Why have Christian sages throughout the ages stressed that confession of our sins is a vital practice for those who wish to grow in spiritual strength and peace?
The reason is: Confession of our sins is the first step we can take in standing with God instead of standing against God.
The word confess means, literally, “to acknowledge with” someone. When we confess our sins, we acknowledge with God that what we have done is wrong and is harmful to us and to others.
The problem is that ever since Adam & Eve ate the forbidden fruit, confession has not come naturally to us. When Adam & Eve committed that first sin, God gave them a great opportunity to confess what they had done. He asked Adam straightforwardly, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
What a wonderful opening for Adam “to acknowledge with” God, ‘Yes, I sinned, and this sin has filled me with such embarrassment that it warped the way Eve and I look at each other, and we even hid from You because we suddenly felt fear which we had never known before.’
But that’s not what Adam said. Rather than taking the first step to stand with God, he took a step in the opposite direction. He threw the blame on Eve.
Frederick Buechner expresses the dynamic of confession well: “To confess your sins to God is not to tell Him anything He doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.”
As confession is the first step we can take in standing with God instead of against Him, repentance is the next step we can take in walking with God instead of continuing away from God, for repentance has to do with turning around so as to begin walking with God rather than in a way that is contrary to God.
The prophet Ezekiel speaks to a people who find themselves suffering the calamity and pain of sin but who have not yet taken the steps of confession and repentance.
In Ezekiel 33:10, God calls the people to confession. He says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”’”
The people realize that they are experiencing in their lives the pain and calamity that sin causes, but they have not yet acknowledged that the reason for their pain is sin. Thomas Merton sums it up well: “Sin proves itself to be a supreme injustice not only against God but, above all, against ourselves.”
The people know that their lives are a mess, but they have not yet acknowledged why. Ezekiel 33:10 invites them to take the first step of standing with God by acknowledging with God that it is their sins that are bringing such pain and despair to their lives.
If you find yourself living in a world of pain and despair, perhaps the first step you could take would be to acknowledge with God the calamity sin is bringing to your life.
In Ezekiel 33:11 God invites them to take the next step of beginning to walk with Him rather than continuing to walk away from Him. He says to Ezekiel, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Will you die, O house of Israel?’”
I love that verse! God doesn’t want anyone to die. That’s why Jesus gave His life for us! And that’s why God invites us to stop walking in a way that is contrary to Him and harmful to us. That’s why He invites us to turn around and to begin walking with Him in the way that leads to strength and peace.