~by Pastor Mike Middaugh
We are quickly approaching the season of Lent (Ash Wednesday is February 18) which means we are entering a more contemplative and introspective season of the church year. Over the several weeks I have outlined several classic spiritual disciplines that are largely overlooked today.
I say that jokingly as I am not sure many of us would get excited about the idea of confessing our sins. However, rather than seeing any of these spiritual disciplines as practices that weigh us down, I hope that we will see they are truly mean to free us.
We actually have a rather odd relationship with confession. On the one hand we have an aversion to it – not wanting to dwell on our faults, errors, sins or shortcomings. But, on the other hand, we seem to be deeply attracted to it – demanding accountability from our public leaders accused of a breach of ethics or moral failing. So why do we have this paradoxical relationship with confession?
We are averse to it because the moment we begin to admit our own shortcomings and failings we must also admit we are not able to live up to God’s standards, or own own, not to mention the standards we place upon other people. This means we are not truly free. That we cannot really be the “good” person we would like to convince ourselves that we are. Sure, we could argue that we might be able to see more good in ourselves, than some others, but this brings up another logic problem – how “good” do we have to be to gain God’s favor and salvation?
But in a strange way we are also drawn to confession, as if we are made for it, and deep down we understand it’s power.
Let’s think about it like this. What if every time some public figure fell short (Brian Williams being the most recent example), they knew that the moment they confessed they would be embraced by the the public with welcoming arms ready to forgive and reinstate them? Wouldn’t confession then become easier? Wouldn’t we be quicker to run towards it rather than away?
In saying that I do not mean to discount the need for consequences in this civil realm. Certainly consequences or punishment are sometimes necessary. But I do want us to consider what confession to GOD really means. At its core, confession simply means “agreement.” It is acknowledging and agreeing before God with the way things really are. In confession we do not tell God something he doesn’t already know. But rather, God knew our sins all along and when we confess, we are simply agreeing with him that they were really there.
The good news is that when we do confess and acknowledge our sin, God is the perfect audience always ready with forgiveness. The reason this is possible is because our sin has already been placed on Jesus. He took it with him to the cross, allowed it to crush him, and in turn became victorious over it. God no longer judges us for our sin because the price has already been paid.
So in confession we receive forgiveness. The weight of what was really there all along is removed from our lives. We are free and open and exposed before God and that is a very good place to be. We begin to understand his grace and his goodness even more.
This changes our hearts and changes our attitudes. It helps us to see again the need for his grace, while being thankful that his grace is truly there. Regular confession of our own sin also prevents us from becoming judgmental towards others. We realize they may be bad, but we are too.
So when should we confess?
We make corporate confession together on Sunday mornings. It comes at the beginning of our service when we speak together the words of acknowledgment asking God to forgive us. We then audibly hear his forgiveness spoken over us as we kneel.
Confession does not need to be limited to one time and one place however. It has long been a practice experienced by God’s people as part of prayer. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus teaches us to say “forgive us our trespasses (sins), as we forgive others,” and when we do, even privately, we can know that it is so.
For centuries in the Christian Church confession has also been a private practice that takes place between a pastor and an individual. We may think of this sort of private confession as being a Catholic thing, but it actually has roots very early in the Christian church and continues to this day in Christian churches across the denominational spectrum. For some situations it may be especially helpful to hear someone else speak words of forgiveness into your life, reminding you of the power and truth of the gospel. It should be said that it is not only pastors who are able to speak words of forgiveness to another believer, but that all Christians are able to share with one another the reality of God’s forgiveness. Some Christians even choose to enter into an “accountability” relationship with another, making a point to regularly meet and confess to each other the temptations or struggles they deal with.
Ultimately confession is a great gift for Christians. We are not left wondering whether we are forgiven, or whether our sins might be too great to receive God’s grace. Jesus has made possible the way of forgiveness and the way of grace. His death is powerful enough to conquer even the worst of sin. And in his perfect life he has accomplished what we could not.
Click Here for Part 1 of this series.
Click Here for Part 2 of this series.