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We first confess in our first communion and the priests say that we should always confess our sins, but is it the only way to be forgiven by God ?

Can't we pray and ask for forgiveness? I've heard of people confessing to a priest before dying.

Since the teaching on this may vary depending on the perspective of the answerer, please limit answers to those that specify the denominational view of the answerer, and make them good, supported answers. A survey of the answer from various perspectives would be even better, as it will give information from the perspectives of a wider audience.

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closed as too broad by Flimzy, Caleb Jul 18 at 14:23

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Do you affiliate with a particular religious denomination? –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 18 '13 at 20:54
    
I'm looking for a general christian answer, I'm actually Maronite but I consider myself only Christian. –  Peter Jan 18 '13 at 20:57
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From a "general Christian" perspective the answer will change. From a Maronite (I'm guessing you're Lebanese?) the answer today is: a qualified no. Maronites affirm the papacy of Rome and so confession is an important rite but even Rome doesn't say it's the only way to be forgiven. –  Matthew Jan 18 '13 at 23:58
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I hope you don't mind. I edited your question to be more within site guidelines, per the FAQ. This was phased as a "Truth" question, which makes it outside the scope of the site An explanation of what I mean b that can be found in in these Meta posts: meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/faq –  David Stratton Jan 19 '13 at 22:40

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

What is confession? St. John wrote:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10, ESV).

The verb used for 'confess' is the first-person-plural form of ὁμολογέω (homologeo). The word ὁμολογέω literally means "to say the same thing." It can also mean to "agree with," "acknowledge," or "confess" (source).

People often tend to think of confession as apologizing for our sins, asking for forgiveness. Some as a result believe that they only receive forgiveness for sins of which they ask to be forgiven (and/or apologize for). But confession is less about asking forgiveness for specific sins as it is agreeing with God that our wrong deeds are indeed sinful. It is more of an acknowledgement that what God calls sin is actually sinful. For instance, if we lie, confession means acknowledging that lying is wrong and that you sinned against God. Otherwise, the truth is not in us (and we are living in a state of sin, i.e. unrepentance).

Concerning confessing our sins, St. James says:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (James 5:16, ESV).

Clearly it is good to confess our sins to other Christians, indeed it is essential for our healing.

Who is a priest? There are a few ways to look at this. For the sake of the Stack Exchange community, allow me to explain a couple of these views. But before I do that, let's start where (most) everyone agrees: 1 Peter 2:5-9 describes believers as a holy and royal priesthood. Thus all Christians are priests before God. Under the old covenant, the faithful needed a priest to approach God, but now under the new covenant this is not necessary. Because of Jesus' sacrifice, all believers can now approach God's throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). Most Christians agree with this thus far. Now here is where they start to differ (understand that this must be brief, I cannot offer an apologetic for the priesthood here, I am giving only a cursory explanation).

In ancient expressions of the Christian faith (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, some Anglicans and Lutherans, a few other groups), a priest is usually someone who has been ordained by other appointed Christian leaders for our good, and is an excellent person to whom we may confess our sins. In the early Church, Christians publicly confessed their sins to the entire congregation. This soon became impractical and appointed leaders (elders, who are spiritual fathers, cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15) began hearing people's confessions privately. Priests of course believe that Christians can confess their sins directly to God, but a spiritual father can also give advice and help a Christian heal by praying for them (James 5:16). This has to do with learning humility and acknowledging that we cannot heal ourselves. Some traditions go so far as to say that priests are appointed by God to stand "in the stead" of Christ, having the ability to forgive (or not forgive) sins on God's behalf (cf. "Office of the Keys," Matthew 16:19; John 20:23).

Most evangelical Protestant Christians do not have a functioning priesthood in the historic sense of the term, but they do have the equivalent (a pastor/elder) who will offer advice, but they do not generally view confession of sins to them as any different as to other believers. They do not believe that anyone should function as a mediator between a Christian and God and that the historic Christian priesthood violates this (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5).

So is confessing to a priest the only way to be forgiven? Regardless of which perspective of the priesthood that you adopt, the answer is no. First, remember the meaning of the word 'confession' that was previously discussed. If we die before we had a chance to confess a specific sin, that isn't going to send us straight to eternal torment. It is failure to acknowledge that our actions are sinful (saying a sinful action is not sinful, i.e. not saying the same thing as God) that will jeopardize our relationship with God (this is calling God a liar according to St. John). Even traditions which practice the historic priesthood do not believe that this is the only way to be forgiven (but they do believe that it is a divinely appointed means of forgiveness).

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We have a biblical warrant to be thinking in the mindset of confession for the forgiveness of sins.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10 ESV)

Yet, a larger survey of forgiveness in the Bible yields us with plenty of examples and explanations of forgiveness which say nothing of confession.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:21-25 ESV)

The biblical model of forgiveness is justification, that is, God's declaration of righteousness, through propitiation that is, the appeasement of wrath, on the basis of the blood of Christ, which is received by faith, as a gift.

The idea is that when a sinner places their faith in Christ, God's wrath against that sinner is appeased as a free gift to them and accounted on the basis of Jesus' sacrifice.

