An old Scottish proverb – probably uttered by a good Presbyterian – tells us that “Confession is good for the soul.”
Maybe that’s why so many movies have a scene in which someone is dying, and makes a stunning confession with his or her last breath. There’s something about coming clean that allows us to rest more easily. It takes a weight off our conscience.
Confession certainly is therapeutic. And it is one of the reasons why we openly confess our sin to God and to each other every Lord’s Day as we worship.
As we just read in Psalm 32, verses 3 and 4:
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
David wrote this Psalm after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, then set up her husband Uriah to be killed in battle so no one would know about David’s sin.
But David knew. And God knew. And God sent the prophet Nathaniel to make sure that David knew that God knew. Shortly after the visit from Nathaniel, David wrote Psalm 51 as his prayer of confession. We used excerpts from it as our prayer of confession this morning.
And he wrote about the results in Psalm 32, verse 5:
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.
David quickly learned that confession is not just therapeutic – it is also redemptive. Not only is it good for the soul – but it is also part of the process of being forgiven.
Confession was built into the worship of the Hebrew people. Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement – was the only regularly-scheduled day of confession and fasting. But any time someone sinned, he or she is commanded to offer a sacrifice, accompanied by confession. We find that in Leviticus 5, among others:
“‘When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the LORD a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.
The sacrifice was important – but it had to be accompanied by confession.
There were many times in the Hebrew Bible that we read of God’s calling His people as a group to repentance with confession and fasting.
As the locust are about to destroy all the agriculture in Judah, God tells the leaders through the prophet Joel:
Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD. “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
The Psalms are filled with confessions of sin – often with David confessing his own sins and the sins of his people. So did Jeremiah, as he asked God to be merciful to His people:
Although our sins testify against us, O LORD, do something for the sake of your name. For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against you.
The prophet Daniel confessed the sins of the people of Judah on their behalf while they were in captivity in Babylon. After they returned, Ezra and Nehemiah confessed their sins for them.
People confessed their sins before John baptized them in the Jordan.
And the Apostle John wrote perhaps the definitive explanation for why we should confess. It is essentially a reality check for us:
If we claim to be without sin,
we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
What Christian wants that said about him? But:
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
So confession is not just good for the soul – it gives us access to the forgiveness that Jesus bought for us on the Cross of Calvary.
Confession does not actually save us – that was done by Jesus on the cross. But when we confess our sin, it is an act of faith in the saving work of Jesus. We are stating to Him and to each other that we believe He has saved us – and confessing our faith is an essential part of our salvation.
This is why we have a public – or corporate – prayer of confession every Lord’s Day. It was a regular practice in the lives of the early Christians.
Acts 19 tells us that the Ephesians who came to faith in Jesus because of Paul’s ministry confessed their sins openly.
And the Apostle James wrote in his pastoral letter about the importance of confession in the company of other Christians:
… confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
A lot of people object to the idea of confessing our sins out loud in a worship service. Some object to having everyone read the same written confession.
While it is true that not everyone is guilty of every sin listed in every group prayer of confession – we know from Jesus’ teaching that murder and slander are different degrees of the same sin, just as adultery and lust are different forms of the same sin.
So to pray the same prayer of confession aloud is a way of recognizing and admitting that we are no better and no worse than anyone else in the congregation – for all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.
And so – I must confess that I like confessing my sins to God and to you. It’s good for our souls. Amen.