I’m so grateful that God gave us a way to stay forgiven, clean, pure, and righteous. It’s called confession. It’s ironic that what often causes the most trouble in our lives and relationships also serves as the mechanism for healing and release. It is the words we speak, our confession to God and to those we have offended or sinned against.
The wise founders of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous recognized the importance of this when they included Step 5: We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” James exhorted believers to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5-16). Without confession there is no path to forgiveness and restoration.
David wrote, “When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long…Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them…and you forgave me! All my guilt is gone” (Psalm 32:3, 5). Because of his sense of relief and release, David was quick to recommend this practice to others: “Therefore, let all the godly confess their rebellion to you while there is time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment” (v.6).
The Apostle John warns members of God’s family, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10). This passage notes that if we refuse to confess our wrongs, not only do we stay trapped in guilt and fear of judgment, we are lying, and calling God a liar. Not a good idea.
The word of God has clearly revealed to us that we all sin and fall short of his glory (Rom. 3:23). All he asks is that we own up to it, and he is ready and willing to make us right again. Good parents know this—a child’s misbehavior is usually not what puts our relationship with him or her at risk. Rather, it is hiding and lying about misdeeds that breeds mistrust, conflict, and dishonor in the family. As parents, we should always incentivize truthfulness and de-incentivize dishonesty. God does, as we see in these passages.
The most important reason to quickly confess our sins to our faithful and just God is so that we keep our hearts pure before him. David concluded the same Psalm quoted above, “So rejoice in the LORD and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!” (Ps. 32:11).
In the Beatitudes, Jesus taught that the pure in heart are blessed, “for they will see God” (Matt. 5:5). I want to see God! I want to ascend the hill of the LORD with clean hands and a pure heart (Ps. 24:4) and stand boldly before his throne without fear or shame. This requires confession and cleansing. I don’t find any other means in Scripture for restoring a pure heart, and an unhindered view of the face of God.
In my prison ministry, we often recite together this beautiful corporate prayer of confession from The Book of Common Prayer:
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.
When we finish saying this together, there is a holy hush. A quiet joy pervades the atmosphere. We are clean again. We can see God.