In the past few days I have been going back and reading some articles I wrote months or years ago and have been updating a few of them. Last night I had my weekly home church meeting (AKA small group Bible study) and we discussed the importance of confession among Protestants. I realized I had written an article on this very topic last year so decided to rewrite it and post it again. The article stemmed from a challenge I received via a Catholic apologist’s web site. The author said that “Protestants do not believe in confession.” The statement is correct only insofar as Protestants do not practice auricular confession (confessing ones’ sins to a priest in order to receive forgiveness). That statement along with others I have heard and read shows that there is a misunderstanding about the Protestant view of confession.
That God calls us to confess our sin is clearly supported by Scripture. The Bible teaches us much about confession.
Leviticus 16:21 shows that confession is an integral part of forgiveness. “Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness…” Though confession is implicit in asking for forgiveness (an admission of wrong-doing is necessary before one asks for forgiveness), the Biblical model is one of explicit confession. The priest did not simply send the scapegoat into the wilderness as a sign of forgiveness. Nor did he simply mumble a few platitudes and consider that sufficient. Rather, he first laid his hands on the animal and confessed the sins of the nation. The implication is that the priest would have confessed specific sins rather than simply offering a vague admission of guilt.
Psalm 32:3-5 shows the burden of unconfessed sin. “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. 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.” David says that while he refused to confess his sin his bones wasted away, God’s hand was heavy upon him and his strength was sapped. The burden was psychological, spiritual and probably physical as well. Finally, after David confessed his sin before God he experienced God’s forgiveness. At the close of the psalm we see a radical transformation as Davis is glad - singing and rejoicing in song. David shows us that confession is a necessary aspect of spiritual health.
Most Christians have, at one time or another learned the acronym A.C.T.S. as a model for prayer. Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication is a good and a logical way of ordering prayer. It seems, though, that little time and teaching is dedicated to how one should confess.
Giving God the adoration due Him will prepare us for confession. Focusing on God’s attributes will help us see where we have fallen short of His standards. A part of our adoration is focusing on the attributes of God that we shared with Him before our fall into sin. For example, we may give God glory for being perfect in holiness. As we do this it opens our eyes to the fact that this perfection is God’s standard for us. He demands and expects no less from us. Once we have established who God is and what He has done we cannot help but see how our lives and character fall short of the perfection He demands. The reaction of a contrite and broken heart can be nothing other than confessing our sinfulness before Him as we begin to pour out our requests before Him.
So what does confession actually look like? Here are a few pointers:
On his album The House Show, Derek Webb provides a lengthy spoken introduction to his song “I Repent” where he says that often it might just be the best thing in our lives if our deepest, darkest sins, the ones we work hardest to hide, were exposed to the world and broadcast from the rooftops. If our sins were exposed, we would have no way of hiding from them and we would have to deal with them. That is how our sins have been exposed to Jesus. Jesus sees and knows them all. Yet, praise by to God, if we know Him, all our sins have been forgiven! Having confessed and asked for forgiveness, we have God’s assurance that He has forgiven us. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” We need to believe in this promise, believing that our sins have been paid for by Christ. Naturally, our reaction should now be one of joy as we thank God for allowing Christ to take our sin upon Himself. Finally, having confessed to Him and having thanked Him for forgiveness, we can pour out our requests to Him, asking that He would help us turn from our sin and become more and more like His Son.
We see, then, that confession is an integral part of the Protestant faith and a necessary part of our Christian walk. While vastly different from Roman Catholic confession, it is no less important a part of the faith.