We will not always believe God, and will instead believe our own heart’s ideas about what is good. In those moments, what began as a possible inclination will turn into an embrace, and a pursuit, ending only in the hollow and short-lived satisfaction of sin, with all its long-term consequences and destructive effects.
Gladly, as we have studied, our sin does not expel us from God’s presence, for we are in Christ. Our sin does, however, defile our consciences and displease God. When we sin, God is displeased the way a Father is displeased with a son who disobeys. God is able to be both angry and delighted with his children at the same time. His love will train us, chastise us, and lead us to see the painfulness of sin. For these reasons, we are told what believers do:
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that 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 1:7-9)
In confession, we do what we failed to do at the point of temptation: agree with God that sin is sinful. We acknowledge that sin is sinful, and that we were the sole reason for our sin. We claim ownership for what is ours, and enter a guilty plea for embracing what God has already called evil. Being in Christ, we then trust the merciful provisions of God to cleanse and restore communion.
We keep confessing our sins not because our cleansing and forgiveness stands in doubt, but precisely because we are children of light who keep uncovering their sins to God, knowing that he keeps covering them with his Son’s blood.
When we confess, we are not seeking forgiveness from judicial guilt. We are seeking forgiveness from Fatherly displeasure. We are seeking forgiveness for walking away from his embrace. We are seeking forgiveness from an accusing conscience, for breaking trust. We are returning to honesty, openness, sincerity, which are so fundamental to loving relationships.
This is not to say that our confession is to be casual. Indeed, the more we see sin as God sees it, the deeper our horror and shame that we are the perpetrators. Jonathan Edwards said “All gracious affections that are a sweet odor to Christ, and that fill the soul of a Christian with a heavenly sweetness and fragrancy, are broken hearted affections. A truly Christian love, whether to God or men, is a humble broken hearted love.”1
My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
How sad on Thee they fall;
Seen through Thy gentle patience,
I ten-fold feel them all;
I know they are forgiven,
But still, their pain to me
Is all the grief and anguish
They laid, my Lord, on Thee.
My sins, my sins, my Saviour!
Their guilt I never knew
Till with Thee in the desert
I near Thy passion drew;
Till with Thee in the garden
I heard Thy pleading prayr,
And saw the sweat-drops bloody
That told Thy sorrow there. – John S. B. Monsell
A habit of regular confession does not make it perfunctory, nor does it have to make us edgy, neurotic Christians. We must simply live in continual agreement with God, allowing his Spirit to convict and cleanse us, as we live in communion with him. Again, Brother Lawrence had found some of this ease: “when sometimes he had not thought of God for a good while, he did not disquiet himself for it; but after having acknowledged his wretchedness to God, he returned to Him with so much the greater trust in Him, by how much he found himself more wretched to have forgot Him.”2
How quick is God to be pleased when we confess to him? First John 1:9 tells us he is not simply merciful and kind, he is faithful and just. He has promised to forgive and to keep cleansing his children. His own truthfulness is the guarantee here. If we honestly confess, his cleansing work which continues will cleanse our consciences from the defilement of having willingly embraced sin.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Though the sense of sprinkled hearts here may refer to our objective justification, our assurance of its reality comes through progressive sanctification, and particularly through confession. Instead of hiding from God, our faith in our grace-given position leads us to confess that our sin is sinful, and experience what is true of us: that we are accepted, completed and secure in Christ. With cleansed consciences comes boldness, and a willingness to draw near with full assurance. Sin interrupts communion, but honest confession restores it, and should encourage us to take it up again.
This cleansed conscience is indispensable for a life of communing with God. Robert Murray Mçheyne understood this:
“I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do most for God’s glory and the good of man, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity, by maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood, by being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times, and by attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world.”3
McCheyne went on to list several ways he had discovered to assist him in this. These included:
* Confess sin the moment you are aware of it.
* Take special times to confess, and to earnestly examine one’s whole life.
* Refuse any reluctance to go to Christ.
* See no sin as too small to confess to Christ.
* Be clothed with Christ’s obedience.
Conviction does not always deal with transgressions of God’s holy beauty. Oftentimes, we will be convicted over how we are using the lawful things in our lives. The twin of confession is consecration, which we will consider next.