The Discipline of Confession

Jul 2, 2024 | by Major Ted Morris

Major Ted Morris

Corps Officer

Clearwater, Florida

Scripture: Psalm 32:3-6

A Moment of Truth

My first two years as an undergraduate, I attended a Jesuit university. One of the earlier classes I took was speech. It was a very small class with only a handful of students. The first assignment was to give a speech in which we confessed something. I confessed about playing with fire as a child and almost burning the house down. Someone else confessed of lighting paper airplanes and flying them off the back balcony of their house – starting a forest fire in which a number of houses were destroyed. After hearing his, I did not feel so bad about my confession!

After each student had given their speech, the professor made an observation. He said that he was surprised that nobody gave a “confession of faith.” I felt so guilty! I had been called to the ministry a few years earlier and was on that trajectory. Why had I not thought of that? Why had I not taken advantage of this opportunity that had been afforded us?

We are beginning our study into a few disciplines or practices of the church, also known as “Corporate Disciplines.” These are not only disciplines that we practice as members of our respective corps or congregations but are just as applicable to us as individuals, whether we worship at The Salvation Army or anywhere else. 

Confessing to One Another

We begin our brief study in looking at the discipline of confession. What immediately comes to mind when we think of confession? Some of our Christian brothers and sisters “go to” the confessional – a place where they declare their sins to a person who, in their faith tradition, they believe represents God. Following confession, the person may receive penance to atone for their sins and be granted absolution. 

I attended a pastors’ meeting not long ago in which a few dozen pastors meet for worship and prayer. One of the ministers asked to speak to the group. Through tears, he confessed to the group that his sins had led to him stepping down from his role as pastor of his local church. He did not go into details; however, we all knew the temptations to which he had yielded and expressed deep remorse. God had already forgiven him, but he felt the need to ask forgiveness from his fellow ministers. We immediately prayed for him, for reconciliation for his family, and that he would follow the Lord’s leading in his life, whether it be to be restored to a ministerial role or to serve in another way. It was a holy moment. He felt comfortable in being vulnerable among fellow ministers. There was an understood confidentiality among the group, which helped to begin his healing process. 

In doing this as he did, he was following the instructions given by James, within the context of this group, at an appropriate time and the natural response was prayer for healing and reconciliation. I would suggest that James was speaking of a similar situation when he wrote “Confess your sins to each other,” (James 5:16). It was not James’s intention that we proclaim our sins and struggles in any context, to anyone who happens to be within earshot: while watching a ballgame, at a meal with friends, or while chatting with the person in front of you in the grocery line. I would suggest confessing our sins is best done within a context of mutual accountability, confidentiality, a deep spiritual relationship, maturity, discernment and prayer.  This proper context helps with the accountability when temptation comes again, helps the healing process and begins the process of restoration of the relationship with God. 

Confession as Declaration

Another way to look at confession is what I missed in my college speech class. In both the Old and New Testaments, the words translated as “confess” in English refer to both uses of the term. They speak of a public expression of praise, a declaration of the truth as well as the admission of guilt or bad behavior. Leviticus 5:5 gives instructions for the Old Testament practice of animal sacrifice. When they were made aware of a sin, they were to “confess” by bringing a lamb to sacrifice to the Lord. In doing so, they were admitting their wrong and acknowledging their sin. 

In Second Chronicles 6:24 and 26, we read that the people were defeated by their enemy.  Because they sinned against God, they were instructed to turn back, to give praise (confess) to God’s name and to pray. In this instance, they were to confess by changing the direction of their behavior and to confess by giving praise to God’s name. 

In the New Testament, the word confess is used differently. Romans 10:9 declares that “If you declare (confess) with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” This passage does not refer to the confession of sin, but of the confession of faith by publicly declaring the goodness of God. It is used in the same way in Philippians 2:11, commonly known as the kenosis (emptying) passage when it says, that “every tongue will confess (acknowledge) that Jesus Christ is Lord.” This is also not in the context of sin, but in declaration. 

Confession as Worship

So, how can confession be part of our worship? How can confession be a discipline that we practice, both as individuals as well as a body of believers? First John 1:9 reminds us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” Our personal salvation begins with confession. Not necessarily to other people, but to God. This is not a one-time event.  If there is sin, there should be confession; where there is confession, there is forgiveness; where there is forgiveness, there is cleansing; and where there is cleansing, there is holiness and purity.

If you are fortunate to be a part of an accountability group or have an accountability partner or someone who spiritually cares for you, it might be appropriate to confess to them. This is because the atmosphere of confidentiality, personal discernment, prayer and healing are already established. Then, as we travel through life with Him, and we sense His presence in our storms and develop a deeper relationship with Him we will naturally want to confess (declare) that “Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”  Hebrews 13:15-16 reminds us to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess His name, and do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” 

Confession for sin? Yes, sometimes. And God is pleased with this type of confession and gives us the gift of forgiveness.

Confession as a declaration of God’s goodness? Yes, sometimes. And God is also pleased with this type of confession as well.   

Let’s confess His name today!       

Our Corporate Prayer

Dear Lord, Thank You that You allow us to come to You to confess our sins and shortcomings. We don't have to carry them or wait to bring some sacrifice because Jesus, in offering Himself for us, has provided an eternal sacrifice for us. Help us not to take this lightly. But we also want to remember the other meaning of confession. We want to confess our allegiance to You openly before others, proclaiming You as our Lord and Savior! Thank You for the gift of salvation that continues to provide life to us. Help us to treasure it even as we treasure You. In Jesus' name. Amen.


Our Worldwide Prayer Meeting
Caribbean Territory

Thinking it Through

When is it appropriate to confess things only to the Lord? When is it proper and necessary to make a public confession? Is there anything that you need to confess today?

Notable Quotables

In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You. - St. Augustine


The old hymn voices our heart cry - "I need Thee." 




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