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 us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)]
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. [Step 4 of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous]
It’s been said that while confession may be good for the soul, it can be bad for the reputation and even worse for a marriage! As Christians, however, we are expected to confess our sins. Most of us probably have no problem admitting that we’re sinners; the problem occurs when we’re asked to catalog our sins! We’d much rather gloss over our faults than face the unpleasant task of honest self-examination. Real confession, however, requires more than just admitting we’ve sinned; it requires taking a good hard look at ourselves to determine our failings. Since self-examination can be unpleasant, we tend to generalize or even avoid confession altogether in our prayers.
Step four in most twelve-step recovery programs requires “a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” It’s not just addicts and alcoholics, however, who should take an honest inventory of themselves—we all should. Blindness to our faults can keep us from far more than recovery; it can keep us from a relationship with Jesus. We can’t grow spiritually if we’re discounting or ignoring our sins. Sin weighs us down with guilt and shame and keeps us from being the people God wants us to be.
It’s easy to spot what’s wrong in the world or in the lives of others but much harder with ourselves. If we’re innocent of the obvious sins—sorcery, murder, bribery, fraud, assault, worshiping graven images, stealing, and blasphemy—we feel pretty good about our behavior. But even the best Christian, when he makes a searching and fearless inventory, is likely to find some hypocrisy, bitterness, jealousy, pride, selfishness, gossip, greed, prejudice, worry, rudeness, fear or materialism. Upon further examination, we’ll probably find a list of failures, as well—failure to forgive, show patience, love God with our whole being, love our neighbor as ourselves, have a grateful heart, pray for our enemies, read God’s word, further His kingdom, bear the Fruit of the Spirit, do what we know is right, or give the glory to God.
We don’t need to confess our sins for forgiveness—Jesus took care of that on the cross. Moreover, our omniscient God doesn’t need our confession to know our sins—He knows them all. Confession is for us. Confession makes us open up the junk drawer of our lives, scrutinize it carefully, and toss out the trash that we’ve accumulated. That searching and fearless inventory makes no excuses—it focuses on the truth and accepts full responsibility for the actions. Recognizing that our sins are offensive to God, we repent and forsake our sins, admit our need of God’s saving grace, and commit to walking in Jesus’ footsteps.
The Christian way essentially consists in acknowledging ourselves to be sinners and in praying for grace. [Martin Luther]