by Tim Isbell
#guilt, #confession, #forgiveness

I originally wrote this post to help people confess to God, but the same principles apply in confessing to another person, which I address near the end.

Confession is not a one-time thing; it's a key to Christian growth. It is the missing link that many Christians need to move to the next level of maturity. We need to learn how to confess just as we need to learn to pray, study Scripture, serve, and worship. A good working knowledge of confession is essential to holy living.

Satan and God work differently. Satan accuses us of sins to keep us in bondage. He does not want us to confess. He urges us to deny our sins, make excuses, sink into discouragement, and feel embarrassed that we won’t come before God.

God is different! He convicts us of sin to draw us to confess so that he can forgive. Confession is the treatment God prescribes when we reject his place in our life, or when we violate his instructions for behaviors or attitudes in living. In God’s heart is an instinct toward mercy and a desire to forgive and restore — that’s why he set in motion the redemptive process that led to the cross and culminated in the resurrection.

Benefits of confessing to God

  1. He forgives us (1 John 1.9).
  2. He releases us from feelings of guilt.
  3. He reassures us of our adoption into his family (1 John 5.13 and Rom 8.16). I suspect the key for many who claim to follow Christ but don’t “feel” saved is that they need to go honestly through the process of confession.
  4. He promises power so that we can stop sinning (1 John 4.4, Romans 8.1-2 and 1 Corinthians 10.13).
  5. Confession unlocks our potential to minister effectively for the Lord.

Steps of confessing to God

1. Examine your conscience by inviting God to identify any particular sin(s).

Periodically use some private worship time to ask God to convict you of anything that needs confession. For example, pray Psalm 139.23-24. Then spend a few minutes in meditation so he can direct your mind. Don’t settle for generalized guilt, expect God to identify very specific sins. Refuse to get sidetracked into subdividing the blame to other people, keep the focus on your areas of responsibility.

2. Look through the eyes of God at the sin long enough to feel sorrow.

Sorrow is abhorrence at committing sin — a deep regret for offending the heart of our Holy Father. Think how you feel when you realize that you have betrayed or embarrassed a spouse or close friend. Since God loves us even more than our friend, God feels more sorrow when we betray or embarrass him. Look at your sin until you can label it: intolerable.

3. Determine to avoid that sin in the future.

Sure, we need God’s help to resist temptation. We also need to decide to avoid repeating the sin. The mindset of being conquered and ruled by God is essential in confession and crucial in resisting temptation.

4. Determine what you can do to help restore the relationship.

Talk to your pastor about how to build a healthy relationship with God, or read Celebration of Disciplines by Richard Foster. If your sin caused damage to another person, think about how you can restore some of their brokenness.

5. Articulate or write down your confession, including each of the steps 1-4.

Suppose you are at a local store and hit a parked car, denting their fender. Nobody saw you, so you just drive off. You have sinned against the other car owner and God. Your confession might sound like this: “Holy Father, I realize that I sinned by ducking responsibility when I damaged the car. I claim to follow you, but I failed to take responsibility for bending a bit of metal while you took responsibility for all my sins even to the point of death. What I did was intolerable, and I see how it embarrasses you. Please forgive me. I promise to take responsibility for such behavior in the future. I will talk with the store owner to see if he can help me find the owner of the car I damaged so that I can take responsibility.”

6. Let go of the guilt, it’s over, live in the freedom of God’s forgiveness.

Confession includes sorrow but ends in joy. Scripture teaches “redemptive remembering.” This means we do not sit around remembering our sin; instead, we remember how God redeemed us from our sin.


What if I still feel guilty?

Many know the forgiveness of sin through private confession. For other people or other sins, forgiveness and release remain elusive. Here’s some good news: we have not exhausted our resources nor God’s grace when we have tried private confession. The next step is confessing to another Christian who stands in place of Christ.

Consider these quotes from solid Christian teachers.

  • Richard Foster: “In acts of mutual confession we release a power that heals, humanity is no longer denied, but it is transformed. The followers of Jesus Christ are given the authority to receive the confession of sin and to forgive it in his name.”
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Our brother... has been given to us to help us. He hears the confession of our sins in Christ’s stead, and he forgives our sins in Christ’s name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to my brother and confess, I am going to God.”
  • The Book of Common Prayer: “If there be any of you who by [private confession of our sins to God] cannot quiet his own conscience, but requires further comfort or counsel, let him come to me or to some other [Christian] of God’s word, and open his grief.” 
  • From Jesus: “Jesus said to them again, ‘... If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:21-23).

How to implement this kind of confession:

1. Identify a confessor, a discrete Christian brother or sister, who understands confession. Ask for an appointment for them to hear your confession.

2. They meet you in an attitude of quietness, waiting for you to articulate your confession. They do not discount your guilt by saying, “That’s not so bad, I don’t think you need to worry so much about it.” They will not take on the role of counselor. They will simply listen, only asking the occasional question for clarification.

3. They will set the cross between themselves and you. They are not your confessor because they are better than you, but because Christ gave them his authority to extend his forgiveness (John 20.21-23 or James 5.16).

4. After hearing your confession, they may say: “You have confessed a sinful behavior or attitude. According to Scripture and in the name of Jesus Christ, I offer you forgiveness in the name of our Lord.” This is not strange. Suppose you offended Mary last week, and then she went away on a long trip. Before Mary left, she told her friend George what you did to her. Mary told George that if you come to him while she’s gone, and tell him how you hurt her, that George has Mary’s permission to extend her forgiveness to you. It’s the same thing. Jesus has given his followers the authority to forgive sins for him, promising to stand behind the forgiveness we extend. Awesome responsibility!

5. Your confessor will pray for you, perhaps resting a hand on your shoulder, thanking God for the forgiveness that he comes through Jesus.

For more on this level of confession/forgiveness, be sure to check out Transforming Partnerships.

Applying this process to offenses against another person

This brochure teaches how we can confess our sins to God. With only slight modification, these same steps apply when we are guilty of offending another person and need to confess to them and ask their forgiveness. For additional reading on this subject, try Forgive and Forget, by Lewis Smedes.

Helpful links

Freedom from Guilt, Shame, and Bad Habits

Overcoming Temptation

Transforming Partnerships

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