The Power of Confession

Why is it so hard to admit it when you are wrong? 

Many of us have a difficult time facing the facts, but according to a new book, it’s not all our fault after all!  Blame it on your brain!  Psychologist Elliot Aronson says our brains work hard to make us think we are doing the right thing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Psychologists refer to this as cognitive dissonance – which is the brains attempt at self justification.  We know that it is wrong, and we condemn it in others, but to compensate, so we can live with ourselves, we minimize or dismiss the problem that we have.

For example: You think of yourself as an honest person, but you cheated on your last exam. You can either: #1 Admit that cheating is wrong and that maybe you’re not as honest as you thought, (but that would be harsh). Or, #2 you can apply cognitive dissonance and justify the cheating by saying that a lot of other students were doing it too, so it really just leveled the playing field.

Another example:  You think of yourself as a fairly competent and smart individual, but when your work is reviewed by your colleagues, they point out several errors. (Ouch) You can either:  #1 Acknowledge the mistakes and reevaluate your work. (You could, but that would make you look bad) Or, #2 Apply cognitive dissonance and accuse your colleagues of jealously, of not being on the same academic level as you, or bias.  Mistakes were made (But Not by Me).

To further complicate the issue, your brain is hard wired to reinterpret your memories in order to paint you in the best possible light.  While we all firmly believe our memories are accurate, and that misinterpreting our memories would never happen to us, studies have shown that “memories are distorted in a self-enhancing direction in all sorts of ways.” [i]

People remember voting in elections they didn’t vote in; they remember giving more to charity than they really did; they remember that their children walked and talked at an earlier age than they did.  They also remember catching a bigger fish and shooting a bigger deer than they really did.

If you’ve ever been sure that you remembered an episode of your past correctly only to later find evidence that your version of events couldn’t possibly have been true, you know how disturbing it is when you realize your memory isn’t as reliable as you once thought.

For example, some say, “I’m not really an alcoholic; I rarely drink more than I should.  I don’t have that big a problem with my temper; I’ve got it under control most of the time.  So I cheated once; I don’t make a habit of it.  Ok, so I lied, you can trust me!  I don’t have a problem admitting when I’m wrong; in fact I can’t remember the last time I was wrong!”

When asked, “What is the wrong with the world? G.K. Chesterton perceptively replied, “I am.”

If I choose to minimize, dismiss, or justify my problems, there is no hope that I will ever overcome them.  My ability to grow spiritually is directly proportional to my ability to objectively self evaluate my sins … or should I say, my wiliness to let the Holy Spirit reveal my sins.

And that leads us to today’s topic about the Power of Confession; it is essential to admit it when you are wrong if you are ever to overcome your sins.

Confession Conquers Self Deception

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8

Notice that the word “sin” is in the singular.  (If we say we have no sin –  i.e. that we are not sinners). The reason it is in the singular is because it is not talking about our behavior, instead it is talking about our nature or who are we on the inside.

In preparation for this chapter I read numerous articles by psychologists on confession and cognitive dissonance.  Every one of those articles suggested that the reason we don’t like to admit fault is because we like to think we are really good people on the inside and that it goes against our nature to admit that we are anything else but nice, kind, good, innocent people.

This verse calls that “self deception.”  If you think you are a ‘good’ person, you have fooled yourself.  My Bible says that I was born in sin (Psalm 51:5).  That it is my nature to sin (Ephesians 2:3).  That the very best that I can do on my own is stained like a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6).

Why should I believe that I am a sinner by nature?  Because if true, it is arrogant in the extreme to believe that my sinful nature could ever be reformed with a self help book, or rehabilitated in some kind of behavioral unit, or improved if I only try hard enough.  The reality is that all of us are deeply broken and that brokenness first and foremost greatly affects our relationship with God and then bleeds into every area of our life and community.

Instead I must strip away the deception and confess that I am a sinner who is unable to help myself, and that I need a savior to save and transform me.  That is the power of confession.

Confession Results in Forgiveness

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

In this verse the word “sins” is in the plural.  This is talking about the many sins that we commit because we have failed to live up to God’s standards.  These could be sins against our fellow man, or they can be sins only against God.  Any time you discover that you have failed to live up to God’s standards, as plainly stated in God’s Word, you should confess your sins.

Now what does the word “confession” mean.  The word confession in the Greek language is homologeo (ὁμολογέω) – coming from two words homo or homogenous meaning “the same” and logos meaning “the truth.”   It means to say the same thing God says about your sin.  It means to concede to the truth, to agree with the facts, to admit ones guilt, to declare freely, and say the same thing about your sin that God says about it.  It is to take personal responsibility for your own failures.

