Biblical Examples of Confession
Why is it important to confess your sin to God correctly?
…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
If someone mentions “true confessions,” what thoughts come to your mind? If you’re like a lot of people, you may have needed to confess those thoughts right away! Hearing someone else’s confession may give you a moment of forbidden enjoyment. They cheated on a test, but you didn’t — does that make you feel better? Another person had an affair, and you’re the only one who knows. Now that you know your neighbor has been stealing money from his company, it explains why he can afford nicer things than you have. All of this makes it hard for us to really learn from someone else’s confession, because selfish thoughts get in the way. Reactions like these are self-centered and evil.
If only there was an example or pattern we could follow to learn what genuine confession looks like. Thankfully the Bible gives us numerous good — and bad — examples.
Bad example 1: King Saul
Saul was Israel’s first king. When he was chosen, he seemed like a humble man. (1 Samuel 9:21) He became a decisive and powerful leader. (1 Samuel 11:13) But he became careless (1 Samuel 13:13; 15:11) and jealous of David’s popularity. (1 Samuel 18:8) On one occasion, David confronted the king, asking Saul why he was chasing him, though he had done nothing wrong. Saul confessed, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” (1 Samuel 26:21) However, in the very next chapter, David continues to see Saul as a threat. (1 Samuel 27:1)
Bad example 2: Judas
After giving Jesus up to the Jewish leaders, Judas felt regret and returned to confess that what he had done was wrong. “Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:3-5) Judas regretted his decision to betray Jesus. He even returned the money and admitted Jesus’ innocence. But the priests were not able to remove his guilt, and he gave up hope.
Good example 1: The Tax Collector
Jesus had once told some of those Jewish leaders a story: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Luke 18:10-13) In the story, the Pharisee clearly thought he compared well to other men whom he saw as sinners. He was known for his good deeds. The tax collector, by contrast, didn’t compare himself with others. He went right to the heart of the matter: He sinned because he was a sinner, and he was truly grieved over it. But he still had hope in God’s merciful nature.
Good example 2: The Prodigal Son
God’s merciful nature is the subject of another of Jesus’ stories. A son boldly asked his father for the inheritance he could expect to receive after his father’s death. It was a deeply offensive and hurtful thing to do, especially since he abandoned the family immediately after receiving it. After wasting everything he was given, his desperate plight reminded him of the benefits of his father’s household. He knew he had forfeited his inheritance and his position as a son, so he made up his mind:
“I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’” (Luke 15:18-19)
The son’s confession revealed he understood what he had become. He knew the offense to God and the offense to his father. He also knew that he was asking for more than he deserved.
But the father, who had been hoping his son would return, surprised him: “…let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:23-24)
This story serves as a dramatic example of why you can have confidence you’ll “…receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) King David understood this, (2 Samuel 24:10-14) and it moved him to fully confess and turn from his sin. But Saul and Judas allowed pride and fear to keep them from doing so. You can think of these four examples to help you understand the wrong attitudes you want to avoid — and the right attitudes you’ll want to adopt — when asking for God’s forgiveness and restoration after you have stumbled.
Pray this week:
Thank you Jesus, for your mercy that is available to me, your understanding, after having been tempted yourself while remaining sinless, and the grace that your whole life shows.
Will you confess your sin this week to a close friend or Online Missionary?