The sum of God's word is truth (Psa. 119:160). In other words, when studying a topic in the Bible, we would be wise to consult what the entirety of God's word affirms about the matter. Then, with all the facts before us, we will be in the best position to draw valid conclusions.
It has been my observation that confessing sin is a topic that is often misunderstood in various ways by Christians who haven't considered the totality of God's word on the matter. I stumbled upon a most outstanding article recently by a brother in Christ, Jeffrey W. Hamilton, and wanted to share it with you since it contains excellent reasoning from the Scriptures on this matter. The original article was posted on www.LaVistaChurchOfChrist.org.
How detailed does a confession of sin have to be? Do you need to list out all that you've done wrong?
First, we need to remind ourselves regarding the purpose of confession. Confessing our sins means we are facing up to the fact that we were in the wrong and we are no longer going to hide that fact. Confession is first and foremost to God. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:8,9). This sets the principle: if we want forgiveness of our sins we need to admit that we were wrong to the one we have wronged. Therefore, when a Christian wrongs someone, a part of settling the matter is for the Christian to admit that what he did was wrong to the one he harmed. All sin is against God, so all sin needs to be confessed to God. When we harm another person and seek their forgiveness, we must be willing to admit that what we did to that person was wrong.
In the parable of the prodigal son, we are told that "he squandered his estate with loose living" (Luke 15:13). He comes to his senses and returns to his father, confessing his sins. "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son'" (Luke 15:21). The son admitted that he had sinned against God and his father, but notice that the confession did not spell out what he had done. Nor was it necessary. It was enough for his father to know that he knew what he did was wrong. His father immediately welcomed him back.
I should balance this out. I have some who "confess" by saying, "If I committed any wrong..." This is not facing up to what you have done; this is hedging. A person saying this doesn't believe he did wrong, but he knows others think he has done wrong. He wants the problem to go away, but he doesn't want to admit to something that he feels he didn't do, so he hedges. He is much like Judah of old - "Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense" (Jer. 3:10). Nothing has changed. If the person had sinned, he remains unrepentant in that sin. If the person had not sinned, he left a brother thinking he had sinned just to get the issued dropped. True confession is stating that you were in the wrong.
We will continue our consideration of this important topic in our next lesson.