Confession is integral to the Christian faith. Jesus said He came to seek and save those who are lost. Confession is the way we sinners reach out to God to receive His grace and mercy. As Christians, do we continue to need to confess our sins?
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
Accepting Jesus as a personal savior does not necessarily eradicate all the sins that we may wish to commit in the future. We have a personal responsibility to God to allow ourselves to be trained in righteousness under the guidance of His Holy Spirit.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Hebrews 10:26-27)
Part of our training in righteousness is our confession. Certain heretical theology in some of today’s churches tells us that we must only confess positive things and never bad things. In other words, use mind science to defeat our fallen flesh rather than follow God’s plan which does not overlook reality. God requires reality. He will help us defeat temptation and sin but He will not allow us to deny that they exist.
How do we confess then? Confession must be a large part of our personal prayer life. We may do so in private. We must be very careful to whom we make public confessions. Many Christians are simply not capable to receive them properly. Accountability is important but we must be careful to choose the right prayer partners and support groups.
A general confession is part of the worship in many liturgical churches. It is part of the corporate prayer of the church. Such prayer helps unite people and is quite effective in corporate worship. Here are some excellent examples of a general confession:
Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment. Set us free from a past that we cannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed; and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image, through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.
A simple and direct confession:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
A more formal confession:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your 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 nothing good in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; according to Your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of His name. Amen
There is great beauty and power in these confessions. They help the congregation reflect upon the preaching and prepare for Holy Communion. Usually, before or after the general confession, silence is observed so that individuals may add their own specific confession to God.
In terms of the Holy Communion, one of the most beautiful liturgical prayers ever composed is the prayer of humble access:
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
A built-in time for confession in worship may seem strange to some traditions. The purpose of the confession is to the acknowledge reality of sin in our lives and to humble ourselves before God. We do not take His grace and mercy for granted. Our confession does not impede worship. Rather, it elevates our worship.
Do we confess to the clergy? It may be helpful if they are trained properly. Everything should be held in confidence. Clergy may be able to give us counseling which is often needed with repetitive sin. We may need emotional healing. In some cases, deliverance may be required. God wants us free.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
If we are the clergy or priest, then we must also have a spiritual authority over us to help us with our own need for confession. We must humble ourselves before God if we are going to help anyone else. We worship God and not man. Nevertheless, accountability and transparency are important.
The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. (James 5:15-16)
Whatever God wants from us he can do for us. That is why we are not afraid to confess our sins to him, a loving and forgiving God.