If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. [1 John 1:8-9 (NLT)]
Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. [Step 4 of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous]
Step four in most twelve-step recovery programs requires “a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” However, it’s not just addicts or alcoholics who should take an honest inventory of themselves—we all should. Blindness to our faults can keep us from far more than recovery; it keeps us from a relationship with Jesus. Sin keeps us from being the people God wants us to be because it weighs us down with guilt and shame.
While most of us probably have no problem saying, “Forgive us our trespasses,” and admitting we’ve trespassed, the problem occurs when we’re asked to catalog those trespasses! 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’re sinners; it requires taking a good hard look at ourselves to determine how we sinned. Since self-examination can be unpleasant, we tend to generalize or even avoid confession altogether in our prayers; but, we can’t grow spiritually if we’re discounting or ignoring our sins.
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—murder, bribery, fraud, assault, worshiping graven images, stealing, and blasphemy—we feel pretty good about our behavior. But even the best Christian, when making a searching and fearless inventory, is likely to find some hypocrisy, bitterness, jealousy, pride, selfishness, greed, prejudice, worry, and/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 to receive forgiveness. Our sins—past, present, and future—were cancelled when Jesus was nailed to the cross. He paid the debt with His life and anyone who believes in Him receives that forgiveness. The assurance of our forgiveness, however, doesn’t give us carte blanche to keep on sinning.
As Jesus’ followers, we are expected to make war on our sins—to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within” us. How can we go to war if we don’t know what it is we’re battling? Our omniscient God doesn’t need our confession to know our sins—He knows them all. Confession is for us! Simply saying, “forgive us our trespasses” is little more than lip service; admitting lack of forgiveness regarding the ex, surfing for porn, deceit on your resume, or gossiping about your neighbor is taking up arms and engaging in combat against that sin!
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.
Children of God should not make a general confession by acknowledging their innumerable sins in a vague manner, because such confession does not provide conscience opportunity to do its perfect work. They ought to allow the Holy Spirit through their conscience to point out their sins one by one. Christians must accept its reproach and be willing, according to the mind of the Spirit, to eliminate everything which is contrary to God. [Watchman Nee]