The blessing of God.
Good afternoon beloved. Listen to these words from the letter to the Ephesians. This is how the apostle Paul opens his letter to these Christians. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Eph 1:3) Now being reconciled to God in Christ one of the greatest spiritual blessings we enjoy is to be able to pray to God. And I mean pray to God and have Him receive our prayers. What a sympathetic high priest we have. (Heb.2:9-18, 4:11-16, 5:7-10)
I pray that these studies on prayer have stirred us all up to pray. I pray that none of us are using these studies as some nice theoretical diversion. (I Cor.8:1-3) It’s like reading a book on running. Let’s read the book. And then run! (I Cor.9:22-27) Now with that said, let’s go to our Lord in prayer and ask His blessing on our time. Let’s pray believing our good heavenly Father will give us what we ask for. (Mt.7:11, Jas.4:2, I Jn.5:13-15) Pray.
The confession of sin.
Today in our fifth study on prayer we are going to look at the confession of our sins as one particular kind of prayer. Most often this should be private because it is so personal.
We spoke about this a little bit in our last study on the neediness of man compelling us to pray. God is holy. Man is sinful. And we must have cleansing and pardon for our sins in order to live with Him. We have this in Christ the Lamb of God who takes away our sins.
I will say at the outset that I am going to combine the subject of confession with the Biblical truth of repentance. These are perhaps things we do not hear too often in our churches, but we should.
True confession of sin is the verbal expression of heartfelt repentance and sorrow and hatred for sin. (I Kg.8:33-35, Ps.38:18, I Jn.1:9) And I would add, it must be Godward to make it true confession. Meaning, we are confessing our sins to God in spirit and in truth. We are grieved that we grieved God by our sin.
Remember confession of sin without repentance from sin is hypocrisy or religious play acting. Confession of sin without sorrow and hatred and resolve against sin – is itself sin. If we use God’s name in this sorrow-less confession, we would be breaking the 3rd commandment, we would be taking God’s name in vain.
We want to be honest with God, with ourselves, and with others for Christ’s sake. (WSC 1)
The Psalms contain seven expressly penitential psalms or prayers: 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. Turn to one of the most famous, Psalm 32. And one that I love.
Psalm 32:1. A Psalm of David. A Maskil. How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! 2 How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit! 3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. 6 Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him. 7 You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah. 8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. 9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you. 10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, But he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him. 11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. (Ps.51:1-19, see also Psalm 35:13)
This is David’s prayer of confession concerning his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, along with a whole host of other associated sins. I am thinking of causing his subordinate servants to go and fetch Bathsheba. Therefore, he made them unwilling participants in his crime against God and man. (WLC 130, 151)
As an aside if you ever want to read a heart-convicting sermon on David’s sin with Bathsheba read John Calvin’s sermon on 2 Samuel 11:1-5 entitled David’s Adultery With Bathsheba. Calvin said that David forced his servants to act like pimps procuring his paramour!
The expression of faith.
Fundamental to what we are talking about is the ability and the inclination to repent of our sins and to confess them to God and as God to forgive us for Christ’s sake is an expression of saving faith. I believe repentance is a product or fruit of saving faith. We apprehend the mercy of God in Christ. And therefore we turn or return to Him like the prodigal son seeking mercy. (Lk.15:11-32)
The definition of sin.
Before we can inwardly repent of sin and then afterwards to confess that sin, we must first know what it is. At first glance you might think, how silly everyone knows what sin is. I would say, yes and no.
Let me deal with the ‘yes’ part. Human beings were created in the image of God. After the fall of Adam, in a strict sense, we lost the image of God as regards to true righteousness and true knowledge of God. We are spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses. (Eph.2:1-3)
But in a general sense we are still image bearers of God. (Gen.9:6) We are still religious and responsible creatures. Part of this means we still have a conscience, that inward moral governor. It is defaced and fallen and calloused; but it is still there. And so even the unbeliever when he sins, to some degree he knows he sinned.
This is Paul’s argument in Romans chapter one.
Romans 1:18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
And what informs the conscience is God’s moral law divinely stamped upon the conscience. This is what Paul is getting at in Romans two.
