The proper way to handle sin is to confess it to God and forsake it. Each of these two basic steps deserves a closer look:
First, confession is the proper way to handle sin. Naturally, to confess our sin, we must recognize that what we’ve done (or left undone) is sinful. Everyone has sinned, and believers in Christ also sin. The apostle John, writing to believers, said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
To “confess” is to “agree with.” To properly handle sin in our lives, we must agree with God about our behavior; if the Bible calls something we’ve been doing “sin,” then we should call it “sin” as well. In our confession, we should be brave enough to be completely honest before the Lord. We should start by confessing all known sin and then ask the Lord to reveal any other sin that may need confessing. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24). Biblically, our confession is made to God, not to a priest. Jesus is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).
When we properly handle sin through confession, we have this promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This promise was encouraging to the people John was writing to in the first century AD, and is encouraging to us today. It is the heart of the gospel. Jesus sits enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, a position of power and influence. He intercedes for those who are His, made so by grace through faith. When someone who is in Christ sins, it’s as if Jesus says to His Father, “I have paid for that sin.” The Father forgives us on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He is faithful to do so, in keeping with His promise; and He is just to do so, because Jesus has already paid the price for the sin.
Second, forsaking the sin is the proper way to handle sin. When Jesus forgave the woman taken in adultery, He told her, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Go—that is the word of forgiveness and release. Sin no more—that is God’s command to live a holy life.
We cannot seriously claim to be properly handling sin if we refuse to give it up. If we find a venomous snake inside the house, we don’t toy with it; we remove it from the premises. If we discover cancer in our body, we don’t go about business as usual; we begin an aggressive treatment program to pursue a clean bill of health. And if we become aware of sin in our lives, we do all we can to change our behavior to please the Lord.
To handle sin properly, we should not only forsake the sin but also seek to make restitution for our wrongs, when possible. Zacchaeus is a good example of this (Luke 19:8). We should also take steps to avoid falling into the same trap again. This means establishing new habits, frequenting different places, and avoiding certain people: “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin” (Proverbs 18:24). We should heed God’s command: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
To properly handle sin, we must follow the directives in God’s Word. We must “watch and pray so that [we] will not fall into temptation” (Mark 14:38). And we must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. When He is grieved, it is time to confess our sin and forsake it (see Ephesians 4:30).
When we properly handle sin in our lives, our lives will change, and we will “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:9). We will live in the confidence that our sins, past, present, and future, are forgiven in Christ (Romans 8:1). We will praise the Lord of our salvation as the One who can keep us from stumbling (Jude 1:24–25). We will trust Him to finish in us the work that He began (Philippians 1:6).
When we properly handle sin in our lives, we will prove the truth of Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (ESV, emphasis added).