“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away…” (Psalm 32:3) I’ve felt the same torment–I’m sure we all have. What would my friends think if they knew? What would my spouse think? What would God think? Hidden sin traps and torments, and it ultimately kills (James 1:15). Hiding is an ancient problem. After disobeying the instruction of God, our first parents hid from God in order to escape his judgment. This remains our natural inclination.
The Bible beckons us to come out of the darkness and invites us to the light of truth. It does so by commanding us to confess our sins. Only through confession will we experience the joy and freedom of forgiveness. “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
What is a confession of sin?
We confess our sin by recognizing that we have disobeyed God’s law. In contrast to hiding or lying, a confession of sin is acknowledging the wrong we have committed before the parties injured. No matter who we have wronged, we must recognize that we have first offended God. King David, after sleeping with Bathsheba and killing her husband to cover it up, cries out to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” (Psalm 51:4) Clearly David’s immorality had multiple victims, but he rightly realizes his first sin is against God. We are no different, therefore, he is the first to receive our confession.
Confess your sins privately to Jesus.
During the time of the Old Testament, offerings to atone for sin were given to a priest to sacrifice on the altar. After Jesus came, that changed. We can approach God directly through Jesus Christ who is our once-for-all sacrifice and our eternal High Priest. Because of who Christ is and what he has done, we can go to God’s throne with boldness to confess our sins and receive his mercy (Hebrews 4:16).
Magic words are not required, only a broken spirit and a repentant heart. But If you are new to private confession, you can use this historic prayer:
Almighty and most merciful Father, I have erred and strayed from your ways like a lost sheep, I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart, I have offended against your holy laws, I have left undone those things which I ought to have done, and have done those things which I ought not to have done.
O Lord, have mercy upon me, spare me and restore me as I confess my faults,
according to the promises declared to me in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for Jesus’ sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of your holy Name. Amen.
(Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer)
Confess your sins publicly in church.
Each week at my church, we read from God’s law. After the reading, our pastor asks, “Have you fully obeyed the Lord in all that he has commanded? Have you loved the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself?” Each Lord’s Day we encounter the force of God’s perfect law and are reminded of our inability to keep his commands. Each week we confess that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. But each week, after we have confessed our sins to God, the minister, in the name of Christ and on his authority, assures us that our sins are forgiven. He reminds us of the sure and certain promise that in Christ there is mercy and redemption.
Weekly Lord’s Day worship is a vital part of living the Christian life. As God gathers his people, he reminds us of his standard but also offers the opportunity to recognize our failings and confess our sins. As the Gospel is preached, we are reminded of God’s promise in Christ, and we are assured that God’s forgiveness is for us.
Confess your sins to those you’ve sinned against.
Confessing our sins to others is uncomfortable to say the least. The pain is increased when the wounded party is unaware of the offense. Despite the prickly nature of confessing our sins to others, reconciliation is at the heart of the biblical message. Not only reconciliation with God but reconciliation with one another.
The Bible calls us to confession, not in order to produce shame but in order to heal. James writes, “…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16, emphasis added). Confession lays the framework for forgiveness, and forgiveness is an ointment that heals the guilty conscience. Confession is also a vital step in healing relationships that have been broken by sin. Taking responsibility for the wrong we have done is an important part of how we love one another.
Confession clings to the promise of the Gospel
You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to understand God’s attitude toward sin—God’s judgment against sin fills the pages of Scripture. So why would we want to confess our sins to God? It is true, sin deserves to be punished, but in confession, we proclaim our faith in Jesus as our righteous substitute who takes the punishment we deserve. In confession, we cling to God’s promise that if we confess our sins, “he is faithful and just to forgive our sins [on account of Christ] and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).