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Christian confession

I’ve been wondering for a while now about how to do confession in a church service. This has been prompted by Ridley chapel, where they often use the Anglican prayer book. I think in all three Communion orders, confession comes in preparation for receiving communion and I’ve wondered how helpful this is.

My concern is that it might seem like in order to receive communion, you have to have confessed your sins. On one hand, that’s appropriate, but I wonder what it does to having the confidence to draw near to God. Does it seem like there’s a process to go through to be good enough to do so? It’s not just the prayer book that does this. The ACTS model of prayer is another example. The issue is, do these models implicitly contain a notion of performing ritual before approaching God? Perhaps not, but I suspect that without explanation, they can be read that way.

Which would be a tragedy, because we know that we do not have to make the same sacrifice endlessly in order to make perfect those who draw near to worship (Heb 10:1). Rather, because Christ is our once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 10:10) we are able to approach God with confidence (Heb 10:19)! The prayer book actually affirms this with a hearty assurance of drawing near to God after confession but I’ve wondered whether this actually needs to be given BEFORE we confess as well, just to make sure that we all understand why we’re doing it.

I found it so helpful this week in Ridley chapel, then, when Cat gave a number of reasons for why we confess our sins. Here they are, reproduced with her permission:

  • in order to remind ourselves that these sins are forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross,
  • in order to stop hiding from God,
  • in order to express our sorrow for the relational damage our sin does to our, relationship with God, each other and our world,
  • in order to be self-aware and not deceived about our true nature,
  • in order to turn away from them, to keep being transformed, to be healed and made whole,
  • in order to deepen our thankfulness and appreciation of God’s grace.

I was confident that God would indeed forgive me; comforted that what I was about to do would be life-changing; and challenged to be honest and thorough in my confession.

This list may not be exhaustive. Perhaps you want to add to it! But I found it a helpful start to thinking about confession.

Categories: Church RRoundup Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

9 replies

  1. I have actually been thinking about something similar recently, in particular – why do we need to confess our sins when they are already forgiven. Wouldn’t it be wiser to come before God and thank him for the cross, than to ask him for something he has already given us.

    Having said that I realise that there are 2 aspects to it – while we have been unconditionally justified in righteousness through Jesus dying on the cross, when we sin we are sabotaging our relationship with God. So in that sense, all those reasons you listed above are quite helpful – we confess not only to renew our relationship with God but also to remind ourselves that we are forgiven.

    And like you said, I think the most important thing to recognise is that we are not saved by our confession, or any ritual for that matter.

  2. Hey Joel – someone asked me this question the other day and so I did a word search for ‘confess’ in the Bible. I was surprised to find the command to confess sins only twice in the NT. One was the (much contested) passage in James 5 about healing and one was in 1 John where it’s part of an assurance that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just. I think I had expected it to be in there more often.

  3. Would “repent” be used more than “confess”? There’s a difference between the two obviously, but maybe it’s more about actively acknowledging wrongs before God and attempting, by His grace, to turn away from them, rather than a reeling off of the list of daily sins?

  4. Good one Georgie. Repent does come up heaps more often. It’s mainly in the gospels, Acts and Revelation (none in the pastoral letters, which is interesting.)

    In Acts it’s almost always used in the context of coming to Jesus for the first time. Same with the gospels, including Jesus famous, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near” though there is the stuff about forgiveness in Luke 17 that includes repentance.

    Probably the clearest indication of Christians repenting (i.e. after conversion) are in the letters at the start of Revelation.

  5. hmm interesting that “repent” is mostly used to describe turning to Christ for the first time. Does is still apply as a re-turning to Christ when an ongoing sin is identified / pointed out? What you said about the “ACTS” model is interesting. I must admit at times I find myself thinking “this is a bit silly, God knows what I keep doing”… maybe instead we should be coming before God humbly acknowledging our fallibility and insufficiencies and asking for His help by His grace? Or is that the same thing…

  6. Georgie, I take it all the Revelation examples are a re-turning to Christ for ongoing sin since they’re written to churches. :)

  7. The two passages that spring to mind on this issue both deal with attitude as opposed to ritual, but I think they’re useful.

    1 Corinthians 11:27,28 is a warning to not take Communion lightly or “unworthily” (it’s an interesting thought to ponder what that means), and that we should examine ourselves before coming.

    The other one is Philippians 2. Paul reminds them that their attitude should be that of Jesus, and that they should be guarding against taking their salvation for granted.

    Both those passages lend themselves to the idea of acknowledging our innate unworthiness before Communion with God via the sacrament through the worthiness of Jesus.

    I guess that’s why the C part of the ACTS model is often put where it is. A realization of how holy God is (A) should remind me of how unholy I am (C). That’s the context for marveling at the confidence we can have through Christ (T) and the hope we have when we ask for grace, as Georgie put well (S).

  8. I also don’t think it’s possible to have right-minded confession without a proper sense of God to remind us Who we fundamentally sin against. Without that, it’s easy (again, as Georgie mentioned) to downplay our sin.

    The fact that God knows all my sins shouldn’t make me complacent. Rather, it should have the opposite effect — something Martin Luther understood well. It’s when I realise the fullest extent of my sin that my comprehension of God’s grace is at its fullest.

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