Is confession of sin only to one’s self or must it be to God?



I just read your article: "How detailed does a confession of sin have to be? Do you need to list out all that you've done wrong?"  We have been discussing this subject for over two months with no end in sight.

One side holds to the understanding that one needs only to repent to get forgiveness of sin.  This group believes the confession of sin in I John 1:9 is to ones’ self only and that there is never a need to confess our sins to God. They say that there is no harm in doing it, but it is not commanded.

The other side holds to the understanding that one must acknowledge sin to self which will hopefully cause the sinner to repent, but then they must confess (pray, acknowledge, accent) to God that they did indeed commit sin before God will forgive.

What are your thoughts?  Please give scriptures to support what you say.


"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).

The word confess comes from the Greek word homolegeo. It means to admit, publicly confess, or openly acknowledge something. For example, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32) shows that confession is something admitted to someone else. Would these same people argue that "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also" (I John 2:23), which uses the same word behind "acknowledges" in this translation, argue that one only needs to acknowledge Jesus to one's self and it doesn't have to be to God or any other man? The point is that the very definition of the word "confess" does not include only admitting something to yourself.

"First John 1:9 is the only New Testament instance where the word is used for confession of sins, not suggesting a public admission, but an open admission of them to God." [The Complete Biblical Library].

The Old Testament shows there is precedence for the confession of sins to God.

"But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt - then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land" (Leviticus 26:40-42).

"yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of those who took them captive, saying, 'We have sinned and done wrong, we have committed wickedness'" (I Kings 8:47).

"Please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father's house and I have sinned" (Nehemiah 1:6).

"He shall pray to God, and He will delight in him, He shall see His face with joy, for He restores to man His righteousness. Then he looks at men and says, 'I have sinned, and perverted what was right, and it did not profit me.' He will redeem his soul from going down to the Pit, and his life shall see the light" (Job 33:26-28).

"I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and You forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Psalms 32:5).

"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight - that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge" (Psalms 51:1-4).

"And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, "O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments"" (Daniel 9:4-5).

The parable of the prodigal son illustrates this same point, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants" " (Luke 15:18-19). In this parable, the prodigal son illustrates sinners, the elder son those who remain faithful to God, and the father, God the Father.

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