Why We Confess Our Sins
By Father Wade Miller
Sin is a major theme in Scripture and echoed throughout The Book of Common Prayer. The definition of sin is anything that contradicts or opposes the Word of God, or the very character of God in thought, word, and deed. We are told in the Ten Commandments that we are to have no other gods because the Lord is THE Creator of all things. All creation owes its existence to the Lord of heaven and earth. We are also instructed not to lie, cheat, steal, or use our bodies for mere selfish advantage or raw lust. We are not to slander or defame one’s character. A summary of the Ten Commandments is that we are to love God, and other human beings made in His image (see: Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-17).
Jesus interprets the decalogue (i.e. The Ten Commandments) as not merely doing wicked things, but acting in any form of self-interest whether that be in plotting, thinking, or fantasizing in a manner that contradicts the very Word of God. The fulfillment and goal of the Law is Jesus. He is the final authority in all things because He is the living and breathing Word that has become incarnate, which means God has become flesh and made his dwelling here on earth in the person of Jesus, the Savior (see: John 1:1-4, 14). Jesus, therefore, provides us with a true definition of sin and the breaking of the Law of God, which is expounded in Matthew chapters 5-7. In that famous section of Scripture called the “Sermon on the Mount” we are warned to make sure that our thoughts, words, and deeds conform to God, not to oneself, or the world.
The point is simply we cannot read the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount and believe that we are free from sin. As a matter of fact, the very thought of being innocent, or not violating the Law of God is an exercise of complete hubris or pride. The Christian faith does not allow human beings to think of themselves as perpetual victims. The true Christian teaching, therefore, is often seen as archaic and useless in our current cultural climate of victimhood. It is only when we recognize our sin and look to the Savior for forgiveness that we truly find peace that calms the heart and mind.
The belief and confidence that God removes the sin from the sinner who repents is at the heart of our liturgy. We, therefore, pray:
ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The gospel or good news is that God desires mercy, not judgment (James 2:13). We are like the rebellious son in the famous parable known as “The Prodigal” in Luke 15:11-32. We have strayed from our Shepherd and are lost sheep. The Lord, however, desires mercy and peace with us, which comes only through the life and death of Jesus given at the Cross. Before we can receive that healing that flows from the Cross, we must acknowledge our sin and rebellion before God. As soon as we come to God with true contrition and a repentant heart, our Lord forgives us by proclaiming through his servant, the Bishop or Priest:
ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The gospel or good news is that God desires our forgiveness and deliverance from sin, death, and the devil. He desires this so much that He took our sin upon Himself, and in return gives us His immortality and everlasting life as we now participate in His Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension. This is given as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9); it is not a work we can accomplish on our own. The works that flow from this new life of forgiveness is the Holy Spirit now conforming us to Jesus Christ as our aim is to please Him (Ephesians 2:10). The heart of confession, therefore, is the absolution and mercy that comes from God bestowed upon us through His servants standing in His stead. This is the heart of our belief and the foundation of our liturgy in The Book of Common Prayer.