If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. [1 John 1: 8-10 (MSG)]
The church in which I was raised recited a general confession during each service and I sometimes wondered why we bothered to confess. I reasoned that, since God sees everything we do, He already knows what sinners we are and what sins we’ve committed so why bother to tell Him what He already knows? Eventually, I understood that, while God knows what we’ve done wrong, He wants us to know it, too. Until we repent, how can we be redeemed? Until we acknowledge our guilt, how can we be pardoned? We must admit why we need forgiveness before we can accept it.
If we haven’t killed anyone, stolen any property, cheated on our taxes, or committed adultery, it’s easy to think there’s nothing to confess. While we may enjoy a good meal, we’re not gluttonous and, while we may get annoyed, we’re never violent. We don’t covet our neighbors’ houses, spouses, or cars (except maybe that Maserati down the street). If we attend church regularly, read our Bibles, and call our mothers once a week, what do we have to confess? Unfortunately, plenty!
I don’t know about you but I have harbored bitterness and pride and allowed frustration to grow into anger. I’ve failed to forgive, not offered help when I should have, and gossiped. I have been envious of peoples’ beauty and talent. I’ve failed to give thanks in all circumstances and been needlessly anxious because I didn’t turn my problems over to God. I’ve held others to a higher standard than the one to which I hold myself. I’ve procrastinated, broken promises, and been selfish rather than generous. I’ve held back when I should have stepped forward and interfered when I should have stepped back. The Fruit of the Spirit has often gone missing from my tree. I’ve lost patience, temper and, at times, I’ve even lost my faith.
Without confessing our “little sins,” we easily become complacent and self-satisfied. We fool ourselves into thinking we’re “good enough” but merely “good enough” isn’t good enough for God. Worse, those mole-hill sins can easily grow into mountainous ones! Whether mole-hills or mountains, when our sins remain unacknowledged and unconfessed, they affect our relationship with Jesus.
In her oft-recited sonnet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote the words, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” I thought of her poem while writing this devotion. My poem, however, would begin, “How have I sinned against you? Let me count the ways!” Unlike her sonnet, however, my list would be over fourteen lines in length.
Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen. [Book of Common Prayer]