How to Confess Your Sins to God
The Benefit of Confession
The Book of Proverbs says, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (28:13). Confession is indispensable to salvation. Not only are sinners converted by confession, but every victory in the Christian life comes by confession and a linked faith in Christ.
By confession, we obtain a clean, clear conscience. It is also by this thorough, deep work of confession that the heart of a Christian is softened. When a Christian's heart is thus broken up, he or she is in a place of feeling for the lost. He or she will see clearly the spiritual condition of the lost, the church, ministers, friends, and family members. This will produce agony and urgency and birth a Spirit of prayer that will prevail with God. Without this soft, broken-up heart, you will be cold and unfeeling towards God and with respect to the salvation of others.
Confession and Repentance
A true confession includes repentance. Repentance is a change of mind and heart about sin. Instead of loving sin, you set your love on Jesus.
At conversion, you make this commitment to love Jesus first. Then, the Spirit of Christ will take up residence inside of you. As a result, you will hate sin. You will no longer have any interest in going back to the sins that you've confessed–or to any sin at all. The Spirit of God who is in you will purify your heart. He will put a love for God and others in your heart. He will change your desires, and your natural inclination will be to obey God.
Usually, we do not have a full sense of our sins at conversion–nor is such a full sense necessary for conversion. Conversion is the decision to yield everything to Jesus, and to do and to give up anything he would ask of you. You start with the light you have; and as you get greater light on your duty and on your sin, you continue in that place of submission to Jesus.
Thus, while this exercise is not necessary to conversion, it is highly profitable for the usefulness, growth, and ultimate salvation of a Christian. We recommend completing this exercise as soon as possible after you are converted.
Make a list of your sins
To make a thorough list of your sins, begin with an examination of conscience.
Bring the examination, along with a pen or pencil and paper, into your private place of prayer. Prayerfully read the examination and write down your sins. Be sure to include sins against God and sins against other people. Then, confess them out loud to God. As you confess, you will think of more sins. Add these to the list. Repeat this process several times, until you have an assurance that you are clean and clear with Jesus.
During the verbal confession, you should:
- Confess your sins honestly, remembering that you are disclosing them not to a man but to God Himself, Who already knows your sins, but wishes you to admit to them.
- Confess all of your sins in full, each sin separately.
- Do not complain about others during confession or talk about their sins. You would be condemning them, thus committing another sin.
- In confession, do not attempt to justify yourself in any way, blaming weakness, habit, etc. The more you justify yourself, the less you will be justified by God, while the more you condemn your actions, the more you will be justified by God.
- Do not talk about sins you have not committed in an attempt to justify yourself. This is emulating the Pharisee in the Gospel who only praised himself and did not confess his sins.
- We must confess with sorrow and a contrite heart the sins by which we have grieved our Lord God. Speaking matter-of-factly or casually about sins committed or laughing during confession reflect a lack of repentance.
- For each sin that you confess, let the Holy Spirit show you what it is about God’s character or his law that makes your sin so offensive. When you see each one of your sins in particular, the way God sees them, you will naturally feel a hatred in your heart for that sin. This will keep you from ever going back to that sin again. In this way, you will effectively break off from all of your sins, forever.
- Finally, confess your sins with faith in Jesus Christ, with hope in His mercy and confidence in His love for you.
Next, you need to make restitution. In a new list, write down the names of every person you have wronged or hurt. Who have you lied to? Who have you stolen from? Whose sins have you participated in—either by counsel, command, consent, provocation, praise or flattery, concealment, participation, remaining silent, or defending the sin committed? Confess to God any sins that were not previously confessed in the first exercise.
Then, to the best of your ability, you need to make it right with every person on the list. Some examples of restitution include:
- If you lied to someone, you need to talk to the person, tell them that you lied, and tell them the truth.
- If you stole something, you need to tell the person or business what you stole and return it or pay it back.
- If you bought alcohol or tobacco for someone—underage or not—you need to tell the person that what you did was wrong and ask them to forgive you.
- If you’ve been living with someone you’re not married to, one of you needs to move out—and you need to talk about why it’s wrong. If children are involved, you need to explain to the children that it was wrong and take the blame.
- If you sinned against the church, you need to make a public confession before the congregation. For example, you may have lived a double life. Perhaps you were very involved in church, taught Sunday school, and created the impression that you were a good, upstanding Christian. But, secretly, you watched pornography and engaged in extramarital affairs. It would be right for you to confess to the church your specific sins, admit that you had been living as a hypocrite, and that you intentionally misled the church into thinking that you were righteous when you were not.
Make all the restitution that is possible.
Forgive Those Who've Wronged You
Lastly, you need to forgive those who have wronged or hurt you. In your private place of prayer, create a final list of names of everyone who has wronged you or hurt you. Out loud, one-by-one, tell God what the person did to you. Acknowledge that it was wrong. Say what the person owes you. Then, decide with God that you will not try to collect what the person owes you. You release them from all debt. Ask God to forgive them.
Example: Lord God, my brother got angry and cursed at me. I take my part of the blame for provoking him. But, regardless of my behavior, it was wrong for him to curse at me. He owes me an apology and kindness. But, I will not hold this against him. I forgive him. I will tell him in kindness that what he did was wrong, but not because I want an apology—but because I want him to repent and get right with you, Lord God. I ask that you will forgive him for cursing at me. Amen.
How to Confess to a Brother, Sister, or the Church
In some cases, even if you haven't sinned against a particular individual, it’s profitable to confess one’s sin to a member of the church, or in a church prayer meeting.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16)
This does not substitute for confession to God. But, it is sometimes helpful to have someone pray for you and to hold you accountable. For example, if you have backslidden and begun drinking alcohol, you may find strength and victory in confessing this sin to a brother or sister, repenting, and asking them to pray for you.
If you are converted but still in bondage to a particular sin, it is likely due to a theological misunderstanding about who God is or what sin is. Thus, confessing your sin to a trustworthy, spiritual person who can identify and correct the error is prudent.
If you are in a prayer meeting, and you recognize that you've sinned and haven't confessed, you should confess your sin right away in the prayer meeting. That way you can be clear with God and will have authority with God to pray successfully for others.
As with a confession to God, your confession to another should rightly condemn yourself as guilty before a just and holy God. It should emerge from a contrite, repentant heart and include a view of God that incites a hatred for that sin. In this way, you will be free and never go back to that sin again.
Keep Short Accounts
Finally, after you have done this work of thorough confession, keep a short account with God and with others. If someone sins against you, forgive them right away. If you sin, confess and repent right away and make any restitution necessary.
It is helpful to end each day with a time of prayer in which you review the events of the day and take note of anywhere that you failed to do your duty, committed a sin, or made a mistake. Then, confess, repent, and forsake these shortcomings.
If you find that your heart is cold, hard, or unfeeling, it is due to sin. Search it out and get clean!
Portions of this post were adapted from “A Proper Confession“