Over the last couple years, I have wrestled with my understanding of confession. Growing up, and into college/seminary, I often heard of how important it is to confess my sins to the Lord, even after my conversion, in my relationship with Him. I've also heard many people say, in relation to communion, that there should be no known, unconfessed sin in one's life – which would make them unworthy to partake in communion. Many people see confession as the time one takes to present their acts of disobedience to the Lord. And I have to be honest that these ideas about confession sit in my heart like sour milk would sit in my gut on a sunny, ninety-degree day – sick!
I am troubled by this understanding of confession for many reasons – and I while I believe each reason has sufficient Biblical reasoning in themselves, I would much rather you take them all as a whole.
1. It brings our Heavenly Father down to the level of an earthly father. It's comparing, not contrasting, His love and forgiveness to the love and forgiveness of an earthly father. THERE IS NO COMPARISON. While earthly fathers are to reflect the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, etc. of God the Father, in all our striving we don't even come close. I am a poor dim reflection – just ask my kids. While, at times, Scripture does use, and thus makes it appropriate to use, the illustration of an earthly father to draw out, or teach, an element of our Heavenly Father – it never, ever, ever is appropriate to bring our Heavenly Father down to the level of an earthly father. This just devalues the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness God pours into our lives through His Son, Jesus Christ.
2. Behind the guise of humility and obedience, it emphasizes a heart's attitude that makes confession an act of righteousness that can improve my standing before God. It's a "spiritual" rock, other than Christ, on which I can stand. Whenever you assign the power to justify, or sanctify, to a person, or an act, you are stealing a power, and a role, that belongs only to God – and that's idolatry (Romans 10.3-4).
3. It makes one's relationship with God dependent, not totally on Christ - but also on my confession. That's not freedom – it's condemnation (Romans 8.1).
4. I am so utterly depraved, my sin is so abounding, that I cannot possibly bring a list of any accuracy to God.
5. Related to the previous point, yet distinct from it – everything I do, every act of "righteousness," is tainted with my sinfulness. Therefore, I cannot possibly present a list of any worth to God.
6. This mindset and heart's attitude does not accurately reflect God's desire and aim in our confession before Him.
Now, after all that, let me say that I do believe spending time in confession with the Lord is imperative and an act of obedience. And while it is, at times, very appropriate to confess specific sins, such as habitual ones that seem to have constant victory over you, that is not God's overall aim in requiring confession from us. God's end is that Jesus would be exalted – and that He would be glorified. So, as we confess, we are to focus more on the rebellion of our hearts (pride, self-centeredness, anger, bitterness, deceit, jealousy, idolatry, indiscipline, weakness, inconsistency, discontent, etc.). Our sinful actions flow from our rebellious hearts. Searching our hearts, not our actions, will bring transformation (Proverbs 4.23). And in confessing the rebellion and depravity of our hearts, we must do so in light of the greatness of God. We need to confess to God who we know Him to be (praise) and confess what we know He's done for us in Christ (thanksgiving). This should be a regular time in which we spend with Him.
I want to close with this quote from Scotty Smith – “When I confess my sins, I’m never informing God of something he doesn’t already know. I’m only echoing the call to greater freedom whose origin is in the concert hall of the gospel. When I express a need, the repository of heaven has preceded my cry, readying sufficient grace and supplies beyond my imagination.”
Wow! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!