A Primer on Confession of Sin (Article)

INTRODUCTION: This year, we are doing a series on what it means to be the church. Part of the church is a confessional community. There are truths we believe, like our affirmation of faith. We have a conviction about who we are as people that relates directly to how we relate to God and each other. The spiritual discipline of confession.


What is confession? 

1a: an act of confessing

especially: a disclosure of one's sins in the sacrament of reconciliation

b: a session for the confessing of sins

go to confession

2: a statement of what is confessed: such as

a: a written or oral acknowledgment of guilt by a party accused of an offense

b: a formal statement of religious beliefs: CREED

the Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church

3: an organized religious body having a common creed (Webster’s Dictionary)

It is from Latin, meaning to admit. Today we are going to be talking about admitting our sinfulness. Not as in a confession of a crime or systematized belief like a creed. 

To admit our sinfulness, we must get at the root of what exactly is sin? How would you answer that question? (Whiteboard) 

We could go to God’s Top 10 list: Do you know them? 

  1. Don’t have any other gods
  2. Don’t make a graven image of God
  3. Don’t take God’s name in vain
  4. Honor the Sabbath
  5. Honor your parents 
  6. Don’t Murder 
  7. Don't commit adultery 
  8. Don’t steal
  9. Don’t lie 
  10. Don’t covet 

When we talk about confession, having the Ten Commandments can be helpful. Martin Luther made this connection: 

“There is no better mirror in which to see your need than simply the Ten Commandments, in which you will find what you lack and what you should seek. If, therefore, you find in yourself a weak faith, small hope and little love toward God; and that you do not praise and honor God, but love your own honor and fame, think much of the favor of men, do not gladly hear mass and sermon, are indolent in prayer, in which things everyone has faults, then you shall think more of these faults than of all bodily harm to goods, honor, and life, and believe that they are worse than death and all mortal sickness. These you shall earnestly before God, lament and ask for help, and with all confidence expect help, and believe that you are heard and shall obtain help and mercy.” ― Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther With Introductions and Notes, Volume I

You will notice that two of those commands are things we do, and eight are things we are not to do. That points to a fact we know well. Sin can be what we do and what we don’t do. In the Old Testament, there are 613 laws. Lots. Jesus boiled them down into two affirmative commands. Do you know what they are? Right: Love God with everything in you and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–39).

The apostle Paul boiled sin down in Romans 14:23. Could someone look that verse up? Basically, he was writing that anything that doesn’t come from faith is sin. What do you think he meant by that? We can operate on doubt or faith. We want to honor God with our actions. We want to seek to follow him. It could be that I am operating with confidence in my ability, intellect, or just doubting. We must seek the Lord and trust in him and move forward. 

Jesus’s half-brother boiled sin down into knowing what is right. Could someone look up James 4:17? He wrote, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). So, it is a sin if we know the right thing to do and don’t do it. It is also a sin knowing what is wrong and doing that. 

What are the right things to do? (White Board)

Paul, in Romans 7, introduces to us a problem. What if we know the right thing to do and don’t do it? How do we deal with ongoing sin? Knowing the right thing to do and doing the opposite is also a sin. Wanting to do wrong and then doing it is a sin. How do we deal with the feeling like we can’t change or are stuck? 

Isaiah the prophet wrote that all our good deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). How true that is. Even when we do something good, evil lurks close behind. 

At the onset of the sacrificial system for the Jewish people, God baked into their ceremonial practices a sacrifice to atone for sin. Hence, God’s people could be right with him. They would confess in a sense and make right with God through a substitutionary death. But that was not good enough. There was a sacrifice for unintentional sins, too (Leviticus 4). 

What has been your experience of confession? (White Board) 

  1. Embarrassing 
  2. Freeing
  3. Infrequent 
  4. Burn things on the cross
  5. Nail it to the cross 

What are barriers to confession? (White Board) 

  1. Ashamed 
  2. Embarrassed
  3. Afraid
  4. Concerned about what others would think of me 
  5. I would have to change
  6. It hurts 
  7. It might have to tell someone else 
  8. It might cost me something more than I am willing to pay
  9. I don’t know how? 
  10. I don’t trust anyone.
  11. I have been burned before by other people
  12. I don’t think it is that bad. 

