What Happens When I Don’t Confess My Sins?

by TOvermiller

A friend asked me a very important question yesterday.

What happens if I don’t confess my sin?

Statements like Matthew 6:12 and 1 John 1:9 speak to born again children of God primarily. So Christians should confess their sins? Yes, we should.

But what does this mean?

The word confess means to “say the same thing.” When you confess your sin, you must agree specifically with whomever you have offended or mistreated (whether God or another human being). So when I tell a lie, I confess that by speaking to God and saying, “God, I told a lie. I was dishonest. Please forgive me. I was wrong. You are right.” And then I must confess to the person(s) who heard me tell the lie, saying something like this: “I lied to you. I did not tell the truth. Please forgive me.”

You do not confess when you say something creative and clever, such as: “I messed up (or flubbed, or misspoke or made a mistake, etc.).” This does not agree with God.

When a child of God sins, he or she does not stop being a child of God. (Hear the helpful podcast audio, Permanent Salvation, here.) The moment you depend completely on Jesus for salvation, He saves you by His grace and never lets go. So what about confession? Is it necessary then?

For the child of God, confession is a very important practice to embrace. Here’s what happens when you refuse to confess your sins by agreeing with God and getting on His side of your failures. Consider this list of seven side-effects.

  • You walk in darkness (1 John 1:3-7).
  • You do not prosper spiritually (Prov. 28:13).
  • You will experience physical, emotional and psychological distress (Psa. 32:3-4).
  • You do not receive open access to God in prayer (Psa. 66:18).
  • You are unable to genuinely worship God  (Matt. 5:23-24).
  • You are unable to enjoy close fellowship with people you have affected (Matt. 5:23-24).
  • You experience parental discipline from God (Heb. 12:5-11).

Yes, refusal or failure to confess your sin does not nullify your relationship with God; but the side-effects are serious nonetheless.

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Daniel September 3, 2018 - 5:11 am

The problem that you and so many others fail to address is: what about those sins we don’t confess?

I mean, do you seriously think you’ve confessed every single sin from the time you were born again untul now? Every time you worried, or complained, or entertained a judgmental thought, etc. ?

TOvermiller September 3, 2018 - 7:28 am

Good question, Daniel. To answer this question, I would distinguish between *known* sin and *unknown* sin. When you know that you have committed sin, then you should acknowledge that sin to God and receive forgiveness. But David recognizes – like we all should do – that we do not know, recognize, or remember all of our sins. He said, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of a great transgression” (Psalm 19:12-13).

Ultimately, God does not forgive our sins *because* we remember them. He forgives our sins on the basis of the shed blood of Christ and the riches of his grace. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). This forgiveness occurs when you believe on Jesus Christ for salvation (Acts 10:43).

Daniel September 20, 2018 - 12:19 am

Hey, thanks for the reply. I really do appreciate you interacting with me. This is the problem I have: I feel like you’re giving me double talk. We receive forgiveness when we confess, but we were really forgiven because of his blood, not because we confessed.

Then if someone (Joseph Prince for example) comes preaching that all our sins were forgiven the moment we were saved, regardless of confession, they will be maligned and labelled as “hypergrace” or even a heretic or false teacher, when they are actually just saying what most Christians already believe to some extent. I just wish people were a bit more thoughtful when they dealt with these kind of questions.

TOvermiller September 20, 2018 - 8:07 am

Daniel, thanks for listening and being thoughtful in your reply. The question is, then, whether John wrote 1 John 1:9 to believers or nonbelievers. I would suggest that he wrote to believers. For instance, John assumed that his audience was genuinely born again. He frequently referred to them in the collective first person (“we”), showing that he was personally convinced they shared the reality of eternal life together with him. In addition, he called them “little children” and “my brethren.” The following direct statements by John underscore this conclusion even further:

  • “Your sins are forgiven” (2:12).
  • “Ye have known him…ye have overcome the wicked one…ye have known the Father” (2:13).
  • “Ye have known him…ye are strong…the word of God abideth in you…ye have overcome the wicked one” (2:14).
  • “You…believe on the name of the Son of God” (5:13).
  • Since this is the case, then there *must* be a sense in which a believer whose sins have been forgiven in a permanent, judicial, positional, and comprehensive way will need to confess his or her sins throughout his or her Christian life, but not for salvation. In this case it is for practical, relational, and spiritual health. I hope this makes sense and helps you work this out. God bless you Daniel.

    walter james May 7, 2019 - 2:04 pm

    TOvermiller, just a thought…is it possible that John (John 1:9) was referring to his fellow Hebrew brothers when he was saying “we” as Paul did in the book of Hebrews?

