A Killer Confession, A Priestly Pardon(er)

*Many of the thoughts and ideas from this blog were shaped by, and based on, the book What Happens When We Worship by Jonathan Landry Cruse.

1 John 1:8-9
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

The decision of whether or not we confess our sins can be killer. I may mean that metaphorically, but also literally. While carrying around the ball and chain of sin in our lives can affect us spiritually and emotionally, it can even affect us physically. David says in Psalm 32 before confessing his sin, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long…” and, “my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

All of this, along with our conscience ever pricking at us, can be such a burden to bear. Not only is it hard to think about confessing our sin to the individual we’ve wronged, but when we multiply that by 20, 30, or even 100 of your closest friends in a corporate setting, the thought can be crippling.

Fears and anxieties may bubble up and abound when thinking about confession: “What will he/she say in response? How will I be perceived after this?” How exposed we are left! How naked and bare we may feel!

Because of this, in recent decades many churches have abandoned the historical element of confession of sin in services and liturgies altogether, thinking it will kill numbers in attendance. Others may say that this practice hearkens back to a rote traditionalism, and we are too modern and progressive for this practice of ‘confessing sin’. Much like the practice of church discipline, it has seemed to have gone the way of extinction. Combining these thoughts, the amphitheater-esque concerts of modern-day evangelicalism have no place to dredge up the muck of sin.

In contrast to this picture, there is goodness in confessing sin as a corporate body. For starters, it shows a picture of the Gospel, a mini ‘Gospel-drama’ if you will. Within the Lord’s Day gathering it rehearses the Gospel Story, one that reveals Christ at the center and focal point.1

  As we confess our sin together, though we show how deep and dark our hearts take us, we also see that we have a great savior, Jesus Christ, who is abounding in love, faithfulness, and forgiveness.

  Putting Confession in Biblical Context
  At OBC, we begin every Sunday service with a ‘Call to Worship.’ This call pronounces the Word of God and reminds us that God himself has spoken to us. He is the one who initiates, and we, as His people, respond to His rule and reign, by giving Him the worship that he deserves. Our response towards God can be multi-faceted, with either adoration and thanksgiving in our hearts for His wondrous works in creation and redemption, or, a recognition of our need for Him in our lives, because we realize how imperfect, unholy, and sinful we are in relation to a God who is holy, transcendent, absolute, omnipresent, and all-knowing. This can be summed up by saying that when our God reveals Himself in Scripture it always leads to one of two responses: wonder or woe.

  With wonder, the psalmists turn and praise God. We can look at Psalm 33, or Psalm 100:

  “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture!

  On the other end of the spectrum, that of woe, we can turn to Isaiah 6, where after the glory of the Lord has been revealed to him, Isaiah says:

  “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

  The woe one feels in relation to God happens because one realizes his or her sinfulness before a holy God. We see this individually, but we also see this corporately. For more of a corporate version of confession one can turn to Nehemiah 8:5-10. There Ezra “opened the book in the sight of all the people,” and hearing the Word of God they were convicted of sin and responded with tears of sorrow, until they were commended and commanded to rejoice in the Lord.

  In the New Testament, preaching also results in repentance. In Acts 2, for instance, Peter preaches at Pentecost and they are cut to the heart. In response to Peter, they cry out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37). And Peter replies,

  “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

  From these varied places in Scripture, we find three elements of confession:

1. Reading of God’s Law
Why should we start with the reading of God’s Law? It shows God’s goodness, perfection and perfect standard. The law tells us to be holy as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16) and is wisdom for us in how to live correctly.It also shows us that we cannot live up to this standard. In fact, it is impossible to live up to this standard, and it convicts us and reveals all the ways we have fallen short of God’s glory.3

The 1689 Baptist Catechism defines our falling short of God’s glory as sin when asking in Question 17:
  Q: What is Sin?
  A: Sin is any want (or lack) of conformity, unto or transgression of, the law of God.4

  The one who has set the standard for holiness is God Himself. He is the one who says what is good by His sovereign rule, and if we are truly honest with ourselves, we have done nothing but transgress his commands and his law. No matter how much we try, all our good deeds to counteract our sin will still be filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). Therefore, we should humble ourselves under His Word and submit to it.5 This humbling of ourselves evokes an inward response that moves to an outward, verbal confession.

