It is true that we need to confess all our sins before God, for first and foremost all sins are against Him. A classic example of this is found in Psalm 51:3-4 where David prayed: “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (NKJV). David had sinned against Bathsheba (by committing adultery with her) and against her husband Uriah (by having him killed in battle), yet he knew that his sin was primarily against God for he had broken two of His commandments and dishonored His holy name. Some people may believe that it is sufficient to confess our sins to God alone without the need to confess it to those we have sinned against. But if we have sinned against someone we also need to go to them in true repentance with a sincere confession of our sin and seeking their forgiveness.

One example of this is found in Genesis 50:15-17: “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.’ So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, ‘Before your father died he commanded, saying, Thus you shall say to Joseph: I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you. Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” I believe Joseph longed to hear this confession and to forgive his brothers, and I also believe it helped to relieve the consciences of his brothers. Had they not sought Joseph’s forgiveness, there would have always been something between them, but their confession and his forgiveness resolved the issues between them, resulting in a healed relationship and blessed fellowship.

Now let’s address your question, “How does God react to people who refuse to ask for forgiveness from the ones they have sinned against?” Let’s read Matthew 18:15-17: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Here is a case where a brother has sinned against someone and because he is NOT asking for forgiveness the offended brother reaches out to him, hoping to “gain his brother.” This means he hopes his brother will acknowledge his sin, which in turn will bring about forgiveness and reconciliation. If his brother refuses to admit his guilt after he has taken the three steps outlined in these verses, he is to be treated “like a heathen and a tax collector,” which means he should be put out of the fellowship of believers in his local church (see 1st Corinthians chapter 5 where we have another example of one refusing to repent of his sin being excommunicated from the local church). He may be a true believer, but his refusing to admit his sin and seek the forgiveness of his brethren is so serious that he is to be treated as if he were an unbeliever.

Verse 18 goes on to say, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This means that God sanctions the discipline of the local church and thus it is a clear example of how God reacts to those who refuse to confess their sin and ask for forgiveness from the ones they have sinned against. God is holy and He expects true repentance when we sin, which includes confessing our sin to the one we have offended and seeking their forgiveness. If this doesn’t occur, God not only agrees with the discipline of the local church, but He gives them the authority to do it, as we see in verses 19-20: “If two of you shall agree on earth concerning anything that they shall ask, it will be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (240.5) (DO)