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A Lifestyle of Confession

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ the Righteous One.
—1 John 1:8-2:1, NIV

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
—The Book of Common Prayer, page 360

The Danger of Failing to Repent

Now you may protest that our failure to confess and repent of sins derives from a more enlightened theology than they had in the benighted days of yore, but that is flatly not true. It has nothing to do with our theology. That’s just blather to cover our tracks. It’s really just yesterday’s psychobabble. Yesterday, the psychobabblers thought they could ignore sin into nonexistence, and we aped them by contriving a new doctrine of positive thinking. Today the psychobabblers are all out doing “shadow work,” which consists of coming to terms with the evil within—what we would call confessing and repenting of sin. How ironic it is that the world has rediscovered not just sin, but the Christian way of dealing with sin, while Christians are trapped with a worldly technique that even the world has abandoned!

Instead of using Jesus’ love as a way of dealing with our sins, we have used Him as an excuse to avoid dealing with our sins, which is quite a different thing. We are quick to identify sins in others. We mount huge crusades to pluck splinters from other people’s eyes, but we parade around with beams in our own. We are keenly perceptive of sins in other people, but we are blind to sins in our own souls. We are deaf to our own Scriptures condemning the hypocrites we have become!

Then we moan that no one takes us seriously. By not taking us seriously, worldly people demonstrate that, in some ways, they are more spiritually perceptive than we are.

Look at the hypocrisy we fall into when we fail to confess and repent. We become proud, where our Scriptures tell us to be humble (1 Peter 5:5). We find mitigating factors for our own sins, but none for the sins of others (Luke 11:46). We think ourselves better than others, when clearly we are not (Philippians 2:3). We seek to be masters of others, instead of servants of all (Mark 9:35). We complain about hardship, when we are supposed to endure it joyfully (James 1:2). We conveniently overlook the fact that 1 John was written as a manual for Christians, not as a brochure to prospective converts.

If our prayers are ineffectual and our spiritual growth is stunted, this may be why. Even though we never actually admitted to any wrongdoing, we gave ourselves credit for repenting anyway, and on that basis we considered ourselves converted. We have compounded our sin by denying its existence! We spiral downwards, never actually confessing or repenting of anything.

Jesus is completely absent from this new type of “spirituality.” We do not allow Him to discern our sins until we process them first. We inspect them and eliminate all of them, either because of mitigating factors, circumstances we didn’t know about at the time, or some other excuse. We do not allow Jesus to forgive us; instead, on our own authority, we rule all the evidence out of court. Then we dress ourselves in white robes of our own making and stand, nervous and fragile, before the throne of God. We arrogantly proclaim ourselves innocent and pure, without ever looking down to see the blood of our sins staining our fine white robes. How can we proclaim Jesus as our Savior, and then do all the saving ourselves? Our self-made righteousness is a filthy rag and our spirituality in Jesus’ name actually denies Him.

Perhaps we should wonder if we are really Christians at all, if we have failed to confess our sins and repent of them; if we claim exemption from confession and repentance because we did it umpty-ump years ago when we accepted the Lord, if we deny Jesus insight into our souls and prevent Him from forgiving our sins each day. Is a good, hearty, “hurray for Jesus” enough to make us His own? Shall we emulate the demons who proclaim Him as the Son of the Living God, yet rebel against His authority? Have we compounded our hypocrisy with fakery?

So for these reasons, I recommend that you include confession and repentance in your daily prayers.