Here is how you can make a bad confession – some people call it an apology (which simply means that you are defending your actions):

“Look, I’m sorry, OK?”

“I’m sorry; I didn’t realize you were so sensitive.”

“I’m sorry your feelings got hurt.”

If I have offended you, I apologize.”

“I’m sorry, but it really wasn’t all my fault.”

“I apologize, but if so and so hadn’t gotten involved, I would never have done that.”

Regardless of what form self-justification takes, that justification is designed to minimize your responsibility for the mistake or failure.  However pure your intentions, this kind of apology is missing something pretty imperative: An actual apology.

Now let me tell you what a good confession looks like:


  1. Address all those involved. The scope of confession of fault should specifically reach those you have offended.
  2. Avoid saying “if I have offended you,” “but it’s not all my fault,” or “perhaps I was wrong.” Give an unqualified apology.
  3. Admit specifically what you own up to if you want to be believable.
  4. Acknowledge the hurt you caused. If you aren’t sure how you have hurt someone, you can ask, “have I understood how I hurt you?” or directly, “please tell me how I have hurt you.”
  5. Accept the consequences of your actions. If you broke something, accept responsibility and fix it.  If you have taken something, return it.
  6. Alter your behavior. Explain how you intend to act in the future to avoid this problem.  You may even want to write it down.
  7. Ask for forgiveness, and allow others time to process. Sometimes the people you have hurt are not ready to forgive that very second.

Now we’ve been talking about confessing our faults to one another.  The very act of telling another person of the wrong you have done helps to make you more deeply sorry for having done it.  That’s powerful.  But this verse is really about confessing your faults to God.

You can confess your faults to people all day long and still have them held against you!  If you want divine forgiveness, you need to seek it from God.  That’s when the transformation begins; true confession to High Priest Jesus results in forgiveness, cleansing and a clear conscience.  And that is a powerful step to real transformation.

Confession Makes us Rightly Related to God

“If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” 1 John 1:10

While verse 8 warned us about the deception of claiming that we are born a sweet, good, innocent person with at clean slate at the core instead of a sinful nature, verse 10 is warning about the deception of claiming that we have achieved such a level of wonderfulness that we have are living a sinless, perfect life.

The danger here is twofold – #1 we make God out to be a liar – since God calls us sinful – He must be lying, and #2 His Word is not in us – that is talking about minimizing the standards of God’s word to such a degree, that that our misdeeds are not, nor have ever been sin.  It is about bringing God’s holy standards down to a low and finally achievable level.

Don’t waste your time pretending that you are better than you really are.  You know the old saying, “When you pretend you are perfect it only irritates those of us who really are!”  (NOT!)

The most successful people at overcoming their sins are extremely hard on themselves because they realize that God is holy, and that we should be holy as God is holy.

Confession has little to do with the flood of confessional disclosures that characterize our age on tell-all TV talk shows and social networking sites.  There is even an iPhone app for confession!  In this time of Internet connectivity, amid the din of over-sharing, we mistake spasms of self-revelation for honesty. Our inner voice is not so easily found and cannot be parsed into 10-second bursts or 140 character tweets.

Confession demands something for which there is no substitute: that we be honest with ourselves.  Confession strips away the veil that we often cast over our actions.  This kind of confession demands self-reflection and change.

We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. You may be true or false, the choice is yours. You may wear one mask now and now another later, and never, if you hide well enough, appear with your own true face. But you cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if you lie to yourself and to others, then you cannot expect to find truth whenever you incidentally want to know it. If you have chosen the way of prevarication don’t be surprised if truth eludes you when you need it!

When confession becomes a practice, a daily reevaluation of one’s actions — an art — its power grows, instilling a new sense of confidence, a vision of what life truly can be.  Confession is a treasured attitude. It is the cornerstone of the intentional life, not merely a clearing out of the debris that which is bad or wrong in us, but a realignment of what is best for us, an intention to live a better life.[iii]


[ii]   Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande –





  1. Awesome blog you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any
    message boards that cover the same topics discussed in this article?
    I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get responses from other experienced people that share the same interest.
    If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
    Thank you!

    • Dennis Kreiss says:

      Thanks for your encouragement! I am not acquainted with any message boards that discuss this topic. I would suggest a search on facebook groups. I saw several of them that might work. You must be selective and give the ones you think are good a try. If not, try another one. Hope that helps!

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