Writing a confession exercise
A general rule for confession is this: as the sin, so should the confession be.
- If you have had sinful thoughts toward a person, but you have not acted on those thoughts, confess the specific sin to God.
- If you have sinned against a person in word or action, confess your sin to God and to the person(s) who have been impacted by your sin (whether they know about the sin or not).
- If you have sinned against someone in a public setting, confess your sin to God, to the persons you sinned against and to the people who witnessed your sin.
When the Holy Spirit reveals sin in your life, Scripture instructs you to go humbly, privately and personally to the person or persons you have sinned against. There is an urgency in Scripture to confess as soon as you are aware of your sin. However, a partial or bad confession can often make the pain and damage worse. So, when you are convicted of sin that has been ongoing in your life, it is often best to write out and to read your confession over several times prior to speaking with someone. The discipline of writing helps you be clear, specific and humble—so you say exactly what you want to say in the way it should be said.
We recommend that you use the following outline for writing a confession. On your computer or on a sheet of paper, follow each step below, pausing after each step to write from your heart what you believe you need to say, following the instruction in italics. Proceed through each step to write and edit as directed. When completed, go to the person(s) you have sinned against and read your confession.
- Authentic confession is personal: You should address the person(s) offended by name and in person. Never use email. Avoid talking over the telephone. Always meet in person. Begin your confession with a personal opening statement, i.e., “John, I want to talk with you to ask forgiveness for how I have sinned against you...”
- Authentic confession is specific and succinct. You should name the sin or failure exactly, in plain and easy to understand words that are not ambiguous. Acknowledge that your sin violated an underlying ideal, belief, value or practice of your community -- of what is generally accepted and agreed upon to be wrong or hurtful. Your confession should say exactly what you did, when you did it, but you should not go into detail or provide a long description of the sin. Explain that you would like to read your confession because you know you are wrong and you want to be sure to say how you have sinned specifically. Write what you did and when you did it specifically, i.e., “I committed the sin of gossip by talking to Mary about you behind your back after the meeting last week.”
- Authentic confession is unconditional and comprehensive. You should take full responsibility for your sin, regardless of what others might have done or not done. Confess all of the sin, not merely what is known. Recognize and act on the consequences of your sin. The confession should NEVER blame others or include any statement or accusation about another person, even if true, i.e., “I am sorry for doing ABC because you did XYZ to me.” Edit what you have written so far. What do you need to include? What do you need to take out because it is blaming or explaining
- Authentic confession is humble. You should express genuine remorse for the specific harm your words or actions caused. Empathize with the social, emotional, physical and spiritual harm and suffering resulting from your sin. Recognize your guilt and humbly asks forgiveness. Write a statement expressing remorse and humbly asking for forgiveness, i.e., “I realize that my sin has caused you and your family a lot of pain . . . that grieves me . . . I ask you to forgive me.”
- Authentic confession promises to change. You should promise to make unreserved change by examining your character and committing to change the thoughts, attitudes and actions that led to the sin in the first place. Ask for, or commit to seeking, help so that you never do the sin again. Write a statement expressing your commitment to change, i.e., “I know that I have been using alcohol as a way to relieve my stress. I'm going to AA, so that I stop drinking and never do this to you or anyone else again . . . ”
- Authentic confession makes appropriate restitution. You should state your desire, and take immediate steps, to make just and appropriate restitution for your sin. Restitution means to pay back for the harm caused by the sin and to take steps to restore the trust broken. Here, you may ask the person offended what steps you could take to make restitution and begin restoring the relationship. Write what, specifically, you are doing to make restitution, i.e., "I am giving you $100.00 for you to buy a new ___________ to replace the one I broke. Will that cover your costs? What else can I do to make this right?
- Authentic confession seeks full reconciliation. You should state your desire to be fully reconciled and restored in your relationship to the person(s) you sinned against. You should seek out and make yourself accountable to at least two other people who can help you reestablish trust for a fully restored relationship. State your desire to be fully reconciled, i.e., "I know you cannot trust me now, but I am committed to doing whatever I can to restore our friendship in the future…"
NOW, LOOK OVER WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN. Is your confession personal? specific? unconditional? humble? promising to change? offering restitution? seeking full restoration?
Edit your confession to meet these guidelines then call the person(s) you have sinned against to arrange a time to meet when you can confess personally. May God give you the humility and courage to do what is right.
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Personal Confession Worksheet by Jim Van Yperen of Metanoia Ministries © 2008