“If we confess our sins he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is a tremendous promise – forgiveness and cleansing from all sin. Yet, it cannot be activated apart from confession and admitting one’s true condition. Secret sins tucked away deep in the soul will only fester and boil, while on the outside the snakes of temptation slither around our feet seeking to immobilize us with fear. The result of un-confessed sin is spiritual blindness, darkness, and death. When Scripture speaks about confession, it does not just mean a private personal confession; it also means a corporate and public confession. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you might be healed” is the unambiguous command of the Bible (James 5:16).
There cannot be new life and renewal, revival, or revitalization of church life and ministry apart from real honest tell-it-like-it-is biblical confession. If this scares the hell out of you, it really should. Dealing with sin radically is what Jesus talked about in his Sermon on the Mount when he said we should pluck our eyes out if they offend and cut our hands off if they cause us to sin because it is better to be in God’s kingdom with no eyes and hands than to burn in hell with our parts intact (Matthew 5:29-30). Confession is more than simply mouthing some words about not being perfect and a sinner like everybody else; it is to lead to a complete turn-around and change of how we live our lives.
If we have besetting sins that dog us on a regular basis and we do all the same things this year that we did last year to deal with it and it did not work, then we will be right back to the same place next year in the season of Eastertide carrying the very same burden of guilt, shame, and regret. Walking away from the church will not deal with it. Walking away from God will not deal with it. Trying some new teaching or new practice will not make it go away because that is only re-arranging the inner furniture of the soul. No, only agonizing spirit-rending yet freeing confession will allow God’s clean surgical knife to take out the offending sin and bring spiritual and even physical healing.
Patricia Raybon in her book I Told the Mountain to Move shares the regret and grief she carried after aborting two children. She writes, “I had told myself than an abortion would end my problems, not complicate them by bringing an innocent life into my own upheaval.” She shares a courageous and heart-wrenching confessional letter she wrote to her two aborted children:
This is Mama. You will know my voice, I think, even though we were together for such a short time. I did a bad thing. I did not trust God. I did not understand that God would have made everything okay. I was like Peter… who looked down at the waves, not at Jesus. And when he looked at the waves, he started to sin – down, down, down.
That’s how I felt, like I was sinking down. When the doctors said you were growing inside of me, that’s how I felt, like I was sinking down…. So, I didn’t know how to love you. I was afraid. So I let fear convince me that more babies would just make things worse.
Instead, look what I did. I robbed us. First, I robbed you – taking your own lives… I didn’t think I was strong enough. So I robbed myself of all the joy you would have brought me too. Brought all of us, your sisters, your family, and for each of you, your daddy. I thought we would have more problems. That we did not have enough money. That we did not have enough time. That we did not have enough love. But I just did not know then that God is bigger. And God would make everything all right. I didn’t know….”
Genuine authentic change will not occur without first dealing squarely with our past thinking, choices, and behavior. This is why some form of a prayer of confession really needs to happen at every church worship service. Ignoring such a vital liturgical prayer and practice will, at best, leave people with no guidance for confronting sin; and, at worst, will teach people that confession is not necessary to Christianity and leave them a spiritual mess. Instead, the carefully constructed prayer of confession can lead believers to unburden the things they have done, and the things they have left undone. Only then will we experience the advocacy of Jesus Christ who speaks on our behalf because of his once-for-all atoning sacrifice for sins. This stuff is really too important to blow-off. Church pastors and leaders need to put some real time and prayer into understanding the dynamics of confession, repentance, and new life because they are all vitally linked. It is the first step to a spiritual breakthrough.