Prodigal sons: Part 1 – Confession

I was thinking about the story of the prodigal son the other day and how much we can learn from this parable.

I’ve written a few blogs on the topic and this first one revolves around the idea of confession.

You see first there is the son who left and then came back again, we learn so much about the nature of God through this son. When we turn our backs on God, His will and our nature as a son/daughter it never goes well. Eventually though we will end up coming back to Him, it is actually impossible to escape our sonship if we have been adopted in, at some point there is a realization of who we are or we never were adopted in the first place. God is in the business of making sons, not orphans! (John 10:28, Heb 13:5, 1 John 2:19, Romans 8:38-39)


Have you ever noticed that the son while in a terrible situation has a realization that maybe just maybe his father will accept him as a servant so he thinks up an appropriate apology, a confession if you will, so that the father might forgive him. For the son the whole forgiveness is wrapped up in the father being convinced of his absolute brokenness and his willingness to become the least of the least in his organization.

“I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’ ”

But whats funny about this is that God doesn’t need an apology or a confession, it says that while the son was still a long way off “his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” You see God doesn’t need our apologies, He just needs a heart that is turned back towards Him. The very fact that we think the word “repent” means to apologize points out how much we need this revelation. It simply means to change the way we think.

The story is funny though because the son obviously doesn’t quite grasp this and still tries to get his fantastic speech out, but only half way through his confession the father completely cuts him off and reinstated him as a full son, not as a servant.

This is beautiful, it reminds us that while confession is important, it is only to remind us of the distance between what we did and who we are in Christ. Confession is not for His benefit, it’s for ours!

So we don’t confess our sins?

No. Of course I’m not saying we don’t confess our sins, that can produce a hardening of the heart and arrogance, we’ve seen that too many times to fall prey to that. However, when we confess our sins it is never to try get closer to God, but rather to realize how far our thoughts are from who we are and to position ourselves to change the way we think, to repent.

Robert Capon said it best when he said – “Confession is only to bring sins to the light of Jesus and see clearly that they were forgiven all along”

Joseph Prince in his (fantastic) book Destined to Reign states, “We don’t have to confess our sins in order to be forgiven. We confess our sins because we are already forgiven. When I say ‘confess our sins’, I’m talking about being open with God… Confession in the new covenant is just being honest about your failures and your humanity. It is the result of being forgiven and not something you do in order to be forgiven.”

My question to you is:

When do you something wrong and confess your sins are you doing it to say “Lord help me renew my mind because I don’t believe who I really am?” Or are you maybe saying, “Lord I don’t deserve to be your son, please forgive me so I can try better next time?”

Just a thought.

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    • Yeah I guess that’s a good way to put it. It really is a great tool in renewing the mind, staying humble, acknowledging we are in a process in our minds but moving towards what is true in reality.

  1. Hi, Phil. I know you put it that way according to the story of the prodigal son, but how about 1 John 1:9? It’s “confess” first, then the “forgiveness”

      • My point was that once God’s gift of forgiveness has been received it’s not something we have to come back to again and again and again each time doing our part to “get” forgiven.

        We have to take the works out of our forgiveness.

        Hopefully that makes sense and was useful.

        • Well, I think confession is delivering us from the condemnation of our own heart (and the devil really takes the advantage from this). For me it’s like a son who acknowledge to his father about the wrong things he did and get back to the relationship

          • It would be interesting for you to do a study on the word “confess” in the Greek… you see it actually means something quite different to what we usually take it in the English.

            The word homolegeo (confess) means “to completely agree with God” – It totally looks like professing wrong or whatever sometimes but the end result is that we completely agree with God. And God is not speaking over us that we are sinners but rather that we are righteous.

            This might be a good article for that one –

      • Hi, Phil. Thanks. I just read it, however I didn’t see any clue that it was written to the unbelievers, at least from a non Theology student view like mine. Please explain how to determine which is for believers and unbelievers?

        • Hi Erick. John was specifically addressing Gnostic beliefs in this book that had crept into the church in question. This is undisputed among scholars as it’s right there in the text John is attacking gnostic beliefs and focusing on truths that fly directly in the face of what they believe.

          Many scholar are divided over that 1 John 1 passage however. That said those who say that 1 John 1:9 give non-answers and straw-man arguments about the later passages in 1 John 2 and 3 because they just don’t fit in the context of 1 John 1:9 being directed toward the believers.
          This is a pretty good article if you are interested in looking at that passage in more depth –

  2. I didn’t know ya believed in eternal security bro, kinda caught me off gaurd. If its possible to be blotted out of the Book of Life…I would call that losing your salvation, but anyway its all good its a non-essential.

    My view is that confession is the fruit of repentence or being broken of ourselves. For to long repentence has been taught as a process of obtaining forgiveness, but like ya said its changing the way you think, like Rom 12, a transformation by the renewing of the mind.

    • Yes – I think that understanding that repentance isn’t remorse or us paying penance is going to rock the church as a whole! It’s going to be beautiful to see the body of Christ grab ahold of that fact! I actually am about to post a video on repentance tonight – would love to hear your thoughts :)

  3. I think, in the case of the Prodigal Son, it depends on how you see the exchange. Kenneth Bailey in “Poet and Peasant and Through Peasants Eyes” suggested that the son had basically cut himself off from his father/family. When he came to his senses, after taking care of unclean pigs, he thought, well, I won’t bother trying to restore myself to my family, but go on my own terms and earn my own my own way, as this man’s servant, not as an heir, so I’ll ask to be a hired servant. When his father threw dignity to the wind and ran to him, he confessed: “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son”

    • Thanks for sharing this Kristian – I’ve never heard of that book. It certainly wasn’t a great “confession” by our standards was it haha

      God is so good and gracious towards us :)

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