The Confession of Sins

At the heart of redemption, Romans 4 declares the following assurance while using a quote from Psalm 32.

Look at David, too, for a moment. He describes the blessedness of the man whom God reckons as righteous on a basis other than that of works when he says:

Blessed are they whose transgressions have been forgiven, whose sins have been covered;

Blessed is the man to whose account the Lord reckons no sin.   Romans 4:6-8 (An Expanded Paraphrase of the Epistles of Paul)

Before delving a bit into the biblical truth of confessing sins in Psalm 32 and other Scriptures, it might be useful to clarify what this concept is not about. Serious subjects often get muddled in people's minds due to stereotypes in either popular or religious culture. The biblical idea is not the practice of a ritual before a priest in order to be assigned an act of "penance" to earn one's way back into God's favor. Neither is the concept rooted in a half-hearted apology by a self-confident person who takes God's grace for granted. On the other hand, we are not talking about a frantic, obsessive cycle of repeatedly telling God about the same sins over and over, while cringing in fear and doubt. The point is certainly not an overdramatized "show" in which one boasts publicly about how bad he or she used to be. Also, though confessing sins is key to honest communication with the Heavenly Father, it is not a magic pill that excludes other vital aspects of prayer, repentance, and obedient faithfulness.

The context of Psalm 32, which is partly quoted in Romans 4, is enlightening as far as relevant realities for Christians. After the Psalm's first two verses, included above in the quote from Romans, we see the contrast between keeping one's mouth shut and openly confessing sins to Yahweh.

I said not a word, but my bones wasted away from groaning all the day; day and night your hand lay heavy upon me; my heart grew parched as stubble in summer drought. I made my sin known to you, did not conceal my guilt. I said, 'I shall confess my offense to Yahweh.' And you, for your part, took away my guilt, forgave my sin.  Psalm 32:3-5 (NJB)

The blessedness of Yahweh's faithful, merciful kindness to those who confess their sins, while turning from walking in darkness to walking in the light, is clearly highlighted in the new covenant context of the overwhelming effect of the blood sacrifice of Jesus, the Son of God.

The message which we have heard from him and which we are transmitting to you is this − God is light and there is no darkness in him. To claim to have fellowship with God, and at the same time to walk in darkness, is to speak and act a lie. To walk in the light, as he is in the light, is to have fellowship with each other. And the blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin. To claim that we have no sin is an act of self-deception, and a proof that we have no idea of the truth. If we confess our sins, we can depend on him, even although he is just, to forgive us our sins, and to purify us from every kind of wickedness. To say that we have never committed a sin is as good as to call him a liar, and to prove that we have no idea what his message means. My dear children, I am writing like this to you to keep you from committing any sin. But, if anyone does sin, we have one to plead our cause with the Father, I mean Jesus Christ − and he is good. He himself is the sacrifice, by which the defilement of our sins is removed, and not only the defilement of our sins but also of those of the whole world. The only test by which we can really know that we do know him is this − do we obey his commandments?   1 John 1:5-2:3 (Wm. Barclay Translation)

It is keenly revealing that the magnificent picture of the all-encompassing effect of Jesus' sacrifice is not an invitation to passive sloppiness but a call to diligent, godly responses: continually obeying his commandments, honestly confessing sins instead of "calling him a liar", and desisting from walking in darkness in order to walk in the light. This context relates such proactive honesty to having fellowship with each other. As well as pouring out our hearts to Yahweh in speaking up about our sins, there are some very appropriate occasions to humbly practice what is mentioned. James 5:16 says: "Confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other, for that is the way to be cured. The prayer of a good man is powerfully effective" (Wm. Barclay Translation). When we need to apologize, forgive others, receive godly counseling, or offer the same to others, acting according to this reminder from James leads to dynamic healing.

The Scriptural exhortations to confess sins and ask for forgiveness are not designed to get one to wallow in rehearsing guilty feelings. On the other hand, we are not dealing with jumping through the hoops of meaningless rituals as a quick fix, a convenient way to sweep the past under a carpet. God knows that people must overcome natural aversions, like the challenges of embarrassment and shame, which would tend to keep them silent. Nevertheless, it is essential that we be genuine before Him who sees all and to whom we all will give an account; then we will be assured of His overarching mercy. Proudly endeavoring to "save face" does not produce authentic fruit. The integrity required to confess sins is a vital companion to true forgiveness of others from the heart for any sins they may have committed.

Many Scriptures display how pervasive, mutual sins over generations have had a cumulative, detrimental effect. Openly acknowledging this devastating reality in the history of God's dealings with Israel was supremely important. One can meditate on how collective sins, especially the sins of idolatry, were unflinchingly confessed by Daniel (in Daniel, chapter 9) and a number of years later by a remnant of Israelites in Jerusalem (in Nehemiah, chapter 9). They were fervently determined to be forthcoming about the overall, sickening disobedience of generations of Israelites. Notice Daniel did not distance himself from other Israelites, as if it were not his problem. Also, he did not approach Yahweh with a sense of proud entitlement, as if he could haughtily "claim his rights" before the One, True God!

'... We have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, by all your acts of saving justice, turn away your anger and your fury from Jerusalem, your city, your holy mountain, for as a result of our sins and the crimes of our ancestors, Jerusalem and your people are objects of scorn to all who surround us. And now, our God, listen to the prayer and pleading of your servant. For your own sake, Lord, let your face smile again on your desolate sanctuary. Listen, my God, listen to us; open your eyes and look at our plight and at the city that bears your name. Relying not on our upright deeds but on your great mercy, we pour out our plea to you. Listen, Lord! Forgive, Lord! Hear, Lord, and act! For your own sake, my God, do not delay − since your city and your people alike bear your name.'   Daniel 9:15b-19 (NJB - Emphasis is mine.)

We as Christians are called to be God's people in the name of Yahweh and in the name of His Son, Jesus the Messiah and mediator. We are not entitled to arrogantly demand anything before the ultimate Father and Son team, but we do have wide open doors of access to plead for mercy. "We must then fearlessly and confidently come to the throne of grace, and then we will find mercy and grace to help us in every situation when we need them" (Hebrews 4:16 - Wm. Barclay translation). What could and should Christians learn in terms of prayerful intercession for the whole body of Christ? Are there parallels in the church as a whole that correspond to Israel's history of collective sins? Are there cumulative piles of failures that should not be merely brushed off with silence? Is there a mutual, generational track record of ugly idolatry in Christian groups, similar to Israel's plight, that should be boldly confessed? There is no doubt about His being trustworthy! Mighty floodgates of Yahweh's mercy to intervene and deliver are freely thrown open to those who approach Him with humble integrity.


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