“I loved your blog post this morning, but I want to make sure you know how much you are loved by God and that you have been forgiven.” These weren’t the exact words of a wise woman who came up to me before church a few months back, but it’s the gist of what I remember. I don’t even remember precisely which post it was, but I think it was one of them where I was focusing on the spiritual discipline of confession. As I’ve been thinking about practices of confession and fasting during Lent, this loving remark keeps coming to mind.
As I mentioned last week, the Lenten practices of confession and fasting “aren’t ways to seek God’s approval. I’m not checking something off of a spiritual ‘to do list.'” Instead, they are responses of obedience.
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
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
These instructions are addressed to believers. Yes, Jesus has paid for our sins, but we still fall short and need to confess.
Psalm 32 is one of the Psalms associated with Lent. (In the Book of Common Prayer it was listed as one of Ash Wednesday’s readings and the Revised Common Lectionary includes it on the first Sunday of Lent.) I love this Psalm because it gets to the heart of the matter. Confession isn’t primarily about focusing on how awful I am or how badly I’ve blown it. It’s about grace and forgiveness. Psalm 32 is a thanksgiving song about the blessing of God’s forgiveness that cleanses us.
Blessed is the onePsalm 32:1-5
whose transgression are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the LORD does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and I did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgression to the LORD.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
The Hebrew word translated “blessed” above (ashrey/ʾašrê, אשרי), is sometimes translated “happy.” It is the same word used for the person who chooses the righteous path in Psalm 1:1-3. Waldemar Janzen highlights an interesting aspect of the word that doesn’t necessarily carry across into either of these English translations, though. He suggests that at its core this word refers to a person who is so fortunate that they should be greatly envied. We should want, perhaps even crave, what they have.
In Psalm 32, the one to be envied has been forgiven as the result of their confession. Before the psalmist’s confession, we see wasting away, groaning, and sapped strength. After confession and forgiveness, though, the psalmist becomes one of those who is to be greatly envied.
Because God forgives confessed sin, believers can seek and find Him. He protects and delivers them:
Therefore let all the faithful pray to youPsalm 32:6-7
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Periods of self-reflection such as those found during Lent express our trust in God, as does the act of confession itself. But the goal of this confession is ultimately a renewed experience of God’s love in our lives:
Many are the woes of the wicked,Psalm 32:10-11
but the LORD’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.
Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!
These verses are, of course, from the Old Testament. But as we saw above, the call to confession is repeated in the New Testament. John goes on to tell us that when we do sin,
we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.1 John 1:1b-2
Confession is fundamentally about forgiveness and cleansing. It makes me think of Paul’s description of the Colossian believers. They—and we—are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” I’m praying that this year as we prepare for Easter, we will each find the joy that comes from self-reflection and confession during Lent and experience a renewed surrounding of God’s unfailing love (Psalm 32:9-10).
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