The Confession of Sin

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It is the grace of Jesus Christ that inspires the confession of sin and repentance. Think of Peter, after Jesus had blessed the fishermen with a miraculous catch (Luke 5:1-11). Think of Zacchaeus, after Jesus visited his house (Luke 19:1-10). “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4, emphasis mine).

If you do not know the kindness, the grace, the love of God, you will try to cover your sins for fear of judgment. Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:1-8). Self-preservation in a hostile environment demands that we go into hiding. The best way to hide is by convincing ourselves and others that there’s nothing much wrong with us (self-justification).

This means that the way to encourage the confession of sin is not with threats of judgment or punishment, but with promises of mercy, forgiveness, love, and acceptance—credible promises reinforced by a history of love’s evidence. The sorrowful confession of sin that leads to true repentance is the ceasing of self-preservation and self-justification, which can only happen when you are convinced that you are loved in spite of your sin. Before you confess your sin, you must believe that God forgives you and loves you.

Jesus Christ wants you to know that he has divine authority to forgive your sin (Luke 5:24). God forgave you, once and for all, when Jesus, the sinless one, died as a sinner on the cross, in your place. Now, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). He has “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Because of the grace of Jesus Christ, the eternal guilt of your sin is irretrievable.

The Christian grows in his ability to confess sin as he grows in his faith in the grace of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that you will be “really” forgiven as you become “truly” aware of your need for forgiveness. And it is not to say that you will be forgiven anew each time you confess new sins. Your sins were forgiven long before you were willing to admit them even to yourself. Your sins are forgiven even though you’ll never know them all. The forgiveness of your sin was accomplished at the cross, and applied to you fully when you first trusted Jesus Christ. But your appreciation for that grace will grow, and will inspire you to deeper confession and repentance throughout this life… which will cause your appreciation for grace to grow further still.

That’s why we make time for the confession of sin and assurance of pardon each Sunday. We confess our sins together weekly. Jesus has made it okay for us to do that without fear. Don’t be surprised in a self-righteous way when you or your neighbors actually turn out to be sinners!

“The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners! …

“Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together—the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pp. 110, 28).

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