Confession of sins is one of the more difficult of Christian disciplines, and at the same time one of the more necessary disciplines. It is more than a tip of the hat to humility or modesty. It is rather the continual coming clean with God and with our brothers and sisters in the community of God’s new humanity. We need to begin with, at least, three Biblical teachings:

  • “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9). … you are a sinner.
  • “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13). … so is everybody else.
  • “ … confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

Confession of sin is spiritually therapeutic. It is cleansing, and it is our coming out of hiding and becoming authentic to our brothers and sisters in the community. It is also fraught with dangers when there is lack of integrity in the community, so that our confession becomes the subject of gossip. Lives can be destroyed if there is not a mutual covenant of confidentiality among those to whom we confess.

Henri Nouwen, the Roman Catholic monastic, scholar, and author, encourages Christ’s followers to: “seek transparency”. His is a call for authenticity in the lives of God’s new creation people. Earl Palmer, who is a preacher and scholar in the Reformed tradition, humorously notes that the Reformed doctrine of total depravity is “the great equalizer,” the democratizing principle by which all of us come into the Christian community on the same level—we’ re all sinners.

Sin takes so many forms, and can be so subtle. In our daily lives, it can be discontent, hormonal overdrive, anger, loveless-ness, insensitivity, envy, greed, inflated ego, jealousy, or any kind of failure to live out the mandates of Jesus in lives of joyous obedience. And we’re all in that together. At the same time, we need to be able to be forthright about this within the Christian community. It is one thing to be willing to do Bible study, or a book study in our community fellowship group, but it is equally necessary to be transparent about who we are, i.e. to confess our struggles, our sins, our need of prayer with our fellow sinners as we engage the daily vicissitudes of our lives, including our struggles with our short-fall in seeking to live-out God’s glory. Confession is liberating. It is becoming real and transparent in real life. Which is why the classical Anglican prayer of confession in the liturgy is so refreshing, and yet realistic:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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  1. Jermaine Ladd says:

    An excellent reminder to the call of penitence,

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