If Jesus' death on the cross covers our sins, do we need to confess them to be forgiven?

Apr 19, 2019 12:00 AM

The Raising of the Cross

Rembrandt van Rijn

Recently a friend asked me a question I think is most appropriate for Good Friday:

I have a question. What do you believe scripture teaches when it comes to confession of sin as a believer? Growing up Baptist it was taught that we daily sin and must ask forgiveness to keep a right relationship with the Lord. While I agree we are not perfect yet, and scripture does speak of confessing sin, is it scriptural to believe that it should be a daily habit to ask for forgiveness? If our sin is paid for and we have been forgiven of all our sin, then why should we feel the need to live under the burden of it still?

I ask this because I have met Christians on opposites sides of this belief. I think one side lives burdened with the sin already paid, while the other lives as if they can do no wrong and are self-righteous. I tend to believe it is somewhere in the middle and that we should confess real sin, but not be burdened by it knowing that it is paid for.

What are your thoughts?

That's a worthwhile discussion to have for the very reason you point out: there are Christians on opposite sides of the issue. But they shouldn't be. The New Testament is not unclear but is often fogged by fuzzy presuppositions and bad teaching coming both from legalists and libertines.

First, the prayer for forgiveness is embedded in the prayer our Lord taught his disciples to pray to "our Father." So. when a believer prays for forgiveness it is from the perspective of one to whom it has already been tacitly granted, for he prays not as a petitioner to a judge but as a child to a father. (By the way, if you've ever wondered as I have why the Catholics pray "forgive us our trespasses" while Protestants pray "forgive us our debts," we use the Matthew version, while Catholics use that of Luke 11.) And yes, there is conditionality in that prayer, as there always is when a parent is testing the obedience of the child.

Of course, 1 John 1:8-10 explicitly teaches us to confess our sins and tells us why it's necessary. (Some people try to weasel out of the plain meaning of that with a literal Greek rendering of homologeo as "to say the same thing," but etymology does not equal definition, and the word means what it means: to confess.)

But do we not, according to Ephesians 1:7, already have forgiveness of sins through the redemption of Christ's blood according to the riches of his grace? Yes. Absolutely. Indeed, in Christ Jesus we are blessed (present perfect tense) with EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (v. 3). So how is it that we access ANY of those blessings?

Through prayer, perhaps? As in asking for them in the specific situation of need?

You see my point, I'm sure. We do not pray for any blessing in order to secure it, but in order to access it, to receive it not as a general, overall, unspecified blessing, but as the provision of our Lord for every need (Philippians 4:19)--including the need for forgiveness when we have transgressed and departed from his will.

The larger point is represented in the picture at the top of this post. It is a famous painting by the Renaissance artist Rembrandt in which he pointedly painted his own face as one of those who crucified Jesus. The truth is that we were all there that day, that it was for our sin that he hung on that tree. Let us live in the liberty he purchased for us, but let us not take for granted the price he paid to set us free…FROM OUR SIN.