While there are a hundred ways to do a gospel liturgy, if it doesn’t include some kind of confession, it’s likely not a gospel liturgy. Confession allows us the opportunity to normalize our need for grace and reawaken our people to God’s merciful disposition towards us.
What is Confession
Broadly speaking, confession means to announce what is true. In modern liturgies, this can include a declaration of faith or a creed from church history. Confession can also mean acknowledging how we’ve lived contrary to God’s commands or His kingdom. Today we’ll focus on how we rehearse these aspects of confession, vocalizing our own imperfection and God’s perfection, and doing so among God’s people in a gathering.
You would think confession would be an obvious and well-paved road in Christian gatherings, but that is often not the case. Many reasons contribute to the avoidance of confession.
Some of us learned in our families, both biological and spiritual, that confession hands ammunition to those that would harm us. Confessing inherently means exposing weakness, and thus we could potentially lose admiration, respect, love, acceptance, or control.
Others have misunderstood what confession is and labeled it harmful. This week I heard an artist with a lot of influence in the church say that repentance is a form of shame, and so is not healthy. Maybe we just feel a bit of theological fogginess around confession. If we can never do anything to lose God’s love or our status in His family, why is confession needed anyway?
It’s possible we expect confession to do something it’s not meant to do. We know confession can bring relational restoration but also sometimes erroneously expect it to remove the consequences of our actions (which is not the point and highly unlikely).
Confusion in any of these areas will prevent us from embracing and benefitting from confession publicly and privately.
What Confessing Does
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8–9 ESV
Confession doesn’t change our citizenship or standing before God, but it certainly affects our relationships, both divine and human. Confessions unite us, and pull us from feeling alone in our struggles. Confession flattens the field because we all need grace. For us on the Eastside of Seattle, that means the Amazon executive along with the homeless woman, are both clinging to the same forgiveness. Our confidence in God’s steadfast mercy makes confession not only possible, but desirable.
Confession doesn’t lead us to shame but actually away from it. Tim Keller has commented that, “fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.” May we never equate repentance with shame…what a tragic misunderstanding of repentance!
Confession in Public
So why not reserve this aspect of Christian living to our private spiritual lives? Well, it certainly belongs there too. Yet, part of our (often neglected) purpose in gathering each week is preparing and equipping the saints for daily worship. With that in view, it seems prudent to model this when we gather. I’d also say that it seems the writers of the New Testament felt that confession was appropriate in the public gathering (see Luke 18:13-14).
As essential as confession is, how you approach confession in your gatherings will largely steer how that moment goes. I’ve seen confessions work most effectively when held in a “gospel container.” Think of your corporate confessions like this:
Why Should We Confess | What are We Confessing | Why are We Forgiven
Every Sunday we begin our confession together with a brief explanation of why we are doing it, what we are confessing (preferably something that ties in with the theme of the morning), and then always follow our confession times with what many call an assurance of pardon. Sometimes the assurance of pardon is a single sentence, a verse, a prayer, etc…but we work hard to include the good news of Christ’s sufficiency and mercy right after we remember our failings. Our confession never goes unanswered from God, and His mercy is abundant.
As with most gospel elements, the confession itself can happen in a variety of delivery methods. Some hymns and modern worship songs make great confessions. Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143 all are “penitential” Psalms and very useful for public confessions.
Be sure to be clear about the fact that those of us in leadership or on stage are a part of the confessing body. We aren’t mediating between man and God in this moment, but including our own brokenness with that of the people, and needing His grace like everyone else. We are ourselves “wounded healers” directing their attention to the already existing and forgiven sin.
Because this series is focusing on how our Sunday liturgies affect everyday worship, I want to now look at what corporate confession teaches the congregation. How does rehearsing confessions together shape our people?
- Confession is normative. It’s true that confession is for those that have really blown it, and that includes you and me! Living with a heart for the Lord and a flesh warring against us means that tension between the two will produce the need for acknowledging where we have failed. Confession is not just a normal part of our vertical relationship with God, but also with each other.
- Confession helps us fight sin. Regular confession will snuff out our pride and the power of sin in our lives. It strips back the lies of isolation and fear that we are the only one who struggles. Confession is a way of saying we desire the Spirit to empower us to live differently.
- Confession leads us to receive grace. Admitting our brokenness is a means by which we participate in grace in the everyday stuff of life. This is what Martin Luther was getting at when he said, “The recognition of sin is the beginning of salvation.” In order to move towards Christ and away from our sin, it is necessary to recognize our sin for what it is.
When we look our failure in the eye, it will either draw us up into God’s kindness or down into our own shame. The good news of Christ’s victory over death and sin is that we have mercy from the only One can truly judge our lives, and that our shame is gone. Confess humbly and joyfully this Sunday.
Click here to read part one of this series, where Donald makes a case for gospel liturgies. Part two covers the benefits of a call to worship.
How are your gatherings leading people to regularly depend on the mercy of God?
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