"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).
Most teach this to mean, "Christians have to recount (list) all of their recent sins every time they pray in order to be forgiven by God and to have fellowship with God." So what is the problem with that? The problem comes if you assume something for yourself that was not intended for you & taking that assumption causes you to put conditions on your relationship with God that aren't actually there.
Two Reasons The Scripture is Not Telling Christians To List Sins
#1. 1 John 1 wasn't written for Christians. It was an explanation of how to be saved using inclusive language. John starts off this section of scripture saying "Now this is the message we have heard from Jesus and announce to you." The message is about God and how to be saved in verses 5b-10.
#2. The word "confess" in 1 John 1:9 does not mean recount or list (recall & recite in prayer) but it actually means "to agree." It is to agree with God about your sins, that you had them and Christ took care of them. If you agree with God that Christ took your sins away, which He did, then you have no reason to recount them. Doing so would actually be the opposite of what John intended when writing this scripture. 1 John 1:9 simply means, "You receive His forgiveness by believing His forgiveness." It is not a rule for daily relationship. It is praising God that Christ finished the work of forgiveness on the cross and saying, "I want in on this!" Even if this were written for Christians it would simply mean, "Continue to agree with God that your sins are taken away and rejoice over Christ's finished work on your behalf!"
Why Can Confessing Sins Make Me Feel Forgiven?
Imagine God has set a bowl of fruit in front of you. He has, in reality, given you the whole bowl for you to take whatever you want whenever you want. If you think they only way He will allow you to have a piece of fruit is for you to list your sins and ask for forgiveness then you will only enjoy the fruit when you meet the conditions you perceive to be necessary. Christian, God has completely forgiven you of sin for all time (Colossians 2:13). You can feel as much forgiveness as you want but if you genuinely don't believe the forgiveness is there unless you meet certain conditions then you will only feel it when you've met those conditions. You are trying to reach through a hole in the wall to get forgiveness from the other side when in fact there isn't even a wall. You can feel forgiven when you confess because you are already totally forgiven. I live in His total forgiveness and I feel free and forgiven anytime I want, all I have to do is turn my mind to my wonderful Father. I used to reach through a tiny hole in the wall (listing of sin) to receive my forgiveness but now it inhabits my whole world.
How Recounting Sins Deadens What Should be Abundant Life in Christ
It Causes Feelings of Shame
A major part of this false doctrine is that sin causes a Christian to "break fellowship with God." Shame means disgrace, dishonor, disfavor. It is being out of favor; a loss of favor. Shame is literally the opposite of grace. A removal of fellowship is a removal of favor. If I refuse to relate to someone because of something they've done they have lost my favor. “Everyone who trusts in Jesus will never be put to shame” (Isaiah 28:16, Romans 9:33, 10:11, 1 Peter 2:6, Joel 2:26-27, Isaiah 45:17, 54:4). That means God will never disgrace anyone who is saved. You will never lose God's favor or fellowship. Someone with shame says, "I am bad, I am worthless, I'm a no good sinner." Those are things you typically hear in prayers that confess sins. God never causes His children to feel like that, He will never put you to shame nor does He command something that shamefully requires you to recite your failures in prayer.
If someone you knew forced you to tell him all of your failures everyday that would dishonor you, disgrace you, and that person wouldn't seem to have much favor for you. What type of father wants you to focus on your faults, on every conceivable shortcoming that you have? Please don't make excuses for God to behave worse and love worse than human beings, He doesn't. God's ways are higher than our ways but remember Jesus is The Way, He perfectly exemplified God's ways. He never asked His disciples to list their sins to Him or to the Father. God's response to shame was to ignore it thus preventing someone from dwelling on it one bit. Instead of acknowledging shame He immediately offered security, gifts, and joy (see this post for more on God's response to shame).
It Stirs up Lusts of the Flesh
No one who believes that "Christians need to confess their sins to God" would admit this but as someone who once believed it & practiced it I'll say it, recounting what you think to be your recent sins tempts your mind and body into repeating those deeds. This is one of those things Christians ignore because they think they are weak and they just aren't living up to what they think "God's way" is.
Philippians 4:8 says, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Is what we would typically call sin any of these things? Certainly not!
It Limits God's Love & Is Unloving to Us
Because of what Jesus did God promises to no longer remember our sins (Hebrews 8:12,10:17). The false teaching of Christian confession of sins requires people to remind Him of them. "Love keeps no record of wrongs" but those who feel they must confess their sins keep the best record of their own wrongs they possibly can. If God wanted you to confess your sins to Him that would mean He doesn't want you to love yourself, because you must keep a constant record of sins for or between your prayers. It would also mean that God doesn't love you because He keeps a record of your wrongs in between your confessions. This doctrine of Christian confession slanders the name and nature of our God & makes His love purely conditional.
It Opposes What Christ Died For
Confession of sins has Christians remember sins & ignores God's example of forgetting them. It has people dwelling on evil in daily prayer instead of dwelling on good. Jesus took our sins away (Romans 11:27), confession brings our sins back out. Jesus' sacrifice purified us from sin one time, for all time so our consciousness of sin can disappear (Hebrews 10:1-2). Confession demands constant consciousness of sin.
As I've just shown it opposes much of God's work on the cross causing people to live the opposite of how God intends. It is a doctrine of Satan that will rob you of peace, fill you with shame, & tempt you with the same things you try to avoid. Worst of all it will put a condition on God's forgiveness & relationship (fellowship) causing you to perpetually feel far from Jesus who gave you His blood to make you eternally inseparable from Him. Sin is defeated. Christian, for you it is taken away forever, never to be brought up again. Jesus Christ is the end of sin for all those who trust Him (Romans 4:15, 5:13, 10:4). That is my experience & my confession.
Inseparable & Unforsakable, Fellowship Never Broken- Looks in depth at why God will never "break fellowship" with His child & at how 1 John 1 is not written for Christians.
Forgiven and Loving
Why Christians Don't Need to Confess Sins- Teachings from Various People