Romans 2:14. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law (externally in Scripture), are a law to themselves.
This is why for example, even non-Christians think it is wrong to steal and to murder. At least in a general way.
But now the ‘no’ part. Many people do not know what sin is, not the way that God defines sin precisely because of what I said earlier. The Natural Man is spiritually dead. (Eph.2:1-3, Rom.8:7, I Cor.2:11-16, 2 Cor.2:14-16, Jn.12:40, 2 Cor.4:4, I Jn.2:11)
And this is why you have people redefine sin. You will hear things like this, sin is not sin it is a character defect. You are not a drunkard. You are an alcoholic. You are not a sinner. You are sick. This is done with sexually immorality as well. You are not a fornicator or an adulterer or a pervert. You are a sex addict. And now you are not even a sex addict. Everything sexual is ok. Now any sexual expression is good and right. And you are wrong if you say it isn’t. And the rule of this is the sinful mind of Man. (Prov.30:20)
God does not leave us to ourselves to determine what sin is. (WCF 1.1) The moral law of God is the standard for holiness or righteousness. Therefore, all breaches of the moral law are sin. Listen to God’s word.
Romans 7:7. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”
I John 3:4. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.
The summary of the moral law of God is the Ten Commandments. (Exod.20:1-17, Deut.5:1-21, see WLC 94-98) Christ further summarizes the moral law under two heads: love God perfectly and love Man perfectly. (Mt.22:34-40)
This means that sin first starts in our heart. The law as Paul says is spiritual. (Rom.7:14) Christ applies and illustrates this truth in Matthew chapter five. One lustful look at a woman who is not your wife is adultery in the seed form. Jesus says if we hate our brother in our heart, we have committed murder in the seed form. (Mt.5:1-48) Are you beginning to see why we need to repent and confess for our thoughts, desires, and deeds.
Further we can summarize all sins under two heads. The sins of omission. Not doing what God requires. Not loving God and man perfectly. The sins of commission. Doing what God forbids. Hating God and hating our neighbor. Oh how many sins we need to confess!
Next, everything God says is sin in the Bible is always sin. And nothing man can say or do can make sin not-sin. In other words, the law of God is utterly inflexible and perfect and unchangeable. This is important because man as a sinner is constantly looking for a loophole for their sin. We look for some circumstance that will make our sin ok.
An even real Christians do this because we still have the flesh. (Mt.26:69-75, Gal.2:11-14)
Is it ok to God if we steal because we are starving? Is stealing still a sin? Is it ok to commit fornication if we do not have a spouse? Is ok to commit adultery if we do not like the spouse we have? Is marriage always between one man and one woman? Or can people do whatever they would like?
The repentance of sin.
For time sake, let me give you what the Bible says is repentance as summarized in our WLC. (see also WCF 15.1-6) Humiliation for sin. Mourning for sin.
WLC 76 What is repentance unto life? Repentance unto life is a saving grace,(1) wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit(2) and word of God,(3) whereby out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger,(4) but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins,(5) and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent,(6) he so grieves for(7) and hates his sins,(8) as that he turns from them all to God,(9) purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.(10)
(2 Tim. 2:25 (2) Zech. 12:10 (3) Acts 11:18,20,21 (4) Ezek. 18:28,30,32; Luke 15:17,18; Hos. 2:6,7 (5) Ezek. 36:31; Isa. 30:22 (6) Joel 2:12,13 (7) Jer. 31:18,19 (8) 2 Cor. 7:11 (9) Acts 26:18; Ezek. 14:6; 1 Kings 8:47,48 (10) Ps. 119:6,59,128; Luke 1:6; 2 Kings 23:25
Ezekiel 18:30. Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. 31 “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Mt.4:17, 11:20, Acts 3:39, see ‘justifying faith’ WLC 72)
The definition of confession.