What to Repent of

Bad things you did
This category is obvious, because it includes anything you thought, did, or said that was wrong. The temptation here is to judge whether something was wrong or not before you confess it. I’m sure you could find many reasons to forgive yourself, but that is like going to a trophy shop, purchasing a trophy, having it engraved, and awarding it to yourself in the privacy of your own home when no one else is around. Isn’t it better to wait for someone else to do it, so you can receive it at a podium in front of an applauding crowd? So my advice is, if something bothers you at all, confess it, and let Jesus decide whether it is a sin. How much better it is to receive Jesus’ forgiveness than your own!
Good things you neglected to do
This category is very easy and obvious to the recently bereaved and to survivors of great tragedies. The rest of us rationalize our failure to act. “They wouldn’t have appreciated a stranger trying to help them,” we say to ourselves, or “he would have spent it on booze anyway,” or even, “they would have robbed me and beat me up.” But Scripture tells us that knowing a good thing to do and failing to do it is a sin, and we should confess these failures as well. Don’t just hide them more deeply in your soul. I suppose you could put your kitchen garbage in a thicker plastic sack and that would kill the stink—but for how long? Isn’t it better to get it out of the house altogether?
Anxieties you felt
You say you trust Jesus for the fate of your soul, did you trust Him to get you safely through the day? Some people have panic disorders that require medical treatment, and sometimes the rest of us panic because we had too much caffeine or too many decongestants. But in the absence of these causes, anxiety is a sin, because Jesus told you not to worry about tomorrow. So confess all your anxieties, because anxiety only comes when you do not have faith that He will provide for you.

I wonder if you have noticed this, but sometimes when you are praying, something awful from your past comes to mind. Is it the Holy Spirit telling you that it is time to deal with it, or is it a demon trying to throw you off the track with dead issues? It doesn’t matter if you confess it right there and then. (If it really was a dead issue, it wouldn’t trouble you, now would it?) Admit your wrongdoing, ask Jesus to forgive you, and ask Him to take the sting from the memory of the deed. If your heart accuses you a second time about the same sin, ask Jesus to remove the thorn from your soul.

If you develop this lifestyle of confession and repentance, you will be amazed how it clears up your prayer life. It’s awkward talking to people when there are outstanding issues, but the conversation flows freely when you have resolved all the issues and offenses from the past. Learn from this, because it’s true with God as well. Not only will your prayers become more frequent and more confident, your entire spirit will be transformed, and you will reap material benefits in your daily life.

Sins and Snakes

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to throw you from one excess to another! In former ages, people were so obsessed with repentance that they spent long hours searching their souls, looking for and sometimes even inventing things to repent of. Nowadays we are so careful not to fall into that excess that we fall into the opposite excess. Instead of dealing with sins, we pretend they don’t exist. We pretend that all guilt feelings are irrational. Of course, some guilt feelings are irrational, and if they are, we need to work on getting rid of those spurious feelings. However, if you really did do something wrong, the guilt feeling is appropriate, and the way to make the feeling go away is to deal with the cause, not with the feeling.

In this way, sins are a lot like snakes. If you are terrified of imaginary snakes, you need treatment for hallucinations or a phobia. If you are terrified by a real snake that is coiled up on your living-room rug, the terror is appropriate, and the way to get rid of the terror is to get rid of the snake. On the other hand, if we come across a small child playing happily within striking distance of a poisonous snake, we would observe that the child’s failure to fear the snake puts the child in danger.

Few of us have a problem with snakes, but we all have a problem with sin. Some of us feel excessively guilty, while others need to feel a little guiltier than we do. (There are people who live their lives completely free of any remorse, regret, or guilt. They are called psychopaths!) Our spiritual task is to eliminate irrational self-recriminations on the one hand, and narcissistic self-absolution on the other, and to deal with the real sins in the middle.

My Recommendation to You

So to some people, I say the Holy Spirit will convict you of sin. There’s no need to convict yourself. Repent of whatever He brings to mind. Don’t obsess about whether you’ve repented enough or of everything, because if the Holy Spirit thinks you need to repent of something, He’ll bring it to your attention.

To other people, I say, if the Holy Spirit never moves you to repent of anything, it does not mean you are morally perfect, it means the line is dead. Seek a closer walk with God.

One more time:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ the Righteous One.
—1 John 1:8-2:1, NIV