“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – The Apostle John
For some reason, the topic of confession vs. forgiveness has come up in quite a few conversations I’ve had recently. The circumstances or people have been different each time, however the concepts (as with most Biblical concepts) are universally applicable.
I think there’s a lot of confusion about what confession and forgiveness are and who benefits from each. Probably the best place to start would be basic definitions (I’m paraphrasing, but have provided links to Merriam-Webster):
Granted, the definition of “forgiveness” doesn’t help much, so let’s look at what “forgive” means. It actually has a few meanings:
Forgive: to stop feeling anger; to stop blaming; to stop requiring payment
(That last definition for “forgive” is more of a financial thing, but I believe it applies in all areas of forgiveness.)
When it comes to practical application, each of these two acts are multi-step processes which are required so we can let go of mistakes of the past (whether our own mistakes, or those of others) and live lives free of guilt and bitterness. Neither forgiveness nor confession are easy; but both are necessary.
Let’s create a scenario where one person has done something to hurt someone else. Let’s call the bad guy “Pierre the Perpetrator” and the other one “Victor the Victim”. So, Pierre does something to hurt Victor. What should Pierre do at that point? (Well, if he’s French, he orders all of his forces to surrender and then allows the Germans to plunder his cities and take his women. So, let’s say he’s Canadian instead.) What should Victor do?
Pierre needs to practice the act of confession by approaching Victor, admitting what he did was wrong, offering restitution (if possible) and asking for forgiveness. Victor needs to practice the act of forgiveness by letting go of his anger and no longer attaching it to Victor or using it as an emotional weapon against him.
Easy to say, hard to do.
The first thing each of these guys must realize is their obligation to confess or forgive is completely independent of the other person’s obligation. In other words, Pierre must confess regardless of whether or not Victor forgives him and likewise, Victor must forgive regardless of whether Pierre confesses.
Why are these acts independent? Because confession has nothing to do with forgiveness and forgiveness has nothing to do with confession. We seem to think that the two are related, but they’re not. Each of these are mechanisms which God has given us so we can free ourselves from bitterness or guilt.
When one confesses, it does not ultimately benefit the person who was wronged. Confession benefits the person who confesses. Pierre must confess so he can free himself of the burden of guilt.
When one forgives, it does not really benefit the person who acted wrongly. Forgiveness benefits the one who was wronged. Victor must forgive so he can avoid falling into bitterness.
I’m going to write more about confession and forgiveness in the future. I hope this has been at least a bit thought-provoking.
If not, please forgive me.