Get Real

“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 our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 
(I John 1:8-9 ESV)

Today being Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season, there is a lot of attention placed on penitence and confession.  Fat Tuesday was spent in wild celebration so that there would be something to confess on Ash Wednesday (as if there wasn’t enough already). 

But what does it really mean to confess your sins?  What does a genuine confession look like?  Now that there’s an App for Confessions (see here), what is the proper form of confession?

If you do a quick study on the word “confess” in Scripture, you will find it has less to do with producing a laundry list of the things for which we feel sorry, and more to do with a humble and heartfelt acknowledgement of the truth.  In the Hebrew, the primary word used for confess is “yadah,” which literally means to throw or shoot, but is also translated as to give thanks and praise to God, to confess that the Lord is God (2 Chron 6:24), and to confess the truth of our sinfulness before God (Lev 5:5).  Interestingly, this word is closely related to the word “yada” which means “to know.” 

In the Greek, the word for confess is “homologeo” which literally means “to speak as one.”  Again, in the Greek this refers not only to our confession or acknowledgement of our sins (James 5:16), but also our confession of Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9; Phil 2:11), and even His confession of our name before the Father (Rev. 3:5).

So to make a confession is to acknowledge what we know to be true (we do this every week in worship when we make a “Confession of Faith”).  The word confess means that you stand with God and you say what God is saying.  It means to acknowledge the truth of Scripture.  It means to acknowledge the truth of Jesus Christ.  It means to acknowledge the truth about ourselves and our sins. To confess is to say about your sin exactly what God says about it. You call your sin what God calls it. That is what it means to confess.

I heard one pastor put it this way: “To confess your sin is not simply that you come with this general acknowledgment that you have messed up, that you have not been everything you should be as a husband or a wife, that you have not attained to all that you would like to have attained in your life. Confession of sin is not some vague, acknowledgment of being a general flop. But it is a confession of your sin: that you have deliberately missed the mark of God’s call and God’s law.”

Kevin DeYoung writes in the book “Why we love the Church”

It’s all to easy for me to say, “I’m sorry for not doing more to help the poor, and I’m sorry I haven’t been more loving, and I’m sorry I haven’t done more for the homeless.”  But is this real repentance if I don’t go out and do something differently after my confession… Before we loudly protest all our general failings, we would do well to remember that repentance entails a change of direction and not merely a public declaration that “I could have done more.”  We shouldn’t say we’re sorry because it sounds good or makes us look good before others, but because we actually feel regret for some wrongdoing and are intent on living more like Christ in the future. (DeYoung, Kevin.  Why we love the Church (Moody Publishers, Chicago; 2009) page 137).

As long as your confession of sin is kept at arm’s length, an utterance of the generalities that, yes, we are all sinners, nobody’s perfect, but never really acknowledging the truth about ourselves, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  We are not saying the same thing God is saying, we are, in fact, calling God, and His word, a liar.

But if you confess…  If you acknowledge the revelation of Scripture, that God is Holy and Righteous in His judgment against sin; that we are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God and stand condemned under His righteous judgment; that Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the sinless one upon whom all our sins were laid, died to redeem us and to set us free from sin and death, and has taken God’s judgment and wrath upon Himself that we might be free to live for God… If you confess, if you acknowledge the truth, then you stand with God and the truth dwells in you (I John 4:15).

Friends, let today be a day of confession.  A day of acknowledging the truth about God and the truth about ourselves.  Get real with God.  Confess your sins, yes, and confess your faith as well. 


Clothed in Gladness

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”  Psalm 30:11-12

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  We mark this day as a time of penitence; confessing our sin, seeking reconciliation, and re-committing ourselves in the pursuit of discipleship.  I write this to you with ashes on my brow, a reminder of the temporariness of life as well as a sign of my contrition for my sins.

Contrition, mourning, sorrow and lament; these are appropriate responses to our sins.  When I stop to think how I have taken for granted the grace and mercy of God, when I realize how I have scorned the gentle call of my Savior, when I am struck by my stubborn refusal to follow the guiding of God’s spirit, when I consider, as the hymn says:
                                    the wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness,
all I’m left with is terrible shame and sorrow for the way I have broken the heart of God.

But thanks be to God who has not left us alone in our shame and despair.  As the psalmist says, “God has turned my mourning into dancing, He has loosened my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.”  While we journey in the “valley of the shadow of death,” we never stop there, we are simply going through.  God transforms our mourning, our grief, our sorrow into songs of praise.

How?  By forgiving us through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  When we were lost in our sins, God proved His love for us by sending His Son to die for us (Rom 5:8).  While we were dead in our trespasses and sins, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us… made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5).  God didn’t wait for us to come to him in contrition and penitence, but launched a preemptive strike of grace and mercy, saving us through the righteousness of His Son, so that when we do repent, we know the joy and peace of forgiveness immediately.

Out of the ashes we rise to sing the praise of our Gracious Heavenly Father.  The song of the redeemed is sweet in His ears.  It is a song of love, of thankfulness and praise.  It is our greatest glory join in the chorus. Even in Lent, especially in Lent, we may sing: “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”