Sometimes we live in between the places of plea and praise in the lament psalms. We have taken our circumstances to God, expressing them with brutal honesty. That doesn’t mean God has changed our situation or even our perspective yet. Sometimes we’re stuck waiting for Him to act. Sometimes it can even feel like we’re waiting for Him to show up.
The question, then, is what we do in what I’ve come to think of as “the in between places.” Over the past few weeks I’ve focused a lot on community, but in my last post I started digging into another area: practicing spiritual disciplines. The goal of these disciplines isn’t to simply check something off of our spiritual to do list that make us a “super Christian.” Instead—at least for me—they’ve started playing a fundamental role in making space for God to work in new ways in my life.
Practicing silence has had a huge impact in my life and I’ll return to it in the coming weeks. But one of the places that silence has led me recently is to a more intentional practice of confession. Next week I’ll talk a bit about what that can look like, but if you come from certain Protestant traditions you may be less familiar with the practice. So before digging in to what it might look like, let’s spend a few minutes looking at why we should practice it.
The Case for Confession
My earliest exposure to the practice of confession was in Catholic school in my early teens. Friends would tell me they had gone to confession, telling the priest about their sins. The very idea was foreign to me—it sounded like the priest was forgiving them. (I’m not saying that is what they believed. That’s just what it sounded like.) At the time, I was just starting to really learn about God, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable about the idea. Something just sounded off to me. Of course, looking back, that discomfort may have been more about my desire to do things my own way and not be held accountable than any theological issue.
Later, as I grew in my walk with God I heard teaching about praying using the ACTS acrostic: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. Confession is specifically identified here and it happens early in the prayer.
But the call to confession doesn’t simply come from Christian traditions and practices. We repeatedly see Scriptural examples. In the Old Testament individual Israelites were instructed to confess certain sins and to bring a sin offering:
When anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. 6 As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.Leviticus 5:5–6
The high priest confessed the nation’s sins on the Day of Atonement:
He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head.Leviticus 16:21
The Psalter includes penitential psalms of confession. While you may well be familiar with Psalm 51, another well-known one is Psalm 32, which includes the following verse:
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.Psalm 32:5
The New Testament also includes examples:
Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.James 5:16
New Testament scholar Kurt Richardson comments that this verse doesn’t only relate to prayer and confession for sick individuals, which has been part of James’ focus at this point, but that it means “the entire fellowship of believers should be characterized by mutual confessing of sin.” This idea may be echoed in the book of 1 John where John highlights the importance of confession:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9
Here, scholar Daniel Akin suggests that “John’s point is that the true condition for fellowship [with God] is the confession of our sins.” Unlike in James 5, though, Akin believes that the confession is between the individual and God rather than that made by one individual to another.
The Relevance for Us
These passages help us to see several different aspects of confession that we should keep in mind as we move forward.
- Confession can be public, involving speech between human beings.
- Confession can be private, involving our confession directly to God.
- Confession can be individual, addressing our own shortcomings.
- Confession can be corporate, addressing the sins of a community.
Next week we’ll start looking at what confession might look like in our individual lives, but for now will you join me in praying about how God might want us to incorporate regular practices of confession into our walks with Him?
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