The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 224)
False and True Confessions
We find these three words 'I have sinned' occurring in different portions of God's Word. But did those who once said 'I have sinned' truly mean what they confessed and sincerely repent before God? Or were those words uttered carelessly and without much consideration to their meaning? In this article, I would like to examine with you a few examples of people who made a confession of sin and yet did not receive the pardon from God.
For salvation to come to an individual, it is absolutely necessary to confess one's sins. The wise man, King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 28:13, “He who covers his sins will not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy”. Therefore, unless one truly confesses his sins to God and forsakes them, there is no promise that he shall find mercy through the blood of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. Such a person will be condemned to eternal destruction. We must be aware that not all who say “I have sinned” have truly repented and been granted forgiveness by God. There are people who make a confession of sin but never demonstrate true and sincere repentance from their sins in their lives. In fact, after making such a solemn confession they dive into greater depths of sin than before.
Then the LORD sent locusts to cover the whole land of Egypt eating up everything that was green in the fields. Pharaoh again sent for Moses and said to him, “I have sinned against the LORD your God and against you” (Exod 10:16). But again, he did not mean what he said and continued to invoke the wrath of God. Pharaoh is a representative of a hardened sinner who confesses his sin only in threatening situations but once the threats are removed, he goes back to sin again. A person who makes this kind of confession under the influence of terror and then forgets about it once the fear is removed, brings divine wrath upon himself.
While the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, we are introduced to a double-minded false prophet, Balaam, who was engaged by the king of Moab to curse God's people. As he was on his way to do the wicked deed, the Angel of the LORD stopped his donkey at a narrow path but Balaam did not realise it. Instead of turning back, he hit the donkey three times. Then the LORD opened Balaam's eyes and he saw the Angel of the LORD and he said, “I have sinned, for I did not know You stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases You, I will turn back” (Num 22:34). On the one hand, he seemed to be an eloquent and truthful spokesman of the LORD but on the other hand he advised the king of Moab to entice the Israelites to sin against God by committing sexual sins with the Moabite women. Balaam represents those who are saints on Sunday and lovers of the world on weekdays. Their confessions are not acceptable to God.
At the end of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the conquest of the land of Canaan began. Under Joshua's leadership, the people gained great victory over the city of Jericho. The LORD commanded them to abstain from the devoted things but Achan wilfully disobeyed the LORD by stealing the spoils from the city, causing the Israelites to lose the war against the next city, Ai. His sin was discovered by drawing lots and he said to Joshua, “Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel” (Josh 7:20). He only confessed his sin after it was exposed by the LORD. Should his sin not be found, he might be able to get away with it. But in the end, he and all that he possessed, including his family members, perished at the Valley of Achor by stoning. His confession was not out of a heart that genuinely feared God, therefore it was doubtful whether he was truly repentant.
After the Israelites finally occupied the Promised Land, they asked for a king to rule over them like the pagan kingdoms. Saul was chosen as the first king of Israel. The LORD asked Saul to strike the Amalekites and to destroy all that they had including men and women, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey (1 Sam 15:3). After defeating the Amalekites, Saul spared king Agag with the best of the sheep and oxen, the fattened calves and the lamb. When Samuel confronted him of his disobedience to the LORD, he said to him, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Sam 15:24).
Saul was an insincere man. When he violated the commandment of God he gave two excuses to Samuel: that he feared the people and that he kept the best of the animals to offer to God. As we read on about his dealing with David, his son-in-law, we know that Saul feared nobody. He did whatever pleased himself. As for the animals, he kept them for himself without the LORD in his heart. Therefore, both excuses were nothing but lies. To confess sin without sincerity is a mockery to God.
In case we think that false confession of sin occurred only in the Old Testament times, we are wrong. One of Jesus' disciples, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Him to the Jewish religious leaders. But when he saw that his Master was unjustly condemned and sentenced to death by crucifixion, he was full of remorse and despair. He brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders and said to them, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matt 27:4). Judas was full of remorse in his conscience but he never truly repented and finally his guilt drove him to kill himself and his soul was delivered to Hell.
Throughout redemptive history we can find people making confession of sin not out of a truly repentant heart. They confessed their sins either out of fear, out of double-mindedness pretending to obey God, out of an insincere heart, or out of remorse and desperation. These kinds of confessions avail to nothing and will receive no mercy or forgiveness from God. What is true confession of sin then?
With the wealth he obtained from his father, he lived a riotous life and engaged in all kinds of vices with his friends without realising how fast he had wasted all his money away. On top of that, there arose a severe famine in that land and he was really stuck. He went to seek help from all his former companions for whom he had always stood as paymaster to all their revelries, but all of them turned him away. So, he ended up with a job feeding swine, a job no respected person, especially a Jew, would take unless one was absolutely desperate. That was how low this rich man's son had fallen. What did he receive as his wages for such a lowly job? So little that “he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate and no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16). If he continued in his present state, he would soon die of hunger and want.
The turning point in this prodigal son's life was the realisation of the sinfulness of his life that led him into this mire and filthiness of his present situation. Suddenly a thought, put there by the Holy Spirit, struck his mind, “How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!” (Luke 15:17). At that moment, he did not remember his former rich neighbour or his wealthy uncle but his own father because he knew his father's character very well. The one who raised him was a just and kind man who loved his family, especially his own children. His generosity extended to not just his friends but his servants. He always had their welfare at heart and provided them with more than they need. Here he was, sitting in the pig-sty, perishing from hunger.
He made a wise and life-changing resolution, “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). All that he had done to his father flashed across his mind - how he plunged a knife into his heart with his rebellious and disobedient actions, wasted away his hard-earned wealth and broke fellowship with him by running away to a faraway country. He was not worthy to be called his son. All he could do was to humble himself, find his way home and beg for forgiveness. Perhaps his father would be willing to grant him a small part in working in the farm with the rest of the servants.
In his squalid rags, he begged his way home from town to town until he saw his father's house from afar. All the feelings and associations of his former life rushed upon him. Tears ran down his cheeks, and he was almost ready to run away again. Not knowing what his father's reaction would be, he dropped his head and walked slowly towards the house he once longed so much to leave. Unexpectedly, his father spotted him, ran to him and embraced him with affectionate kisses, without one word of reproach. Matthew Henry wrote, “His father saw him, there were eyes of mercy; he ran to meet him, there were legs of mercy; he put his arms round his neck, there were arms of mercy; he kissed him, there were kisses of mercy; he said to him – there were words of mercy – 'Bring hither the best robe,' there were deeds of mercy, wonders of mercy – all mercy. O, what a God of mercy he is!”
With a broken spirit and a contrite heart, the prodigal son began his true confession of sin, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). True confession of sin begins with the understanding that all sins committed are first of all against the Holy God and it is to Him that a sinner must turn for forgiveness. A mere apology to the one you have wronged is not enough. We know the rest of the parable; the son was not only forgiven but restored to his former position of honour and worth. There was great joy and celebration in that house that day because the father said, “For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).