The Gift of Confession
Written by Erika Castiglione When it comes to feeling guilt over our sin, there are two opposite and equally dangerous extremes we can fall into. On one hand, we can be so fixated on our shortcomings that we live lives weighed down with shame, listening to the enemy’s accusations, and refusing the grace freely offered to us. On the other hand, we can be so flippant about the ways we have grieved our holy and loving Savior, that we become callous and grow unrepentant, often hurting others in the process. Regular confession, both corporate and private, can be a remedy for both extremes.
Granted, the concept of confession can be confusing. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” but if Jesus already paid the penalty for all our sins on the cross, what’s the point of confession? Is there any benefit for us who have been saved by grace?
Though our salvation is fixed and secure, our sanctification is dynamic and growing as we “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). I have found in recent years that asking the Lord to search my heart and welcoming in his gentle and thorough purification has not only been a necessary step in growth, but a blessed one.
One way I have practiced confession is by prayerfully reviewing my day or week and asking the Lord to bring to mind ways that I have turned from him or wounded others by my words or actions (or by the things I didn’t say or do). Sometimes our sins are obvious like the biting words we say in anger, but often we don’t stop and notice the motives behind our actions or the sinful patterns that play out in our relationships. I suspect if we could comprehend the full scope of our sinfulness, we could not handle the weight of it. So, God in his mercy reveals to us what we can handle and gently leads us to repentance. Because of God’s love we can pray confidently with the psalmist, “search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Another way I’ve practiced confession is by confessing my sin to others. James 5:16 says, “therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Although this verse can also be confusing, one thing for certain is that the weight of sin affects both our souls and our bodies (Psalm 32:3), and there is freedom that comes from confessing to one another. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we go around airing our dirty laundry willy-nilly, but we need to have trusted people who will listen to our struggles, speak into our lives, remind us of our pardon, and help us on the path of repentance.
I have also practiced confession with all of you on Sunday mornings. You might have picked up on this already, but we participate in the Lord’s Supper twice a month at Waypoint and one of those times is set apart for confession. Corporate confession might feel unusual to those who have not grown up in a tradition that has this practice, and you might wonder why we sometimes grieve sins that are beyond our personal lives and offenses. Yet when Isaiah saw a vision of God’s holiness, he confessed not only his own sin, but that he lived among sinful people (Isaiah 6:1-5), and when King Josiah saw what was written in the law, he repented not only for himself and his people, but his disobedient ancestors (2 Kings 22:8-13). Corporate confession is an opportunity to remember, mourn, and repent of injustice in the church and the world around us. It is also an opportunity to proclaim the forgiveness available through the body and blood of Jesus.
The more we grow to understand the holiness of God, the more clearly we see our sinfulness. This would be overwhelming if not for the fact that we also see more clearly the grace and mercy offered to us through Christ. As we embrace regular rhythms of confession and pardon, I believe we’ll grow in thankfulness, humility, compassion, and peace, and hopefully some of our blind spots will be etched away as our hearts are washed clean (Psalm 51:7-10) and we learn to walk in freedom.