Have you heard the saying, “Confession is good for the soul”? This exact statement is not in the Bible, but the principle of confessing our sins is. What and to whom do we confess, and why?
Some believe that the idiom “Confession is good for the soul” is Scottish in origin. Regardless, it is generally saying that admitting our errors is good for us, easing the burden of carrying the guilt we feel if nothing else. Psychological studies have demonstrated a benefit to those who acknowledge and feel sorry for their mistakes and misdeeds. Psychologists call this benefit catharsis, a releasing or getting relief from repressed emotions.
A general meaning of confession includes admitting to a criminal offense, religious admission of sin, and confession of problems in psychotherapy. In terms of religion, many world religions have greatly varying customs and practices involving the confession of sin or guilt. These may include ritualistic confession to a priest (most commonly recognized in Catholicism, but also practiced by Lutherans and Eastern Orthodoxy), a chanting of a mantra (various eastern religions, including Buddhism), or an elaborate ceremony with a shaman (spiritism). The general object of confession is to help the individual “cleanse their soul” and to help safeguard community standards of behavior.
A true follower of Jesus Christ is one who believes in the God of the Bible and strives to live by every word of God. What does the Bible say about confession and forgiveness of sin? What do we confess, to whom do we confess, and why?
In the Old Testament, God required of Israel that when a person sinned, “…when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty…. he shall confess that he has sinned…” (Leviticus 5:4–5). Leviticus 26 described blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience and spelled out provisions that, if they confess their iniquity, humble themselves, and accept their guilt, then God would remember His covenant with them and be their God (vv. 40–45).
Some sins required confession and restitution (Numbers 5:6–7). God sent Nathan the prophet to King David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11). After Nathan showed David his sin, David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:1–13). God put away David’s sin, but horrible consequences remained, including the death of his firstborn and continual strife within his household and court.
John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus Christ’s ministry through preaching repentance and baptizing those who confessed their sins (Matthew 3:1–6).
The Apostle Paul said, paraphrasing Isaiah 45:23: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11).
Why do we need to confess our sins to God? Proverbs 28:13 tells us, “He who covers (hides, conceals) his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Simply put, we need to see our sins, confess (acknowledge) our sins to God, repent of our sins, ask God’s forgiveness for our sins, which was made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, and strive to sin no more.
The Apostle John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So, in that sense, confession is “good for the soul.”