This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Pressing On, a new e-magazine for growing Christians. If you haven’t already subscribed, you’re missing out on some great monthly content.
The gospel contains good news. The best news. Jesus Christ has given himself as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). This is news that all unbelievers everywhere need to hear.
But the gospel also contains news for believers. Good news. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1a). Our heavenly Father has not left his children without a clear revelation of his expectations. And the good news continues, especially for those sons and daughters of God who are struggling. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1b).
Christians struggle. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8a). Christians make mistakes. “If we say we have no sin… the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8b). Christians continue to need the interceding work of Jesus Christ. “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). At times, Christians need to confess to their heavenly Father about some word, thought or deed that is out of harmony with holiness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). That is good news. Great news! But it is news that must be personally applied. And it will only be applied by those who are honest.
I must be honest with myself. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psa 51:3). I am breathing God’s air. I am functioning within a body provided by God. I am exercising talents that are God-given. I am living on God-created (and God-limited) time. “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4). When wayward children of God are honest with themselves, the gravity of sin against a gracious God can drive them to “come to themselves” (Luke 15:17) and “grieve” them into repenting. “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Cor 7:9-10).
Listen to this vital part of David’s prayer of confession:
____________ Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
__________________ Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
____________ Let me hear joy and gladness;
__________________ let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
____________ Hide your face from my sins,
__________________ and blot out all my iniquities.
____________ Create in me a clean heart, O God,
__________________ and renew a right spirit within me.
____________ Cast me not away from your presence,
__________________ and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
____________ Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
__________________ and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psa 51:7-12)
What does it take to be willing to pray such a prayer of confession? Honesty. My heart is not clean. My spirit is not right. Whatever joy I feel will not last. My gladness has been uprooted from the only abiding Source. I have been willing once again to trade the greatest of blessings for the most fleeting of foolish pleasures.
Men who are unwilling to be honest with themselves will not pray such prayers. Women who are unwilling to be honest with themselves will not be grieved into repenting. And without repentance, we run the eternally weighty risk of standing before God without an advocate.
I must be honest with God. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psa 51:4). Isn’t it interesting what isn’t in Psalm 51? David had committed adultery, lied, manipulated and murdered. And yet, in his classic psalm of confession, not one of those sins is specifically identified. Neither Bathsheba nor Uriah are named. Why is that? Because David’s transgressions were serious symptoms of the greatest ailment of all—the failure to treasure God above every other person, pleasure and thing.
David’s sins didn’t stem from ignorance. His shortcomings weren’t the result of a long-held, deep-seeded disagreement with the laws of God. He was a man after God’s own heart! But on that night, David wanted illicit sexual gratification more than he wanted God. In the days that followed, David guarded his sinful secrets more than he guarded his covenant with God. When the situation grew desperate, David feared the awful truth being revealed more than he feared God. When backed into a corner, David demonstrated more of a willingness to shed innocent blood than to be honest and penitently cast himself before the feet of the God who already knew what David had done. David was exactly right when he confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam 12:13). Step 1: David had to be honest with himself. Step 2: David had to be honest with God.
Men who are unwilling to be honest with themselves will not make such confessions. Women who are unwilling to be honest with God will not humble themselves in his sight. And without humble confession, we run the eternally dangerous risk of standing before the God of ultimate holiness and purity without an advocate.
There’s a time to confess about the tangled web of sin, and there’s a time to kill the spider. Warren Wiersbe tells the story of a man who would consistently end the prayers he led before others with, “And Lord, clean the cobwebs out of my life! Clean the cobwebs out of my life!” One of the members of the church became weary of hearing this same insincere request week after week because he saw no change in the petitioner’s life. So, the next time he heard the man pray, “Lord, clean the cobwebs out of my life!” he interrupted with, “And while you’re at it, Lord, kill the spider!”
It’s commendable to offer the Lord a passionate prayer of confession. But let us be men and women who are honest enough to live transforming, maturing, obedient lives for the glory of our Father after we say “Amen.” As Proverbs 28:13 warns, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”