The Godly Confess Their Sins

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(1 John 1:9)

(Devotion Drawn from the Old Testament)

Non-Christians—and often Christians—have the misconception that only evil and unrighteous people must confess their sins.  Examples from both the Old and New Testaments indicate that the godly confess their sins.

When an Old Testament believer brought a sin offering to God’s altar he laid his hands upon the creature’s head, confessed aloud his sins, and then, after receiving the knife from the priest, he slew the sacrifice.  The guilt (or “trespass”) offering was a subsidiary kind of sin offering, and there is record of a pious Jew who, before the Temple’s destruction in 70AD, brought a guilt offering to the Temple daily![1]

As the sinner (not the priest) slew the sacrifice for his own sin or guilt offering, we realize that our sins slay the sacrifice—the sacrifice ultimately being Jesus on the cross. Observe that before slaying his sacrifice, a man would confess aloud his sins while placing his hand upon the head of the sacrifice. The hymnist Isaac Watts realized this Old Testament picture of Christ:

“My faith would lay its hand, on that dear head of Thine, / While as a penitent I stand, and there confess my sin.”  (LSB, 431:3)

Godly people throughout history have realized the necessity of confessing their sins before God; they take sin seriously, they want sin gone. In our Old Testament example, confession of sins was an audible confession of sins in the presence of God’s called minister (in this case, an OT priest).  The confession of sin—whether spoken aloud before a minister or spoken personally in prayer—also demonstrates that the godly sincerely believe that God, for Christ’s sake, desires to grant forgiveness.

As further evidence that the godly regularly confess their sins, Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses.”  It is the godly that pray this prayer.  When Jesus gave the gift of absolution to His Church, He fully expected the godly to be the penitents who would receive this absolution. The ungodly do not repent.

In the Old and New Testaments we observe parallel admonitions/descriptions of the godly seeking forgiveness.  In Psalm 32:5 David teaches us:  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. The Apostle John similarly exhorts, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [1 Jn 1:5]. Note how both David and John include themselves in this need to confess sins.  The godly seek God’s forgiveness, for the godly reel from the fact that they daily sin much.

Spirit of Christ, move us to behave as godly, penitent people, confessing our sins; and with our spiritual hands upon the head of Christ enable us to realize that He was slain for our forgiveness. Amen.

[1] Adolph Buchler, Types of Jewish Palestinian Piety from 70 B.C.E. to 70 C.E. (London: Jews’ College, 1922), 73.