Confession generally serves as an expression of faith, although there is no biblical prescription that priests be the sole mediators of this forgiveness. In fact, the idea that a priest would have exclusive authority or office in the mediation of confessions is directly refuted:

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV)

The actual biblical prescriptions of confession are generally either directed to God (e.g. Psalm 51), or to one another:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16 ESV)

Nonetheless, there are traditions, most notably Roman Catholicism, which teach systems of sacraments, whereby the Church serves as a type of dispenser of various forms of God's grace. These graces are communicated through sacraments like Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Confession would fall into the wider scope of Penance, and thus the tradition of confession to a priest for forgiveness.

Although Roman Catholic teaching would hold that this system is biblical, personally, I reject this notion of the sacraments. I think that the most biblical case can be made for the forgiveness of sins by faith, and that this faith would express itself as confession to God and to other believers.

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The only way to be forgiven is to repent of your sins and call upon Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9-13), believing that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for sins (Romans 6:23) and rose again after three days and now intercedes in heaven on behalf of those who belong to Him (1 John 2:1). We can only be justified by the work of Jesus Christ, and we can do nothing to save ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Confessing your sins to a priest in order to obtain favor with God is detestable to God, because that action says that what Jesus did on the cross was not sufficient for justification. Jesus is the one mediator between us and God (1 Timothy 2:5), and He alone is our Priest (Hebrews 3:1). Confession to fellow believers is prescribed (James 5:16), but it is not for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness from God.

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May I ask why you're saying that confessing your sins to a priest is detestable to God ? do you have a justification for it ? or is it just your personal opinion ? –  Peter Jan 20 '13 at 11:14
    
If you notice, in italics, I say "in order to obtain favor with God." My reasoning comes from Galatians 5:1-4, where Paul talks about how seeking justification by means of the law severs us from Christ. I assert that God detests it when we do anything in a way other than His way. Hope that helps clarify! –  MuffinTheMan Jan 20 '13 at 15:03

Since the Catholic perspective has not yet been stated, and since the OP professed to be a member of a Church which is allied with Rome, it might be a good idea to state the RCC position here:

  • Mortal sins are sins which cut off your relationship with God.
  • Venial sins are all of the other sins.

A person who dies with venial sins on his soul will go to purgatory. A person who dies with a mortal sin on his soul will be condemned. Venial sins can be forgiven by a large number of things, most commonly, however, is that they are all forgiven (outright) by the very act of attending the penitential rite at Mass. (You should still confess these, but they will not merit purgatory). The prayer "May the Lord bless us, forgive us our sins..." is actually an absolution (I think the absolution is in the Eastern Trisagion Hymn, but I don't know).

Mortal sins are a little more tricky. They are normally (and most obviously) removed in the sacrament of reconciliation. However, it is possible to have them forgiven through perfect contrition, but part of that contrition includes the resolve to go to confession if available. It should also be noted that mortal sin can also be viewed under similar light as "baptism of desire". I am venturing into slightly ambiguous territory here (I've never actually seen this stated explicitly), but it seems to be consistent to believe that God will not damn a man who is on the way to confess his sins.

All of that said, we should also remember that simply because God has promised to work through the sacraments that does not mean that he will never work apart from the sacraments (Again, see doctrines surrounding invincible ignorance). We should also remember that the forgiveness comes from God and, even if we are using the sacrament of reconciliation, He is the one who is forgiving.

tldr; — forgiveness, even if it is through the sacraments, is still from God and only from God. He is the only way to be forgive.

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There are several Bible verses that back confession.

Jesus Christ granted the Apostles His Authority to forgive sins:

John 20:21 - Since Christ was sent to forgive sins, and he sent the Apostles out to forgive Sins.

John 20:22 - When the Lord "Breathes" on someone, a significant transformation takes place. See the reference in Genesis.

John 20:23 - Jesus says, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." In order for the apostles to exercise this gift of forgiving sins, the penitents must orally confess their sins to them because the apostles are not mind readers. The text makes this very clear.

Matt. 9:8 - Demonstrates that the Apostles can forgive. Where in Scripture is the gift of authority to forgive sins taken away from the apostles or their successors?

Matt. 9:6

Mark 2:10

Luke 5:24

Matt. 18:18

John 20:22-23

Matt. 18:18

2 Cor. 2:10

2 Cor. 5:18

James 5:15-16

1 Tim. 2:5

Lev. 5:4-6; 19:21-22

The Necessity and Practice of Orally Confessing Sins

James 5:16

Acts 19:18

Matt. 3:6

Mark 1:5

1 Tim. 6:12

1 John 1:9

Num. 5:7

2 Sam. 12:14

Neh. 9:2-3

Sir. 4:26

Baruch 1:14

1 John 5:16-17

Luke 12:47-48

Matt. 5:19

There is also tradition in the Early Church Fathers.

See here for more Commentary: http://www.scripturecatholic.com/confession.html

Since there is Scriptural evidence going all the way back to the Old Testament, confession is necessary.

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Ah confession. One of the seven sacraments in Roman Catholicism. Is it required? No. Can it help? Yes. If confessing to your pastor or priest helps you form a stronger relationship with Christ then go for it. Just make sure you remember who is doing the forgiving, not the pastor or priest but the one who died on the cross for the weakest of us. Thats just how I see it but United Methodists have always been pretty accepting

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