The confessional – I can still recall the musty smell of incense burning outside it and waiting in fear to confess my sins to our local parish priest. Once a month, on a Saturday, we would have to go to confession. I recall the exact words I use to recite each time I went to confession:
Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been one month since my last good confession. I confess that I told a lie, “x” amount of times. I cursed, “x” amount of times, etc.
It was then that the priest would “absolve” me from my sins and give me a penance to perform. The only penance I ever received was to recite the rosary. I would leave the confessional relieved that it was over with and would return to my pew to say my rosary. Then afterwards, I did not feel any differently than when I walked into the confessional. I did not feel forgiven. I did not have that peace that comes when one is truly forgiven. Much to my surprise, my friends felt the same way. None of us had a calm assurance that we had met with God that day. How sad is that? How blind we truly were.
So exactly what does the Bible teach about confessing our sins? Does the Word say we should confess our sins to someone other than God? The catholic church made the confessional a dogma in the year 1225. In my readings, I discovered that prior to 1225, the priest heard confession but didn’t absolve sins. He merely prayed to God for that person.
So what does the Bible say about confessing our sins? Jesus answered the disciples questions in this way:
~Matthew 6:9-15 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. (9) Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. (10) Give us this day our daily bread. (11) And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (12) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (13) For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: (14) But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (15)
Jesus did not say to pray this prayer word for word, but after this manner. This was an example of how to pray to our Heavenly Father. Here we see that we are to ask God to forgive us, not a priest. Jesus would have had the perfect opportunity to teach about the confessional here. But nowhere do we see this. In fact, we are to forgive one another when we sin against each other. So if I sin against you, I must go to you and ask your forgiveness. And if you are a repentant born-again Christian, you will forgive this sin I’ve committed against you or Jesus teaches that you won’t receive God’s mercy in your life.
Also, notice verses 14 and 15 say your heavenly Father will forgive you! Not the priest!
So how does the catholic church support its dogma of the confessional? They claim that John 20:21-23 give them the authority. But let’s look at those verses and see to whom Jesus was referring:
~John 20:19-24 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. (19) And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. (20) Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. (21) And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: (22) Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (23) But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. (24)
Not only the Apostles were in attendance during this event. Notice in verse 19, it states that the disciples were gathered and Jesus stood in their midst and spoke to them. Verse 20 says that the disciples were glad. Verse 21 says that Jesus spoke to them again. It was to the disciples, not just the Apostles, that Jesus breathed the Spirit on them. It was to the disciples, not just the Apostles, that Jesus commanded that they remit and retain sins. Is this just semantics? No! Verse 24 says that Thomas, one of the 12, was not with them. So clearly these verses state the difference between the disciples and Apostles. This act of remitting sins and retaining them was not specifically given to the Apostles only but to all repentant, born-again believers.
So what was being said here? It simply means that those we preach to (witness to) who receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ are are saved will receive forgiveness of sins and those who do not accept the Gospel will not receive forgiveness of sins. Plain and simple!
This is definitely in line with the example Christ gave us in the Lord’s Prayer. It is also in line with
~Acts 2:37-38, 10:43 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? (37) Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. ( 38 ) ~Acts 10:43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
It is the act of repentance, believing in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptized into the family of God that we receive our forgiveness. This is crucial – repentance is key. You hear many a gospel today but few include repentance. Most include church membership, works, baptism, the confessional, etc. But this is not what Jesus said we must do to receive forgiveness. Repentance is vital because it produces a change of life.
~2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
If a person is born again, he has a NEW nature. That is the whole purpose of being born again. The catholic church claims this occurs at baptism when a baby is baptized. However, that baby cannot change his mind toward sin and walk in newness of life. That baby has no control over his sin. It is not until that baby learns the difference between right and wrong that he can see that he is a sinner in need of forgiveness. That baby cannot repent! However, a person with knowledge of right and wrong can. A person that sees he needs forgiveness definitely can repent and be truly born again. Do you see how the catholic church has muddied the beautiful water of the Word of God?
Yes, we need to confess our sins but they are to be confessed to our Heavenly Father as Christ taught us. If we do not forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ when they sin against us, then how can we receive God’s mercy toward us for our own sins?
The confessional did not teach me repentance. It placated my guilty feelings and gave me a false sense of security. Once I truly repented of my sins, I was born again and the Lord gave me a new life. I have a life of peace and assurance, knowing that my sins are forgiven and that Jesus Christ paid the penalty, once and for all on the cross of Calvary. I do not need to confess to anyone but my Heavenly Father. If I have sinned against a brother or sister in Christ and I am truly repentant, I will go to that brother or sister and acknowledge to them my sin and make things right. That, my friend, is true confession.