Confession of sin to God is commanded in Scripture and part of living the Christian life (James 5:16; 1 John 1:9). But when we confess our sins, how specific do we need to get? Doesn’t God already know all the details?
It’s true that God knows all the details of our sin. “You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely” (Psalm 139:3–4). God knows absolutely everything about us, including the details of our sins and all that we have done. So, when we confess our sins to Him, we are not actually telling Him anything He does not already know.
Even given God’s omniscience, a detailed confession of sin to God is appropriate. We don’t want to be like Adam, hiding among the trees of the garden, hoping to elude discovery (Genesis 3:8). We would rather be like David when he said, “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity” (Psalm 32:5).
When God spoke to the guilty pair in Eden, He asked Adam, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11), and He asked Eve, “What is this you have done?” (verse 13). Both questions demanded a specific answer. Generalities would not suffice. Neither should oversimplifications or sweeping generalities be sufficient in our prayers of confession.
Whenever we speak with God alone in private prayer, the communication should be detailed and intimate. We are sharing ourselves with Someone who cares more about us than anyone else cares. As we confess our sins, in detail, we are acknowledging our appreciation for the breadth of His forgiveness. We are conversing with the only Person who not only knows our life struggles, failings, and intents, but who has the divine power to transform us into becoming more like Him.
As we acknowledge the details of our sin to God, we show Him that we have nothing to hide. We humbly admit that “everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). In our confession we look to the One who alone has the power to completely forgive us of our sins and make us whole and acceptable in His sight.
We need not fear God’s judgment. As we confess our sins, we know that Christ has already paid for them in full. He promises His forgiveness and the power to break sin’s control over us. Confessing the details of our sin to God is part of throwing off “everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so that we can “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
In a counseling session, the counselor will expect his client to be as open and honest as possible to enable the healing process. Dishonesty or rectitude will only hamper the process. Jesus, the Wonderful counselor (Isaiah 9:6), deserves the same honesty and openness. He stands ready to listen and to guide. After all, our Lord was made “fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17–18).
Rather than praying generically, saying things such as “If I committed a sin today, please forgive me,” we should engage in some true soul-searching and come to grips with what we’ve done. Prayers of a personal nature do not shrink back from a detailed confession of sin. A remorseful, repentant heart will not dread the revelation of its sin to God: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). And we remember that “the LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
We can go to God with everything that is on our minds, confessing our sin honestly, and then know the freeing power of His forgiveness. Upon agreeing with God, we will find relief from guilty feelings and strengthen our walk as believers in Christ.