7, Ezra 10:1, Neh. 9:2-3, Psalm 32:5, Prov. 28:13, Daniel 9:4, 9:20). They might ask, "Why should I confess my sins when they are all forgiven already?"

The answer is that there are two aspects of forgiveness: the initial and the ongoing. All of the Christian's sins have been totally forgiven at the point of salvation (Eph. 1:7, Rom. 4:6-8, Heb. 10:17). God will not deal with us according as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10-13).

Sins are committed in a believer's life, however, and affect the believer's communion with God. Though sin does not sever the relationship (Heb. 13:5), it does disturb or unsettle things in that relationship. These sins do not expose the believer to eternal punishment, but God calls us to deal with them seriously (1 Cor. 11: 31) and may chasten us in order to make us more holy (1 Cor. 11:32, Heb. 12:5-11). In so doing, God deals with us as children, and this gives us assurance that we are indeed His children.

Note carefully that both types of forgiveness do have to do with the believer's relationship to God. The initial aspect of forgiveness deals with the establishment of the relationship, and the ongoing aspect of forgiveness deals with the temporal harmony of the relationship.

It cannot be denied that sin does affect the relationship that a person has with God. It does not void the relationship, but it does have an impact on it. This is evident from the passage in 1 Peter 3:7, in which husbands are told to live with their wives in an understanding way, lest their prayers be hindered. The hindrance obviously refers to sin in the marriage relationship, and such sin causes a breach in the believing husband's prayers with God.

Burdick explains it this way: "The forgiveness and cleansing which follow [confession] are necessary for a person to be in fellowship with God. It must be remembered that this epistle was written to those who already are forgiven (2:12). John is not here speaking of the initial forgiveness of sin which occurs at the point of salvation. At that time the guilt of all one's sins--past, present and future--is forgiven. The forgiveness of this verse, however, is an experience which comes after salvation. Its function is to remove that which has disturbed the believer's fellowship with God. Whereas the former is a legal remission of guilt, the latter is the Father's forgiveness of His child to restore undisturbed communion. To those who confess their sins, this forgiveness, like initial forgiveness, is assured by the faithfulness and justice of God." (Donald W. Burdick, The Epistles of John [Chicago: Moody Press, 1970], p. 26-27, in the Everyman's Bible Commentary series).

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