The Torah commands us to confess our sins and repent from them. Sin is transgression of the Torah’s commandments. When we sin, we are not to remain in the sin, nor are we to passively accept the fact that we are sinners. The LORD commands us to strive against sin. We must humble ourselves to confess the sin and then turn away from it.
Even the smallest sin should be confessed. Confession should be made privately, but audibly, directly to God. King David says, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah’” (Psalm 32:5). John the beloved disciple says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
The Chofetz Chaim explains the obligation of confession and repentance as follows:
A sinner should turn back from his sin, and should confess his misdeed before God as Scripture says, “When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the LORD, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess his sins which he has committed” (Numbers 5:6-7). This means an avowal in words before the blessed God. He is to say from the depths of his heart, “I beseech You HaShem: I have sinned, done wrong, and acted criminally before You. This-and-this I did (and he is to describe the sin in detail); and here I have regretted my deed and become ashamed of it. Never will I go back and do this thing again.” The main element is remorse in the heart, in truth, over the past; and one must take it upon himself not to do such a thing ever again. Confession is the essential part of repentance; and the more one confesses, the more praiseworthy he is. (Chofetz Chaim)
The Torah links confession and repentance together: “He shall confess his sins which he has committed and repent.” Confession is the first step toward repentance. When John the Immerser called Israel to immerse as a sign of repentance, they came to be “baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). Yeshua’s gospel message of the kingdom came with an imperative to repent. Most of Yeshua’s teachings illustrate repentance. The first step of obedience to Yeshua requires a confession and renunciation of sin. The life of discipleship requires daily confession and repentance.
Confession should be made audibly in prayer to God, but it need not be made in front of others or to another person. It does not require an intermediary. In Judaism, penitents need not confess their sins to priests or rabbis. Nevertheless, when possible, one should seek out a trusted brother or sister in whom one can confide, as James the brother of the Master says, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Confessing transgression to a trusted friend and expressing deep remorse over the sin to another person introduces a level of accountability.
Disciples of Yeshua can confidently carry out the commandment, confessing sins before God. We know that, thanks to the efficacious sacrifice of our righteous Messiah, our prayers of confession and repentance will always be received: “He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:13).