Confession. It is something we do every week in worship. And, if you have a perceptive spouse, you do it a lot more often than that.
But let’s face it. Confession as the Bible speaks of it is more than getting caught and feeling sorry for it. It is also more than remembering that God is bigger than you are and that you had better excuse your errors once in a while. If that is all “confession” is, then we have a pretty lame God.
So what is biblical confession? How do we confess in a way which reflects God’s glory and changes our hearts? Well, I think true confession involves at least three elements.
First, real confession starts with agreeing with God, that he is right, his way is best. The word “confession” comes from the Greek, homo-logeo, which literally means, “to say the same thing as…” (homo = same, logeo as in logos = to say). When we confess, we “say the same thing” as God does. We acknowledge that what we have thought, said, or done is not right, that it is contrary to the will and nature of our holy God. This is no easy step, but it is a necessary one. God does not want us to come before him in “confession” simply because we are afraid of him. Or, grudgingly, refusing to admit that his way is best, confessing only because we are “forced” to do so. Rather, true confession acknowledges that God’s ways are right, that our ways have been wrong, that he is holy and righteous. Without this simple starting point, we “confess” in vain.
Everyone cringes at the spectacle of someone who “confesses” and then continues in their wicked ways. Innately, we know that confession is more than a simple word game, more than saying “sorry” and then doing it anyway. And so, secondly, godly confession involves repentance. No repentance, no confession. This does not mean, of course, that falling into the same sin again is a denial of one’s confession. Repentance does not mean being perfect or never sinning again. Repentance is, however, a full life commitment to faithfully pursue that which God has for your life. It involves committing yourself completely to casting off the sin which has entangled you. No matter how sincerely one feels one’s sin, no matter how earnestly one verbally apologizes to God, if there is no work of repentance, there has been no confession.
Third, and perhaps most telling, true confession before our merciful God always entails receiving and embracing his forgiveness. There is nothing more annoying than to give a fellow sinner forgiveness for offending you, and then to have that person continually beg for your forgiveness. By failing to accept God’s forgiveness, the sinner is merely casting doubt upon God’s character – “my sin is so horrible, I can’t believe that God could/would forgive me.” What an insult! God has sacrificed his own Son for your forgiveness! If he desires to forgive you, ACCEPT IT! Confession has not taken place, unless forgiveness is accepted. Holding on to the guilt of your sin does not show a penitent heart, it shows an unwillingness to receive from God that most beautiful of gifts, his love, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance, and grace.
When we are called to confess together in worship, join me in acknowledging God’s righteousness, committing ourselves to a lifetime of repentance, and embracing the glories of his forgiving love.
Henry Knapp is the associate pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Beaver, PA. He lives with his wife Kelly in Beaver, PA. They two children.
First Presbyterian Church is an Evangelical Presbyterian Church located in Beaver, PA. They have four worship services on campus, two that are more traditional and two that are more blended contemporary. They have active ministries for all ages.