Before we dig too far into this topic, why should we confess? (WhiteBoard) - Look up the verses - [Bring a mirror/scale the value of a check-up, annual physicals, and routine dentistry. ]

  1. God wants us to (i.e., James 5:16; 2 Corinthians 15:3)
  2. When we are silent, our bones waste away (Psalm 32) 
  3. Acknowledging the truth sets us free - (John 8:31–32)? - Eustace - C.S. Lewis Dragon 
  4. Confession is humbling, and God wants humility (Psalm 34:18; Micah 6:8)
  5. We know God’s love more.
    1. “My soul was exceedingly melted and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness. I never before had felt so pungent and deep a sense of the odious nature of sin at the time. My soul was then unusually carried forth in love to God and had a lively sense of God’s love to me.” David Brainerd October 18th, 1740 - Missionary to the first peoples of America- The Life of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards
  6. It kills fear, self-righteousness, arrogance, and pride.
    1. “But if we know that the people of God are first a fellowship of sinners, we are freed to what the unconditional call of God’s love and to confess our needs openly before our brothers and sisters. We know we are not alone in our sin. The fear and pride that cling to us like barnacles cling to others also. We are sinners together. In acts of mutual confession, we release the power that heals. Our humanity is no longer denied but transformed.” Richard Foster p. 145–146
  7. Beginning of Good Works - 
    1. The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works. Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354–430) - Spiritual disciplines by Richard Foster p.143
  8. Ends pretense and promotes honesty and transformation
    1. “The Discipline of confession brings an end to pretense… Honesty leads to confession, and confession leads to change. May God give grace to the church once again to recover the Discipline of Confession.” P. 157 Richard Foster

How to confess 

  1. “Do not feel worried if you do not remember all your little peccadilloes in confession, for as you often fall imperceptibly, so you are often raised up imperceptibly.” Francis de Sales - David Smith, Fasting: A Neglected Discipline.
  2. Remember the truth and power of forgiveness. God is greater than your sin. 
  3. A willingness. 
    1. Pre-Rec - “We must desire to be conquered and ruled by God, or if we do not desire it, to desire to desire it” p. 152 153 - Richard Foster 
  4. Pray - Ask God to show you your sin. 
  5. Before another 
    1. The value of confession before God but there is a value before another. “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship p. 47
  6. Before God 
    1. In our head 
    2. On paper - Journal 
    3. Outloud - running 
  7. Pray - Ask God to give you a repentant heart to change.
  8. Thank God for salvation and forgiveness 
  9. Repeat

When to confess

  1. At night, 
  2. In the morning, 
  3. In communion 
  4. In Lord’s Prayer 
  5. In worship 

Dangers of Confession 

  1. Scrupulosity 
  2. Selfish introspection 
  3. Guilt and condemnation
  4. Lead others into sin if we confess to another, or hearing confession fall into sin (Galatians 6:1)

How to listen to a confession 

  1. Don’t try to fix the person. 
  2. Pray with the person. 
  3. Listen 
  4. Create space for them to hear the Holy Spirit
  5. In hearing a confession, they may be testing you before they share their deeper problem. They also may not want to go to a deeper level. Asking gentle and good open-ended questions can help get at those more profound things. 
  6. Silence is okay

Quiet confession time 

  • List sins - What have you done? - Write it down - what you have done - 10 Minutes - Tear it apart. 
  • Read - Psalm 139:23–24; 51
  • Ask God to reveal our sin - 10 Minutes - Last day, Last week, Last month, Last year, Last decade, Lifetime. (http://www.prayertoday.org/2012/PDF/2012-Sin-ventory.pdf this sheet could help take an inventory of sin)

Corporate Confession: 

Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.

Most merciful God,

we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Pronouncement of forgiveness (1John 1:9 and Romans 8:1–2). 

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:9)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 5:8). 

We hang on to those words of Scripture as true and find forgiveness, peace, and hope for our confessed conscious and unconscious sin, by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone, in Jesus’s name, AMEN. 

Use by permission. All rights reserved. 


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