One of the most important spiritual exercises we can do is confessing our sins to God. To confess sin is to speak the truth to God and others that we have missed the mark of loving God and our neighbor in particular instances and that this tendency lives in us. Sins like unkindness, selfish ambition, envy, slander, resentment, pride, and deceit all are examples of the failure to love.
Most of us neglect to confess our sins because we don’t know how to do this in a life-giving way. We punish ourselves with guilt feelings or we excuse our harmful behaviors and attitudes to avoid guilt. To feel guilty is not helpful! When we sin God wants us to hurry to take refuge under his wings of mercy, available to us in Jesus Christ. Self-condemnation is the opposite of divine mercy — it leads to shame and isolation from God. (Recall Adam and Eve covering themselves with fig leaves and hiding from God.) “Godly sorrow” helps us cling to Jesus. (See 2 Cor. 7:10-11 and my devotional, “Don’t Feel Bad About Sin, Feel Sad.”)
Help for Healthy Confessions of Sin
There are three essential things to help us to with our confessions of sin. (1) Focus on the love of God for us as demonstrated in Jesus on the cross and raising from the dead. (2) Read and pray Scriptures like Psalm 51 that lead us to seek God’s mercy. (3) Share our confessions of sin with a compassionate and wise friend of Jesus.
The result of healthy confessions of sin is being restored in your connection to the Lord and your capacity to love others in his name. This is what David asked for and received when he confessed his sin of adultery in Psalm 51: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.” (verses 10-12)
Augustine’s Confessions of Sin
Reading Augustine’s 4th Century confessions of sin inspires us to be honest with God about our sins in the right way, seeking his mercy through Christ and drawing closer than ever to our great God of grace:
I… remind myself of my past foulness and carnal corruptions, not because I love them but so that I may love you, my God. It is from love of your love that I make the act of recollection. The recalling of my wicked ways is bitter in my memory, but I do it so that you may be sweet to me, a sweetness touched by no deception, a sweetness serene and content.
You gathered me together from the state of disintegration in which I had been fruitlessly divided… pleasing myself… ambitious to win human approval… [unable] to see the difference between love’s serenity and lust…
I had become deafened by the clanking chain of… my pride… incapable of rest in my exhaustion…
[But] you were always with me, mercifully… touching me with a bitter taste in all my illicit pleasures… You fashion pain to be a lesson…
And why do I [make this confession]? Is that I and my readers may reflect on the great depth from which we have to cry to you (Psalm 130:1). Nothing is nearer to your ears than a confessing heart and a life grounded in faith (Romans 10:9)… God, you are the one true and good Lord of your land, which is my heart. (Saint Augustine’s Confessions, pp. 24-26)
More Soul Shepherding
Look to Jesus as he carries his cross to Calvary Hill and as he’s crucified to forgive us of our sins and reconcile us to God, our loving Father. This is the perfect, unfailing love that we long for! In Jesus and through his death and resurrection the heavens are truly opened to us!
Repeatedly I’ve deepened my appreciation for God’s love by going to the cross of Christ. I do this with you in my booklet of Gospel stories, meditations, and prayers: Unforsaken: With Jesus on the Stations of the Cross. This is great for personal devotions, small groups, or retreats.