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What is confession?

Confession is a crucial stage in the process of true forgiveness.

As we have read, it’s that point at which “shams are over and realities have begun.” Confession is the deep, life-giving dynamic of repentance finding intentional expression to those who have been wronged by one’s words or actions.

Here are seven (7) qualties of genuine confession. Others, such as Jim Van Yperen of "Metanoia Ministries" and author of Making Peace, reinforce the identity of these qualities. 

Qualities of genuine confession 

1.  Confession is first to God.

As we dealt with in the preceding post, "Why confess to God?", we first confess our wrong to God. This is because all wrong, whether limited to the intimacy of our thought-life, or involving another human, is committed against God.

2.  Confession is personal.

This means that confession is not indirect, but personal and direct. Speak to the person or persons you have offended or injured. Don’t use an intermediary and (if possible) avoid putting your confession in writing (a letter or email) – these can sometimes be counterproductive if later used as “evidence.”  

It is best to meet face-to-face. This gives the best context for open, clear communication. As Van Yperen suggests, begin with a personal opening statement, such as “Paul, I want to speak to you and ask your forgiveness.”

3.  Confession is in context.

In general terms, confession should take place in the same sphere in which the sin or offence was committed.

If the offence is a wrong thought or motive that has not found expression in speech or action, the context for confession is between you and God alone.

If you did or said something to a person, and just the two of you were present, then your confession is to that other person only.

If the wrong took place before others in a wider public context, that is the place for your confession. This is how those who have been wronged, or who observed the wrong, know that repentance has taken place and forgiveness is being requested. 

4.  Confession is specific and succinct.

You should name your offence or sin specifically, yet briefly. For example, “Paul, I was wrong to have called you a [fool].” Your confession should admit that you violated a boundary of your relationship with that person. In the context of this example, Jesus makes it clear that an outburst of anger (without cause), insults, or demeaning language is a breach of relationship (Matthew 5:21-26).   

5.  Confession is unconditional and comprehensive.

You make no defense for your offence. Don’t excuse your action with words like “I did it because you ...” or “I was under a lot of pressure at work.”

Confess your sin for what it is.

6.  Confession promises change.

Van Yperen uses the example of a person making a commitment: “I know that I have been using alcohol as a way to relieve my stress. I’m going to AA, so that I stop drinking and never do this to you or anyone else again ....”

7.  Confession seeks full reconciliation.

Reconciliation is the desired goal of the process of forgiveness.

Asking for the forgiveness of the other person is a healthy part of confession. It expresses the desire for the restoring or healing of the relationship. The aim of confession is to reestablish the relationship fully, not simply to get rid of the burden of your sin or offence.

In some cases, much time has passed and people have moved away, or the actual relationship just can't be restored (e.g., divorce and remarriage). However, forgiveness can take place in "releasing" the offending party from his or her offence.

An illustration

Throughout this series we have returned to Jesus' 'story' of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31).

The son expresses his repentance in his confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (15:21) – enough has been heard; the rest is interrupted by the father’s commands to his servants as they prepare to celebrate a relationship returned to life.

Wonderful story! 

What do you think?

Some may argue that this is too hard, or too humiliating.

The process of forgiveness is neither easy nor cheap. Whether you are the offender or the offended, there is cost and pain involved in the journey of forgiveness.

Also, keep in mind the cost, pain, and lasting loss of not pursuing the path of forgiveness. Wrecked relationships, alienated people, anger and bitterness, and enduring regret are only some of the wounds that never heal; they can only be anesthetized or deaden.

Where would we be if God himself did not engage in the process of forgiveness? What if he just wrote us off and moved on? The cross of Jesus Christ is the evidence that forgiveness is neither easy nor cheap (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).

Is there someone to whom you need to confess your wrong and ask for forgiveness? 

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