After writing about feeling guilty on Tuesday, it got me thinking some more about why Christians need confession of sin.
You often hear statements like this: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more or to make him love you less.” And while it’s true that those who have been justified by grace through faith can never be more justified, we can hear a statement like this incorrectly. Yes, God loves us fully in Christ, but this does not mean we are incapable of doing things that are displeasing to God. We can get out of step with the Spirit. We can grieve him too. Even after we have been redeemed, our sin continues to be offensive to God. And this has an effect.
Think of adoption. You complete the paper work, pay the money and the child is yours. You are not sending him back. Never, ever, ever. In one sense, this new child can’t do anything to make you love him more or less. You will always love him deeply, more than he can possibly realize. But you can still get upset, still be offended, still be very pleased or very displeased. In the same way, God still notices our sin and it disrupts our fellowship with him.
That’s why we confess, privately and corporately. Confession of sin is one of the missing ingredients in the life of today’s Christian. We feel bad all the time, but often it’s over the wrong things. And when we do feel sorry for our sin, we don’t know what to do with it. We feel like we would be cheapening the blood of Christ if we confessed again. So we hesitate to repent. We feel bad, but we don’t confess and enjoy a clean conscience.
And even less frequently do we bewail our sins together on Sunday morning. This is a shame. If your church does not regularly confess sin and receive God’s assurance of pardon you are missing an essential element of corporate worship. It’s in the weekly prayer of confession that we experience the gospel. It’s here that we find punk kids and Ph.D.’s humbled together, admitting the same human nature. It’s here we, like Pilgrim, can unload our burden at the foot of the cross.
Some of us become Christians and just go on our merry way, never thinking of sin, while others fixate on our failings and suffer from despair. One person feels no conviction of sin; the other person feels no relief from sin. Neither of these habits should mark the Christian. The Christian should often feel conviction, confess, and be cleansed.
The cleansing, mind you, is not like the expunging of a guilty record before the judge. That’s already been accomplished. This cleansing is more like the scraping of barnacles off the hull of a ship so it can move freely again. We need confession of sin before God like a child needs to own up to her mistakes before Mom and Dad, not to earn God’s love, but to rest in it and know it more fully.
1 John 1:9, then, is not just about getting saved. It’s also about living as a saved person and enjoying it.