What if I forget to confess a sin?
“What if I forget to confess a sin I’ve committed? Will God still forgive me?”
The Bible commands us to confess our sins to God. First John 1:9 assures us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (ESV) This promise of God’s forgiveness is a great comfort for those of us who know we are sinners who fail every day to live up to God’s standard as we should. But what if we commit a sin and then forget to confess it? What if we have a memory lapse? Will God hold that unconfessed sin against us?
While some today who have a superficial or permissive view of God’s love might dismiss this question as silly, this is actually a very important question, because it has to do with our relationship with God, and whether or not we have a right standing with God. When we understand what the Bible teaches about God’s infinite holiness and righteousness, about His holy hatred of sin, and about His promise to judge those whose sins are not forgiven, then getting the answer right on such questions becomes a high spiritual priority!
First of all, we need to understand that sin is first and foremost a condition of the heart. God’s Word says that we inherit a sin nature from Adam (Rom. 5:12-21).(1) The reason we commit acts of sin (by our sinful thoughts, words and actions) is because we possess a heart of sin. As the Lord Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19, ESV; emphasis added) We do bad things because we have bad hearts! We must not merely confess and repent of sinful actions; more fundamentally we must confess and repent of our sinful hearts, which produce those actions. If we have repented of our sin (i.e., our sinful heart), then Scripture indicates that God will certainly forgive our sins (i.e., our sinful actions), even if we happen to forget to confess specific sins which we have committed.
Another thing to keep in mind is that all of us commit many sins every day that we aren’t even consciously aware of. If God holds against us all the sins we commit but never confess, then all of us are in deep deep trouble, for all of us have committed sins that we aren’t even consciously aware of.
This was one of the things that tormented Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, before he rediscovered the richness of the biblical gospel. While he was an Augustinian monk Luther would sometimes spend hours in the confessional, earnestly searching his conscience and confessing his sins. He would rack his brain to try to remember all the sins he had committed. Finally he would think he had confessed them all, would receive priestly absolution from his father confessor, and would leave the confessional feeling a sense of relief. He would eagerly perform his prescribed penance. But then he would soon recall a sin he had forgotten to confess, and the dark cloud of guilt would once again descend upon his soul, driving him to a sense of hopeless despair. The only thing that finally brought light and relief and lasting comfort into his soul was discovering (through his study of the Scriptures) the good news that forgiveness and a right standing with God (i.e., being “justified” or “declared righteous” in God’s sight) is a totally free gift of God’s mercy and grace made possible by Christ’s death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9), and received by simple faith (trust) in Christ alone (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:20-26), not something that is earned or merited by penances, pilgrimages, alms, good deeds or religious observances.(2)
When Jesus died on the cross for our sins almost 2,000 years ago, all of our sins were still in the future. When He died on the cross, He died to pay the penalty for all of the sins of all of God’s people throughout all of the ages, whether they had already been committed in the past, or had yet to be committed in the future! As the author of the epistle to the Hebrews put it, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12, ESV)! The point is that Jesus paid the penalty for all of the sins of believers – past, present, and future – by His atonement on the cross. What that means is when we trust Jesus as our Savior and Lord and believe the good news that our sins are forgiven by His blood, we are justified once and for all and forever, for all of our sins – past, present, and future – are, legally and in principle, forgiven before the judgment bar of God, and Christ’s perfect righteousness is credited to us! This is true even of those sins which we might forget to confess.
“If that is the case, then why does the Bible command believers to confess their daily sins?” Answer: It is not because the act of confessing our sins is somehow a good deed that merits God’s forgiveness. (If this were the case, then our salvation would be by our work of confession, not by God’s grace offered in Christ, as the Bible teaches it is.) Rather, it is because our sins as Christians damage our relationship with God our heavenly Father, and call down upon us, not His rejection, but His fatherly chastisements. While all of our sins have been legally forgiven in our justification, daily confession of sin to our loving heavenly Father enables us to experience every day anew His ongoing fatherly forgiveness.
If Christ is your Lord and Savior, you don’t have to worry about forgetting to confess a sin. The Holy Spirit will bring to your remembrance any sins that are creating a barrier between you and your Father in heaven. Confess and forsake the sins He brings to your remembrance, but trust Him that He continues to forgive your sins through Christ’s blood, even the ones you forget about, for “His mercies are new every morning”!
(1) God did not create us as sinners. Our good God doesn’t create bad stuff. Instead, we became sinners in Adam, the original representative of humanity.
(2) A classic biography of Martin Luther is Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton (Nashville: Abingdon Press, copyright 1950, 1978).