The main purpose of confession is to obtain forgiveness from God, so that He will bring us back into a right relationship with Him. This also is the purpose of confessing our sins to people we have offended—so that they will forgive us, and that we will be restored in our fellowship with them. But there are other adjoining purposes or reasons for confession.
Here are seven purposes for the prayer of confession (from Psalms 51, 1 John 1:9, and Psalms 66:18):
1. To obtain the promise of forgiveness and cleansing. When we confess our sins in prayer to God, He will both forgive us and cleanse us. His cleansing always comes with His forgiveness. It is a cleansing from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9; and Ps. 51:2, 7, 9).
2. To acquire truth. We will never have the same strong desire for truth and purity that God has, but if we take time to meditate on what He is like and learn the wisdom that He desires for us, then He will teach us this value of confession—that if we confess our sins (agree with God about the ugliness of our sins) He will bring truth and purity into the depths of our soul (Ps. 51:6).
3. To obtain a pure heart and a steadfast spirit. When we confess our sins God does a wonderful work of cleansing and renewal in us. He creates in us a new heart and spirit, a heart that is pure and a spirit that is strong and steadfast, which is able to resist temptation (Ps. 51:10).
4. To restore fellowship. In Psalms 51:11 David prays, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” When we sin we choose to go away from His presence, because anyone who sins hates the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (Jn. 3:20). Likewise, God will not come near us, because He who is light can have no fellowship with those who walk in darkness. Therefore, if we remain in our sins we will have no fellowship with Him. But if we confess our sins He will forgive us and restore us to fellowship; and we will once again enjoy the nearness of His presence. David says in Psalms 73:28, “But it is good for me to draw near to God…” Again in Psalms 84:10 he says, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
5. To restore joy. While we are in sin we may have some feeling of happiness; but it is not a deep down joy, and it never lasts very long. When we confess our sins, He forgives us, cleanses us and restores the joy of our salvation. Then we will sing and praise Him for His righteousness (Ps. 51:8, 12, 14, 15).
6. To be granted a willing spirit. When we confess our sins, along with the joy that He gives us, He will uphold us and give us a willingness to obey Him. Moreover, He will give us the desire and the ability to teach sinners His ways and to bring them to Christ (Ps. 51:13).
7. So that God will hear our prayers of petition. If we cherish sin in our heart and refuse to confess our sins, God will not hear us when we pray (Ps. 66:18); He will hide His face from us (Is. 59:2). But if we agree with God about our sin and humbly seek His face, He will open the door of petition to us and will answer every request.
The prayer of confession not only has purposes of its own, but it also opens the door to all the parts of prayer, and likewise contributes to the overall purposes of prayer; for when we confess our sins in prayer, we are then immediately invited by the Father to pray to Him with praise, thanksgiving, and petitions. Confession also allows me to experience prayer as God meant it to be for me, that is, to experience the love and greatness of the Father, and to have a part in praying that His name be hallowed, that His kingdom would come, and that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.