In our confessions of our sin to God we are either expressly asking God to forgive us of our sins or it is implied. (WLC 178, Dan.9:4, Lev.5:5, Lev.16:21, Lev.26:40-42, I Kg.8:33-35)
For our purposes today we are not speaking about confessing our sins to one another as we sin against one another. God through James tells us to do that. And we should. (Jas.5:16)
True repentance and confession is first and foremost to God. Since sin is primarily and fundamentally a breaking of God’s law, we are then focusing on confessing our sins against God to God.
And our sins against Man are also sins against God because God gave us the Second Table of the Law, commandments five through ten. (I Jn.3:4) This is why, using the example we spoke of earlier, David after he sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba, he said, against YOU alone O Lord have I sinned. (Ps.51:4) That one used to perplex me so much. 😊
In Hebrew to confess is ya-dah. This means to throw or to cast, to cast up. Context tells us if it is used in a positive or negative way. What I mean, is this word is also translated praise, yadah – to cast up adoration of God.
In the case of sin, we are casting up our sin before God, not to provoke God, but rather to rid ourselves of it, and seek His forgiveness for it.
In the Greek to confess is homologeo. This means to speak the same, to agree, to have the same words. The idea is to agree with God’s word, to agree with God’s law against our sins.
Psalm 38:17. For I am ready to fall, And my sorrow is continually before me. 18 For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin. (Dan.9:3-6)
Luke 18:13. But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Rom.10:9-11)
In true confession of our sins, Thomas Watson says we are accusing ourselves to God. He says by this we prevent Satan from accusing us. We can say back to the devil, I have already confessed this to my Lord. (2 Sam.24:17)
As an aside, saying sorry to God is not confessing our sins and asking forgiveness for Christ’s sake. And saying sorry to another human being we have hurt by our sin is the same thing as confessing our sin to God or even asking them to forgive us. (Mt.18:21-35, Mt.6:14-15)
The expressions of confession.
Let’s speak a little bit about true and false expressions of confession.
Willing and sincere.
Confessing because you are being forced or guilted into it is not true confession. Confessing because you got caught is not true confession. Think of Adam. He ‘confession’ was blaming God and his wife. (Gen.3:9-12) Excusing your sin is not confessing your sin. Confessing your sins while you are angry with God that He is against your sins is not true confession.
Half-hearted confessing is not confession either. Augustine said before his conversion he confessed his sin and begged power against it, but his heart whispered within him not yet Lord. He was afraid to leave his sin too soon. (Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, p.30) He liked what he said he hated.
Complete and specific.
True confession confesses all known sins to God. If we confess one sin but we are secretly in love with six other sins and we have no intention of “confessing” our favorites to God, this also is hypocritical.
The Bible does not just say sin in general is bad. But the Bible lists out particular sins. Think of the Ten Commandments. (I Cor.6:9-11, Rev.22:15) Our confession of sin should be distinct as our sins. (WCF 15.5)
The Bible shows people confessing particular sins.
The people in Judges 10:7, we have committed idolatry.
The people in Daniel 9:5-6, we have not listened to Your prophets.
Zacchaeus in Luke 19:4-10, I have loved money.
The continuance of confession.
Now let me ask you this question, why should justified Believers who are forgiven of their sins continue to confess their sins? (WCF 11.5)
Our sin has been forgiven the moment we received Christ. I will call this legal forgiveness. We are forever justified. But as we continue to sin against God, we grieve the Holy Spirit and so He grieves us. Our communion with God suffers. Our sanctification suffers. He chastises us for our continued sin. (Heb.12:1-13) And so our continuous repentance and confession is for what I would call a renewed sense of God’s love, to know experimentally we are forgiven.
We confess their sins to God because God tells us to. Father forgive us our sins. (Lk.11:2-4, Mk.1:5, WCF 11.5)
Here are some pastoral helps for our repentance and confession. Read God’s law. Meditate on it. Pray over it. Ask God the Holy Spirit to reveal your sin to you and to move you to holy sorrow and holy confession. Search your heart, your life. Look at Christ. Look at His Cross. Meditate on His gospel. It will melt your heart concerning your sin.
From our secondary standards the best help I have found for understanding the Ten Commandments is WLC 99. WLC 151 shows us we aggravate our sins.
The answer of confession.
