Confession is not repentance. But at the same time, the two are not mutually exclusive. A confession, in light of the biblical imperative, should always be coupled with repentance.
But that depends.
Why are you confessing to begin with?
Is it because you’ve been caught red-handed, and so you confess, in hopes of a lighter sentence? Or do you confess out of the grievous nature of your sin, a weight to which you can no longer bear?
That is the difference between, what Paul calls, worldly sorrow and godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow is concerned for how they’ve sinned against God, and others, while worldly sorrow is just plain sorry they’ve been caught, with no regard for the way in which they’ve hurt others.
Worldly sorrow is self-centered and, ultimately, leads to death. Whereas godly sorrow is God-centered, and leads to life.
If the ladder is the motivation of our confession, than repentance should naturally follow. Repentance is a “turning away” from our sin; so that, we begin to hate the sin that we once loved, and love the God that we once hated. Repentance turns us from sin, causing us to flee from sin, and turns us towards God and His way and will for our lives. Repentance is motivated by a love for God, and a hatred for sin.
In the Gospel according to Luke, repentance is a fundamental theme (3:8; 5:31-32; 15:1-32; 18:9-14; 24:47). In Luke 13, verses 1-5, the crowd tells Jesus of the Galileans, in an attempt to compare varying degrees of sin. Jesus, in turn, responds by asking them if they thought, “these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans,” and answers his question to the crowd with an emphatic “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).
Throughout all of Scripture, we are called to not only confess our sin, trusting that God is faithful to forgive us of our trespasses, but also to repent of our sin, as an expression of our love for God, and our hatred for sin.
Even as a professing believer, I spent the first few years confessing, but never truly repenting. As a result, I constantly found myself down at the altar each Sunday, confessing my sin, while “rededicating” my life to God. Yet there was never any real repentance, never any turning away, or warring against my flesh, just a leaning upon the grace of God as if it were a license to sin.
Quite honestly, I never really understood the gravity of my sin, or the magnitude of His love for me, until more recently.
The Cross of Christ has become the impetus that drives me to my knees, in confession and repentance. Indeed, Christ’s death upon the Cross is not merely to absolve the punishment of my sin, but to free me from the power of that sin that has held me captive from my mother’s womb.
Therefore, beloved, remember the Cross of Christ, confess, and repent.