A Walk through the Worship Service: Confession of Sin
A couple years ago I read an article about websites where people could mail in anonymous postcards with a confession or secret, and the card would be displayed online for all to see. Some are lighthearted: “My new year's resolution is to brush my teeth every day. I’m 21.” While others let you feel the weight of one’s struggle; written on a pictures of donuts is, “My mother’s eating disorder affected me more than she will ever know.”
While confession as part of a worship service is becoming less common, the act of confession is thriving outside the church. While the details and understanding of this confession are different from what we do in church, it shows we all have something in common–we aren’t who we wish we were. While we try to hide those things, it’s also freeing to give words to them. But we are scared that if we are totally honest no one will accept us.
Confession in our worship service gives us something better than these websites. In our confession of sin, we can be honest with a God who has already forgiven us and promises to help us.
Many think of confession as something only Catholics do. You sin, you go to the priest, he tells you what to do to make it right, and tada! Everything is good! Underlying this is the thought that if we sin without having confessed that sin, we aren’t fully forgiven. Our relationship with God is somehow dependent upon how we are doing. No sins this week? Great! God and I are on good terms. Bad week? Well I’ve got to spend some time in the dog house before God brings me back into his home.
But such thinking doesn’t fit with Scripture. While part of becoming a Christian is repenting of our sins and trusting in Christ, once we are in Christ, Paul clearly says us there is no condemnation for us! (Rom 8:1) We don’t need to worry about confessing every sin if we want to be free of God’s judgment. Jesus has paid it once for all!
That is exactly why we should rejoice in our ability to have a confession of sin; although there is no condemnation for us, our actions are often contrary to what Christ wants. We sometimes call this process of becoming more like Christ “sanctification.” The weekly confession of sin is an integral part of our sanctification; it’s not about needing to get right with God again every week.
In Romans 2:4 we read that the kindness of God leads to our repentance. Don’t mix the order up. Often we think that our repentance leads to God’s kindness, but God always shows us his kindness first. His kindness melts our hardened hearts and brings a conviction of sin. The first step to godly change in our life is a conviction of our sin. Confession gives us a place to name those sins and ask for God’s grace and power to help us change. Confession is a mark of the Christian life; when we confess our sins we should be encouraged–it is a sign that God’s Spirit is at work in our hearts! When we go weeks, or even days, without a sense of conviction, that’s when we should be concerned.
Most of our confession takes place in our private prayers. But there is a long history and value to having a time of corporate confession in our worship services. Here are a couple reasons why:
It strips us of hypocrisy.
Christians (sometimes rightly) are accused of hypocrisy, as we can be up in arms about others’ sins while turning a blind eye to our own. When we gather together as a church and confess our sins it reminds us we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.
It unites us with each other.
It’s easy to think we are alone in struggles with sin or to think our problems are harder than others. One of the beauties of coming together in our time of confession is that it reminds us that those around us are also sinners completely dependent upon God’s mercy. While the details of your sin might differ from the details of my sin, both our sins required the death of Christ. Two people with little in common find companionship in knowing they are both sinners and both in need of God’s grace.
Confession of sin keep smaller sins from growing into bigger ones.
People are sometimes forced to make a confession when they have been caught in a big sin. But there is beauty in confessing sins that are more like the little weeds that have just started to grow in your heart. When we hear God’s word preached it brings a conviction of those little sins that often no one else knows about. Continual confession help keep the weeds of sin from overtaking your heart.
I always look forward to the confession of sin in our worship service. It often feels a like a detox for my soul. It’s a moment where I can be honest with God, more honest than I am with anyone else, about the state of my heart. I can pray for God’s Spirit to change me and mold me more and more into his image. What a privilege it is to bare our souls to God and know that he will never leave us or forsake us. God chose us to be his, knowing all our sins past, present and future. And now God is committed to changing us into the likeness of his perfect son Jesus.