One of the hardest things to do is to confess a sin. I do not mean just an official confession of a spiritual sin to God. I mean admitting to anyone that you have done something wrong. I remember as a child in school giving a laxative to a younger student at the school. You can imagine the results. I was caught and got in a lot of trouble from the school. Naturally, the school wanted to tell my mother what I had done. However, they were unable to get a hold of her as my aunt had just passed away and my mom was busy with funeral arrangements. The school left it up to me to tell my mom what I had done. As it worked out, I confessed my sin on the day of my mom’s sister’s funeral. She did not have to get mad at me, the act of telling her was punishment enough. What about when we confess our sins to God? Yes we are expected to confess our sins to God, it is an important part of prayer life and it deserves a part in every prayer. Let me make this clear, a prayer of repentance is not about keeping your ticket to heaven valid after every sin. It is about keeping your relationship with God healthy. One of the best examples we have of a biblical prayer of confession is that of Psalm 51. Many of the Psalms are prayers as well, but this is one of the few that we have a fairly complete context for. The prayer is by King David. David committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba. After the act, David attempted to cover up his sin. When Bathsheba’s husband Uriah would not cooperate, David had Uriah killed. So we have David guilty of adultery and murder. The need for confession is clear. Let us see what we can learn from David’s prayer.
You have sinned. You know you have to talk to God about it. Where is your starting point? We might want to start with the fact that we are not that bad of a person. We are generally good and somehow something slipped past. It was not that bad of a thing anyway. That might be where we want to begin, but it is not where we need to begin. We need to begin with who God is. What if God is an angry, nasty God who takes delight in destroying those who sin? Why bother praying? The reason David even tries to pray is that he knows something about God. He asks for mercy according God’s unfailing love. He asks that his transgressions be blotted out based on God’s great compassion. Without God’s unfailing love and great compassion, we are sunk. Wait a minute. I thought the Old Testament God was angry and nasty? Sometimes people do not like what God does. For example, Jonah was deeply offended by God. These are the words that Jonah used to express his anger toward God: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2 NIV) That is the Old Testament God. That same God continues to show compassion toward us through Jesus Christ.
But what about all those reasons we came up with that our sin was not that bad? David does not do that, in fact he does the opposite. David acknowledges that although he outwardly wronged Bathsheba and Uriah, all sin is really against God. David acknowledges that God’s judgment was just. To give some context to that statement, the baby born of the union of David and Bathsheba died. David accepts the judgment as just. And David acknowledges that his sin was not a momentary slip but a part of who he is and that he was born with sin. You see, we are not called to apologize for our sin. An apology is when we come up with reasons why we did something and attempt to deflect some of the blame. Rather we need to confess our sin. To confess our sin, we must accept our sin for what it is: sin against God, God’s true judgment and something that goes to our core. It is only once we get to this uncomfortable place that we can truly find healing.
Release From Guilt
It is worth asking what we are seeking with a prayer of confession. Is there a computer in heaven that marks you down on the bad side but when you confess your status is put back into the good? Not likely. Nor is this about changing you as a Christian from hell bound to heaven bound. You are saved by faith not works. You cannot get unsaved by works. So what are we doing? We are trying to heal our relationship with God. When we confess, God is fully prepared to put away our sin. In Jeremiah, God says: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34 NIV) The problem is that long after God has forgotten, we are still holding tightly to our regret and guilt. Guilty feelings are fine to push us to act but when they stick around after their job is done, they become unhealthy. It is a sad thing to see people who are wracked with guilt and regret and self-condemnation. We need a release from this once we have been made right with God. David expects to be cleansed and washed. David expects to become reacquainted with joy and gladness. We should be seeking this release in our prayer of confession.
Change of Behavior
So we have gone to our compassionate God, we confessed our sins without attempting to excuse ourselves and we have received relief from our guilt. Now what do we do? Well, we go out and commit the same sin. That way we can experience that same blessing over and over. Not even close. The expectation is that confession is a part of repentance. Repentance is not just about feeling sorry, it is about turning around and going in the opposite direction. You are going in one direction that takes you away from God. You confess that is wrong. Would it make sense to keep going in that direction? No, you would turn around and start going toward God. David’s prayer is that he would have a pure heart created within him. He knew that his sin was because of the wickedness of his heart. He does not want to go through all this again just because he has the option of having his sins forgiven. He wants to change. We need to change. Part of that is God doing his miraculous work within us to take away the desire to sin. But while that process is going on, we need to make good choices, choices to do good and not to do bad. Our confession should change our behavior.
That would seem to be the end of the story. Except David does not end there. David has this desire to teach transgressors the way of God, and to get sinners to turn back to God. Why? Why not be content with his own forgiveness? Because when you discover how bad sin is and how holy God is, you should want others to avoid the pain you have gone through. The question is: how do you do that? Do you walk up to people and yell in their face to stop sinning? That is not likely to be effective. Much of it will take place as witness. People will not know the intimacy of our prayer life, but they should see where we were at and where we have moved to and why that has taken place. When I was in university I was a heavy drinker. When I became a Christian I stopped abusing alcohol. I did not go around breaking my friends‘ beer bottles but it was obvious that something had changed with me. My prayer was that God would use the change in me to help bring change with others. Part of being a Christian is moving beyond our own situation to seeking the welfare of others.
Prayer is a great gift to us. Unfortunately, there are many times that prayer needs to be used to confess our sins. We do not like to do it but it is much better than letting it fester inside us. Remember God saw you as you were contemplating sin, as you were committing sin and as you were hiding sin. You will not shock God when you pray. King David was a man after God’s own heart. He sinned greatly through adultery and murder. He did not take that lightly but went to God in prayer. May we value our relationship with God and seek his forgiveness as we sin, all the while praying that we would increase in righteousness.