Confessing Our Sins – By Dr Roland Chia (Dated 5 May 2021)
One of the most important acts in Christian worship is the confession of sins. So significant is this act of confession that it is found in the liturgies of all the traditions of the Christian church — Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant.
For example, in the traditional morning prayer in The Alternative Service Book of the Anglican Church, we find this solemn prayer of confession:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you and against our fellow men,
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness, and through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins,
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us,
Forgive us all that is past,
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name. Amen.
In the liturgy of ‘Word and Table’ of the Methodist Church, there is a lengthy prayer of confession by which worshippers ‘acknowledge and bewail our manifold sin and wickedness’, ‘earnestly repent [of] these our misdoings’ and pleads God for mercy and forgiveness.
After the confession, the minister will pray this ‘Prayer for Pardon’:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
who of thy great mercy hast promised forgiveness of sins
to all them that with hearty repentance and true faith turn to thee:
Have mercy upon us;
pardon and deliver us from all our sins;
confirm and strengthen us in all goodness;
and bring us to everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The practice of confession of sins in the liturgical and spiritual traditions of the Church is grounded in and inspired by the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples (Matthew 6:9-13). Just as Christians should pray daily for God’s provision, so they must ask for God’s forgiveness every day.
The practice of confession of sins and repentance is premised on the fact that although Christians have been saved by grace through faith in Christ, they have not attained spiritual perfection. Sanctification is a process, and as the Christian tries to live a life of obedience he will at times succumb to temptation and sin against God.
However, the Christian knows that he can always turn to God, repent of his sins and receive divine forgiveness. The Christian knows this with certainty because it is a promise found in God’s written word, the Bible: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).
The new antinomians, however, reject the teaching that Christians should confess their sins daily. They maintain that the believer needs only to confess their sins once — when they accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour. From that point on, all their sins — past, present and future — have already been forgiven. According to this logic, there is no point confessing the sins that we commit today or tomorrow because they have already been forgiven.
Rob Rufus made this very clear in a 2011 sermon when he declared that ‘You have not been partially forgiven; you have been totally and completely and utterly and fully and absolutely forgiven of all your sins — past, present, and future!’
This teaching is echoed by Joseph Prince in his sermons and books. For example, in Unmerited Favour Prince writes: ‘My friend, this is the assurance you can receive today: The day you received Christ, you confessed all your sins once and for all.’
In fact, Prince argues that if we think that only the sins that we have committed before putting our faith in Christ are forgiven when we accept Christ, we cheapen God’s grace. He writes:
His grace is cheapened when you think that he has only forgiven you of your sins up to the time you got saved, and after that point, you have to depend on your confession for your sins to be forgiven. God’s forgiveness is not given in installments.
In Destined to Reign Prince not only teaches that it is not necessary for Christians to confess our sins after they put their faith in Christ, the sins that they commit as believers have no consequence at all to their eternal salvation. This, incidentally, is premised on the doctrine of ‘once saved always saved’ that is favoured by the antinomians.
Prince points his readers to 1 John 1:7 which says: ‘But if we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, purifies us from all sin.’ He then interprets and applies this verse as follows: ‘So, if we sin in the light, we are cleansed in the light, and we are kept in the light. This idea of us going into darkness when we sin is not from the Bible.’
This teaching is theologically erroneous and pastorally irresponsible.
Prince is in effect saying that once a believer has put his faith in Christ, confessed his sins and received God’s forgiveness, he could live his life without ever worrying about sin. He could sin with impunity. His relationship with God will not be affected. He will remain in the light. He will not forfeit his salvation.
This teaching can be understood — indeed, it has been understood! — as a license to sin.
Imagine a married Christian man who is having an affair with a married Christian woman, his colleague at work. Both are followers of the new antinomians.
They know that what they are doing is sinful. But they assure themselves that their sin of adultery has already been forgiven by God when they first became Christians many years ago. They assure themselves that their sinful relationship will not compromise their relationship with God at all. They are still loved by God. God is still happy with them. They will not lose their salvation.
They are determined to resolutely reject any feeling of guilt that they may have for being in this relationship. They will tell themselves that this feeling of guilt cannot possibly come from God. They will bring to mind another insight that they have gleaned from Destined to Reign where Prince writes: ‘The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. He NEVER comes to point your faults.’
So they will merrily continue in their adulterous relationship because, according to Prince, ‘if we sin in the light, we are cleansed in the light, and we are kept in the light.’ When other Christians warn them of God’s judgment if they were to continue in adultery, they will simply shrug it off. This is because Pastor Prince has clearly taught that ‘This idea of us going to darkness when we sin is not from the Bible.’
In his article entitled ‘8 Signs of Hypergrace Churches’, Bishop Mattera describes one of the characteristics of the church which embraces the teachings of these antinomians thus:
Key members of the church are regularly living sinful lives with impunity. Those attending a hyper grace church will most likely find that, because of the strong emphasis on grace — with no teaching against sin or repentance, judgement or hell — there is an atmosphere of loose living with many involved in sexual immorality and drunkenness as well as other physical vices.
The teachings of Prince and the antinomians on sin, repentance and confession are extremely dangerous for the Christian. They undermine the seriousness of sin. They give the believer a license to sin by stressing that sinful behaviour is inconsequential to his eternal destiny.
The inspiration behind this teaching cannot come from the holy God who abhors sin.
In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus speaks about the narrow and the wide gates. The narrow gate leads to life, he said, and ‘only a few find it.’ The wide gate, on the other hand, ‘leads to destruction, and many enter through it.’
In teaching that all the sins of the Christian have already been forgiven once and for all and that he does not need to ever worry about them any longer, the antinomians are urging their followers to walk through the wide gate.
Dr Roland Chia
Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine
Trinity Theological College
Theological and Research Advisor
Ethos Institute for Public Christianity