Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Who Will Hear My Confession?

“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” (Psalm 32:5).

Who Will Hear My Confession?
by Steven Clark Goad

            The Catholic Church encourages auricular confession to a priest. Though many other churches have not formalized confession into such a ritual as baring one’s soul to a clergyman in some confined quarters, some forms of confession within the church have been little different than with the confessional box. In many congregations an invitation is offered for those who need to come to Christ, or confess sins, or be restored. Someone may typically walk the aisle and share with the preacher or elder his sin. Often it is shared (minus the details) with the congregation by someone other than the one confessing. Is this not a form of auricular confession? Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “People think the confessional is unknown in Protestant churches. It is a great mistake. The principal change is, that there is no screen between the penitent and the father confessor.”
            Confession takes on many expressions. To those who trust in the Lord confession of faith in Christ is a constant profession and lifestyle. Jesus taught that those who confess him before others will be confessed by Christ to the Father. This is comforting to all disciples. In law enforcement the obtaining of a confession by someone who has broken the law is considered weighty evidence in a court of law. Lovers confess their undying devotion to each other. But, more importantly, those burdened by sin must have somewhere to turn with contrite hearts. Acknowledgment of sinful behavior is primary for the penitent soul. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Lifestyle Confession
            Those who walk in God’s will and grace are eager to confess failures and shortsightedness. Those of us who have been born again are aware of our innate human natures. Selfishness seems to be a part of our spiritual DNA. We tend to do what makes us feel good, and often feel-good matters aren’t very spiritual. So in our “un-goodness” we struggle to be good and in so doing we acknowledge our blunders and outright disobedience. Knowing that God sees all and is aware of what we think as well as what we do, it is rather silly to think that somehow we can keep God in the dark regarding our carnal natures.
            God knows we aren’t perfect. The Law of Moses made it abundantly clear that humankind was unable to live up to the perfect standard of Father God. This is why our Savior took our place at the cross. The only perfection we might obtain is vicariously through Christ. Thus the conditional “if” is provided, perhaps the biggest two-letter word in the English dictionary. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This verse is a powerful affirmation from God that continual confession is purging and conciliatory.

A Sign of True Faith
            The early believers were confronted with the teaching of the apostle and the working of the Holy Spirit among the people. They observed the power of God with their own senses and were instilled with faith in the gospel that was being taught. “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds” (Acts 19:18). To accept Jesus as Lord meant one had to divest himself of his excuses for sin. One living for Jesus could not longer continue in sin that grace might abound. He is no longer in the sinning business.
            Sam had been unfaithful to his wife for three years. He had an ongoing relationship with his secretary. Both Sam and his wife were Christians. Sue trusted Sam in every area of his life. He was devoted to the children. He was a good breadwinner and generous to a fault. His deaconship with the church allowed him to supervise the benevolence committee. The marriage looked like a storybook love story. But Sam and God knew better. A revival meeting got Sam’s attention. One of the lessons seems aimed directly at him. He repented of his infidelity at that meeting, but had other matters that needed attending to. Though it required great determination, he confessed his affair to Sue not knowing whether it would destroy his family or not.
            Sometimes confession isn’t easy. It exposes to others how very selfish we can be. To allow our worse behavior to be made known to those we harm calls for tremendous soul-searching. To acknowledge embezzlement might send one to prison. To confess an adulterous affair could easily destroy a marriage. But what is the alternative for a Christian? There is none. Living with deceit is not walking in the light. Thus, confession is good for the soul.

Confession & Salvation
            Every Christian is a sin confessor. One cannot become a child of God, born of the water and the Spirit, apart from penitent confession. At Pentecost Peter required confession from those who were pricked in their hearts by the good news of Savior Jesus. He told the believers that day to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Confession of sins is a prerequisite to repentance. One cannot repent without confessing the need for redemption. And that need involves sin and its consequences. “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Matthew 3:6).
            From the moment we accept the mercy of God in the story of our risen Lord, we become confessors of our failings and sinful ways. Not only do we confess to God who knows of our sins even before we think of them, but we also confess to those we betray and abuse by our selfishness. Parents must learn to confess to their children when they are unduly harsh or make glaring mistakes in their presence. Children should be in an environment whereby they may eagerly confess disobedience to parents. Mate to mate. Brother to brother. Sister to sister. Living with the guilt of sin is a painful lifestyle and takes it toll on body and spirit. Divesting ourselves of the yoke of sin is refreshing and enables us to walk in the light and know our salvation is sure. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

The Missing Snickers
            It was warm and humid that July summer day in Indianapolis. Mikey O’Conner, the good Catholic kid from across the street, and I were playing basketball. I invited him into the house. Dad has just purchased a package of twelve Snicker candy bars. He put them in the freezer. Why he did that I didn’t analyze, but on a sweltering day it seemed wise and I shared my bounty with Mikey. He enjoyed his candy bar. I enjoyed mine. Mikey finally went home. I got another Snicker and devoured it in record time, in spite of it being frozen.
            Supper is finished. Sis and I are doing the dishes. Dad goes to get a Snicker for dessert and finds them all missing. “Stevie, where are the Snickers?” Silence. Total, heart-stopping silence. At the time I was enjoying my treats I wasn’t fully aware of the consequences that would ensue. Dad asked again. I stuttered a bit and finally said, “Mikey was over today and ate them all.” Silly! Stupid!! Parents know when kids are lying. God knows. Father Goad knew. Had it not been for mother I think my father would have whipped me senseless that evening. He could probably smell peanuts on my breath.
            Confession. It came quickly and completely. Full disclosure was my only hope. “I ate them, dad. Mikey only had one. I had two, then four, then the rest. I’m sorry. They just tasted so good. I couldn’t help it.” Oops! Don’t lie when confessing. I avoided a whipping that evening, thanks to mom. But I have a lesson learned that has stuck with me all these years. Deceit is not the path to take as a child of God.

            Confession unshackles the soul. The heavy load of un-confessed sin is destructive and robs us of our zest for living. Oscar Wilde said, “It is the confession, not the priest, that gives absolution.” I get his point. But it is really God who gives absolution. Confession just puts his promise of forgiveness into action.
            Confession of sin comes from the offer of mercy. Mercy displayed causes confession to flow, and confession flowing opens the way to mercy. If I have not a contrite heart, God’s mercy will never be mine; but if God had not manifested his mercy in Christ, I could never have a contrite heart. We must never fear confession and run from it. Rather, we should embrace it as part of the ethic by which we live.


  1. In the Anglican church, it's common to recite the Confession from the Book of Common Prayer as a congregation as part of the liturgy. Just a reminder that we continually do sin and continually need to examine ourselves, confess and receive forgiveness. It's one of the things I do miss in the liturgy of the church I am now a member of.