Beloved, confess every sin to Christ. Ask Him to forgive you. He will.
Matthew 9:2. Take courage, son (and daughter); your sins are forgiven. (Lk.7:48, Rom.4:7, I Jn.2:12, Eph.1:7, I Jn.1:8-10, I Jn.4:3)
Psalm 103:8. The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
A M E N
- In what way is Jesus our sympathetic high priest? How should this affect us? What should be our response to His priesthood? (Heb.2:9-18, 4:11-16, 5:7-10, 7:25, 9:14-28)
- What are the seven penitential psalms in the Bible? Interact with Psalms 32 and 51. Describe the author, the circumstances and the outcome. What do we learn by this as relates to repentance, confession, and forgiveness? (Ps.35:13, 2 Sam.11:1-5, WLC 130, 151)
- What is saving faith? What are the principal acts of saving faith? Who or what does faith believe in? Why is faith saving? (Eph.2:1-9, Jn.3:16, Rom. 4:5-8, 2 Cor. 5:19-21, Rom. 3:22-28, Titus 3:5-7, Eph. 1:7, Jer. 23:6. 1 Cor. 1:30-31, Rom. 5:17-19, Acts 10:44, Gal. 2:16, Phil. 3:9, Acts 13:38-39, Eph. 2:7-8, Jn. 4:42, 1 Thess. 2:13, Jn. 5:10, Acts 24:14, Rom. 16:26, Isa. 66:2, Heb. 11:13, 1 Tim. 4:8, Jn.1:12; Gal. 2:20)
- What are some ways that unbelievers and the flesh of true Believers try to redefine sin?
- What is sin? What is the sin of omission and commission? What are the divine penalties of sin? What are potential temporal consequences of sin? (Rom.7:7, I Jn.3:4, Exod.21:1-17, Dt. 5:1-21, Mt.22:34-40, Rom.6:23, Ezek.18:4-20, WLC 94-98)
- What is repentance unto life? How is godly sorrow different that earthly sorrow? (Ezek.18:30-32, (Mt.4:17, 11:20, Acts 3:39, see ‘justifying faith’ WLC 72, 2 Tim. 2:25, Zech. 12:10, Acts 11:18-21, Lk. 15:17-18, Hos. 2:6-7, Ezek. 36:31, Isa. 30:22, Joel 2:12-13, Jer. 31:18)
- What is true confession of sin? To whom is it made? Why is it made? What is being sought by the confession? On what basis do we expect our prayer to be answered? What do we learn about God and about Man by this? (WLC 178, Dan.9:4, Lev.5:5, Lev.16:21, Lev.26:40-42, I Kg.8:33-35, Jas.5:16, I Jn.3:4, Ps.51:4, Ps.38:17-18, Lk.18:13-14, Rom.10:1-17, Mt.18:21-35, Lk.17:1-5, Mt.6:14-15)
- Describe sincere confessions of sins versus insincere? Can true confession be forced, guilted? How do we excuse our sins while we at the same time are ‘confessing’ our sins? Should confession of sin be for all sins? Explain how we limit which ones we confess? Should we confess specific sins? Why? Why not? (Gen.3:9-12, I Cor.6:9-11, Rev.22:15, WCF 15.5, Judges 10:70, Dan.9:5-6, Lk.19:4-10)
- Why do true Believers in Christ who are unchangeably justified still need to repent and confess their sins to God? (Lk.11:2-4, Heb.12:1-13, Mt. 6:12, 1 John 1:7-9, 1 John 2:1-2, Lk.22:32, Jn.10:28, Heb. 10:14, Ps. 89:31-33, Ps. 51:7-12, Ps. 32:5, Mt. 26:75, 1 Cor. 11:30-32)
- Interact with this prayer of St. Augustine from his youth (full name: Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis, A.D. 354-430). Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.
- Why are all your sins forgiven? How should this make you live? How does this make you feel? 😊 (Mt.9:2, Lk.7:48, Rom.4:7, I Jn.2:12, Eph.1:7, I Jn.1:8-10, I Jn.4:3, Ps.103:8-13)