I have a small devotional called Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, a fantastic collection of prayers, reflections and devotions for daily life and to assist in preparing for worship. It has an extended section on the sacrament of reconciliation, of which is introduces simply by saying
All may; none must; some should
Confession of sin is a basic reality of worship if it wants to be considered Christian. It is a peculiarly Christian supposition that all people approach God unworthily and so he must himself condescend to assist us even in the act of coming to him. This God does by graciously forgiving our sins and hearing us when we call upon his name.
Now, there are some sharp folks who have read the New Testament and insist all this bewailing of manifold sins and wickedness is unnecessary and depressing:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (Romans 8:1, 2 Corinthians 5:17).
And besides, isn’t it pretty cheap to keep coming to God over and over with the same sins, expecting him to cover such wilful disobedience with his grace? It is argued by some that since the Christian is filled with the Spirit, they are on a trajectory away from sin toward perfection. They have nothing to confess because they don’t intend to sin and are not going to sin, by gritted teeth or by grace.
I have long suspected that people who say such things are behaving like they were caught groping some desirable partner behind the youth-room and resent the guilt they felt for such an indiscretion. It’s not nice to feel like you did something wrong, so you might as well find some excuse to never have to again.
Yet the problem I see is this: Without the training in confessing sin, when a Christian is convicted by what they read in the Scripture they have no way to survive the knowledge that they are no closer to living as God would intend than many non-believers they may know. This will lead to the slow erosion of their faith, or the erosion of the teaching of Scripture. Perhaps this is how the Beatitudes become a pleasant ethical aspiration rather than a moral imperative. I know for a fact this is how fornication ceases to considered sin.
If an unmarried couple are sleeping together and they are rightly convicted of this, the expectation is that this will never happen again. Nothing more need be said-they have the Holy Spirit, they can figure it out. Only, sex is really very compelling and they have already established the patterns which make changing their ways difficult. So, it becomes, as long as they love one another then no one will challenge such behaviour and it is quickly forgotten about.
Without confession, the weight of such repeated and ingrained disobedience will likely cause the collapse of a person’s faith, or a neglect of the teaching of Scripture.
Confession is then the clinging to the guard-rail on a ship in a storm. Everything else is being washed about, but the one confessing is holding fast to the reality that God means what he says, despite how that person fails such a standard. The great wonder of it all is that God is faithful to forgive all who repent.
Indeed this is the most consistent and sustaining work of God amongst his people. When they gather and confess, God forgives. It is a miracle every time.
The case of the couple sleeping together might be extreme (it really isn’t though is it), but they are no different from me. I do not come to God with any progress or perfection, no matter how good people tell me I am. I come to God a sinner like everyone else, every time. I find I need to tell this to God, not because he needs to hear it but because I need to say it. I will not tire of telling God the same failures over, and over again. God is kind and patient, more patient than I. To confess sin means I have to rest in God’s patience and surrender my pride and stubbornness. This was a hard thought once it had dawned upon me, making me far far smaller and God gar far bigger.
But I guess that’s probably the point.
Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have wandered and strayed from your ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against your holy laws.
We have left undone those things that we ought to have done;
and we have done those things that we ought not to have done;
and there is no health in us.
But you, O Lord, have mercy upon us sinners.
Spare those who confess their faults.
Restore those who are penitent,
according to your promises declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,that we may live a disciplined, righteous and godly life, to the glory of your holy name.
May almighty God have mercy on us,
forgive us our sins,
and bring us to everlasting life,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.