Does repentance require confession?
Repentance certainly requires confession. It is not simply a resolve to change and behave differently in the future from what I do today. I don’t believe that I need to confess every sin I’ve ever committed to everybody in the world or to all the people in my family. Ultimately, my sin is against God, and what repentance always requires is confession of our sin before God and confession accompanied by contrition—real remorse.
I know that I have never approached the full measure of remorse and contrition for my sins that I should have. I believe it was Thomas à Kempis who said that the greatest saints rarely come anywhere close to feeling the full measure of weight of their own sinfulness. I’m glad the Holy Spirit reveals the depths of my sin gradually to me. If He revealed to me right now the full measure of my guilt before God, I would be destroyed. I would be like Isaiah, during his vision of God, when he said he was coming apart (Isa. 6:5).
We have to confess, and with that confession comes a real godly sorrow, not just a fear of punishment, or what we call “attrition.” God doesn’t despise a broken and contrite heart, but rather He desires it as the reality of our repentance.
This is a transcript of R.C. Sproul’s answer given during our 2016 National Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.