Confessing Old Sins

This post is in answer to a comment/question addressed to Bekah on her post called “A Little Moralizing.” Here’s the question: How do you take care of old (unconfessed) sins that go back several years?

I think it’s very helpful to sit down with a pen and paper and just write them all down. One at a time. Name them the way God does. It’s amazing how many other things might come to mind as you do this. But just keep writing until you can’t think of any others. Now remember, these are the sins you have not yet put right. I am NOT saying to write down all the sins you already took care of. What a drag that would be.

Next sort them out. For example, let’s say you listed about five different times you were unkind to your mom. Sort them into the mom pile. Do the same with everything. Many of these sins will require a phone call or an email or a letter of apology. Maybe all of them will. Don’t get discouraged or distracted by the size of the pile.

After sorting them out, you must seek God’s forgiveness for each offense. Something like this: “Lord, I was unkind to my mom last spring when I told her to quit calling me. I was disrespectful and I dishonored her, which I know you hate. Please forgive me.” Go through the list even if it takes a while. Then when you’re finished, ask God if there are any more. If more come to mind, add them. If nothing else comes to mind, then thank God for His mercy and forgiveness.

Now you may move on to the letter-writing stage. Here’s what you do. Write Mom a letter. Tell her that you are “cleaning house” and you realize that you have sinned against her over the past several years many times. Now don’t tell her about your bad heart attitudes that she may not have noticed. For example, if you are jealous or bitter or envious, just confess those things to God. Seek her forgiveness for specific occasions when you and she both know that you sinned against her. End your letter by telling her that you have sought God’s forgiveness, and now you are seeking hers.

It’s tempting at this point to think that maybe she will follow your letter up with a letter of apology herself. Don’t count on it! Your confessions should be unilateral, with no conditions. Now keep writing those letters. You may want to add that you will follow the letter up with a phone call in a few days.

Now if any of these sins require financial restitution, you  must begin the process of repaying your debts. Maybe you borrowed money from friends and then never paid them back. Maybe you borrowed stuff and never returned it. Just confessing it to God is not enough. You must make another list and figure out how much you owe. Then you must start contacting people and sending them money with your apology letter. If you have to make arrangements to pay it off over several months, explain to them that is what you plan to do.

I once told a woman to do something along these lines, and she told me later that after she had confessed everything on the list, she threw it in the fire. That is a great way to understand how God deals with our sins. What He forgives is gone forever.

My husband has compared this process to cleaning out a garage that has been collecting junk for years. You start with the top pile and work your way down. Eventually, you’re seeing the garage floor! Then you are motivated to keep it that way. When sin occurs, and it will, confess it as quickly as possible. Don’t put it off, make excuses, or think no one noticed. God did, and He delights to forgive us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,  and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John1:9.

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5 thoughts on “Confessing Old Sins

  1. excellent post and I have had to do this often. There was financial restitution and there was just plain ole apolgizing. It sure does help when you get it all out and then God takes you even deeper in relationship with Him.

  2. Thank you for the great reminder and explanation. Once I lied to a friend (with a good reason, but it was a complete lie nonetheless.) That sin burdened me for MONTHS, and she was so kind to me when I asked her forgiveness. The one thing I shouldn’t have done, though, was explain to her the reason, which involved saying something that wasn’t exactly a compliment to a mutual friend of ours.

  3. How does this differ from morbid introspection (something I feel like your husband is always warning against)? If I sit and think for long enough I can keep coming up with many sins to confess because my heart is full of them.

  4. Thank you for addressing this issue. I do not know if I can do what you suggest, but you are probably right to suggest it.

  5. Mrs Wilson, this post (along with Bekah’s) has changed my life. Truly. I suspect the Lord will bring more things to mind as time goes on. I have struggled with joy my whole Christian life (which isn’t that long) and I hadn’t realised that is was because the garage was chock full of mess, so to speak. I did what you suggested, but I know there are other things I can’t remember. Thing is, I totally expected to feel full of joy and relief and peace right away. Those unconfessed sins are no longer plaguing my conscience, but I don’t feel that abiding peace and joy that I so long for. I’m not sure why and I’m not quite sure what to do.

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