    TOvermiller May 7, 2019 - 8:46 pm

    Walter, thanks for reaching out to ask this question. Commentators and contextual clues both seem to suggest quite convincingly that John wrote this letter to a church or group of churches who were being attacked by false teaching, not to ethnic Hebrews per se.

    anonymous May 30, 2019 - 9:13 am

    Do we need to confess childhood sins to others or just GOD? I’m asking because kids don’t really understand sin etc.

    TOvermiller May 30, 2019 - 9:19 am

    Any person who understands sin should confess his/her sin to God and to whomever else they offended (if anyone). Children, not just adults, can walk with God. See my post here on this subject. When this personal understanding begins is likely different for every person.

    anonymous May 30, 2019 - 9:20 am

    What if we aren’t able to confess sins to all the people we wronged because we have no way of seeing them or getting intouch with them.

    TOvermiller May 30, 2019 - 9:24 am

    You can only do what you can do. Ultimately, a principle like Matt 5:23-24 applies to a person you’ve offended in the past and is someone you can “go to.” If you can no longer contact them, God knows. Ultimately, restoring your relationship with such people is to restore that relationship. If such a person is no longer available or accessible, then there is no relationship to restore anyway. In such a case, you can simply speak to God about the matter. Make sense?

    anonymous May 30, 2019 - 4:11 pm

    Thanks for answering my questions. Yes I get it. Yes the person I offened was a stranger. I was a teenager at the time doing immature things that I regret. I knew of them through someone else on social media. They were on the friend list of the person I knew at the time. They didn’t know who I was as well and I offened them online and on the telephone. I did it anonymously as well. Yea this situation is a little bit unique seeing I didn’t know the person personally or had a friendship with. I didn’t know how to go about making it right which is why I asked the question. I asked GOD for forgiveness. I don’t want my prayers unheard because of this. I wish I can go back and make better choices. Thank you.

    TOvermiller May 30, 2019 - 4:12 pm

    So glad to help! God bless you.

    Anonymous November 6, 2019 - 5:16 pm

    What about confessing sins to people that have no idea you have wronged them? What if when you confess your sin to them it would make a great relationship turn into a very painful ordeal for them and all involved? Is it enough that I confess it to God?

    TOvermiller November 6, 2019 - 5:33 pm

    Thanks for reaching out. The answer to your question depends on a variety of factors. There is no reason to confess wrong internal thoughts or feelings towards or against another person, for instance. You can speak directly to God about such things because he alone knows the thoughts of your heart (Psa 139:2). Beyond that, I would recommend that you seek out some biblical counseling from a reliable Christian in your life, such as your pastor or spiritual mentor, who can provide helpful guidance for your particular situation.

    Mackendra January 18, 2020 - 6:59 pm

    What if the sin only harmed you and God? Do you still have to confess?

    TOvermiller January 18, 2020 - 7:32 pm

    Mackendra, without knowing about the specific case in mind, the general principle is to speak candidly to God in such a case. If you want to confide in another brother or sister in Christ for the sake of future accountability, you may. Hope that helps!

    John June 22, 2020 - 8:34 pm

    I’ve wronged some people many years ago and feel horrible for the things I’ve done and asked God for forgiveness but really confused on repentance and its consuming my life what should I do i hope that can also pray for it

    TOvermiller June 26, 2020 - 2:09 pm

    John, thanks for reaching out! And please accept my apology for such a delayed response. I’ve been away from my computer for nearly a week and am back in touch only today. Regarding your questions(s), I have two related questions for you:

    1. Have you been able to speak with your pastor about your situation(s)?
    2. Are you able to communicate with the people you have in mind here?

    God bless! (Also, feel free to reach out to me privately through the contact form on this site if you prefer to do so.)


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