  2. Confession of Sin 
 Confessing our sins to God follows from realizing our sins and feeling our guilt under God’s law. Let me tease this out a bit more fully.

  Confession is good, right, and beautiful.
  Confession is good and beautiful because God has designed it to be so. We’ve acknowledged that His character is good, and so anything commanded, given, or instituted by him also must be good. Though this step is needed in our reconciliation to God in a fallen and sinful world, the fact that it leads back to our communion with God can be a freeing exercise of our burdens and weights of sin that we carry around before us. God calls us to a pure conscience, and in the process of confession, in a sense, we are cleansing and purifying our consciences before the Lord.

  We remind ourselves of our current identity
  Martin Luther would say we are simultaneously sinful and justified (Simul justus et peccator). This means, that while we are declared righteous by Christ’s atoning sacrifice, there remains indwelling sin. Indeed, there is a spiritual battle in each Christian (see Gal. 5:16–25). And in confessing our sin, we both prove our Spirit-given life and our true identity. Yet, we need something else too.

 3.  Assurance of Pardon
  Up until now, tension has been building as we hear the law and confess our sins.6 Thankfully though, this is not it. After the confession of sin comes the all-important “Assurance of Pardon.” Here, the same God who convicts us by his Spirit comforts us with this Word. God is faithful to his covenant promise, and just as he has responded to his people throughout redemptive history, he will respond to us today as well, with mercy, to those who put their faith and trust in Him. 1 John 1:9 says, “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
 In our day, secular priests tell us “believe in yourself” and modern temples invite us to find false peace in their technological comforts.7 But in reality, we see that we can only find true comfort, assurance, and peace with God through His declaration of who we are in relation to Him. We need the Lord’s Word to say to us, “By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24). How would we see this Assurance displayed and given in a service?

  Usually, a minister or song leader declares to the congregation that if they are in Christ, they have forgiveness of sins through Christ alone, and the congregation responds both through spoken word, and a song or hymn. This is in contrast with Roman Catholicism, where the minister actually believes he is imparting divine forgiveness on someone.8  As Protestants, we know that we are not forgiven because of anything we do. Rather, we are forgiven through Christ and his shed blood for us. Christ is the one who is our Great High Priest, the one sympathizes with our weakness, and was tempted in every way, though he did not sin (Heb. 4:15). This should cause us to rejoice, knowing that, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

  Law and Gospel in Action
  Ultimately the element of Confession of Sin leads us to a picture that shows the distinction between Law and Gospel. This picture of Law and Gospel is in a larger rehearsing of the Gospel that we have in our service every week.

  In general terms, Scripture can be divided into two categories: passages that command (law) and passages that promise (gospel).9 It shows God’s holy standard, that we cannot meet it, but that God has provided in Christ a way of reconciliation towards the Father. Once we realize this distinction, we see then that the Law becomes our guide for life and wisdom for living.10 It is no longer burdensome because it is written on our hearts by the Spirit. We then obey the Law, not to earn righteousness, but because God has given us righteousness through Christ.11

Indeed, by rehearsing the law and the gospel in service by confession followed by an assurance of pardon, it both teaches sinners how to deal with their sin properly. And it reminds us all that the only way of pardon is through the finished work of Christ. And for this reason, we should include confession in our public worship. And this is why you will see it more at OBC in the days to come.

  [1] See Mike Cosper’s Rhythms of Grace (Crossway), Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship (Baker), Jonathan Landry Cruse’s What Happens When We Worship (Reformation Heritage Books).
   [2] Jonathan Landry Cruse. What Happens When We Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books. 2020. 96.
   [3] Cruse. What Happens When We Worship. 96.
   [4] The Baptist Confession of Faith & The Baptist Catechism. Port St. Lucie, FL: Solid Ground Christian Books. 2018. 96.
   [5] Cruse. What Happens When We Worship. 97.
   [6] Cruse. What Happens When We Worship. 96
   [7] James K.A. Smith. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos. 2007. 97.
   [8] Cruse, What Happens When We Worship. 100
   [9] Cruse. What Happens When We Worship. 101.
   [10] Cruse. What Happens When We Worship. 101.
   [11] Cruse. What Happens When We Worship. 102.

Matt Wood