Confession of our sin is a very important exercise. It should happen every day, because we sin every day.
But there is great confusion about real confession.
Biblical confession is not doing good works to get God to approve of us.
It is also not a light, mindless recounting of our sins to make sure we get everything covered.
The word confess in the Greek language means to “say the same thing as.” When a criminal confesses, he says the same thing that everyone else has been saying about his crime. It is honest agreement.
But spiritual confession is more. It includes godly sorrow. It is not only saying the same thing God does about our sin, but having a broken heart that sees sin for what it really is and does with sin what God desires, which is to repent.
Nowhere is this seen more vividly than in David’s prayer of confession in Psalm 51, following his adultery with Bathsheba, which was exposed by his confrontation with the prophet Nathan.
1. Spiritual confession takes full responsibility.
The natural response of our flesh when our sin is exposed is to find a way to blame someone else. David used personal pronouns thirteen times in the first six verses of Psalm 51.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (vv. 2-3 NASB).
If we are still shifting the blame to others or to our circumstances, etc., we have not yet come to see our sin as God sees it.
2. Spiritual confession relies on God’s mercy.
No man can atone for his own sin. When we see the depth of our sin, we realize there is nothing we can do to make it better. Only God can forgive, cleanse, and restore.
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions (v. 1).
All of our sin was dealt with on the cross. When we see our sin, it breaks our heart for what we have done to Christ.
When we see our sin clearly, we realize that our depravity is complete—that apart from God’s work, we will always sin, because we are sinners by nature and by birth.
But it also fills our heart with gratitude, knowing that our sins have been dealt with by His sacrifice. God is eager and willing to forgive if we will turn to Him (1 John 1:9).
3. Spiritual confession sees the root of our sin.
It is not merely external forces that have caused this. It is in us.
I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me (v. 5).
4. Spiritual confession cries out for more than just forgiveness.
When we see our sin rightly, we not only want forgiveness, we long for cleansing. We cry out to God to remove the sin and its roots from our lives forever.
Create in me a clean heart, O God (v. 10).
5. Spiritual confession longs for a sustained life of obedience.
If we are deeply repentant, we want to obey God fully in the areas where we’ve sinned. We long for a spirit that will help us persevere in the future so we do not commit the same sins. Where there was unwillingness to obey, we pray for divine grace to be willing to follow the prompting of God’s Spirit and the illumination of His Word.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me … and sustain me with a willing spirit (vv. 10, 12).
6. Spiritual confession longs for the return of God’s presence.
When we sin, the greatest loss is the sense and help of God’s presence. For David, in the Old Testament age, that could mean that God would lift His Holy Spirit out of David’s life.
For New Testament believers, once He enters, God’s Spirit will never leave us. But He can be quenched and grieved. Our sin pushes Him off the throne of our lives and takes control, and His work in us is momentarily stopped.
To lose God’s presence is the greatest loss. Often, this loss is the warning alarm that awakens us and leads us to repentance.
Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me (v. 11).
7. Spiritual confession longs for useful ministry in the future.
Every person was made to minister for God and to serve others. Sin corrupts this ministry and sometimes destroys it altogether.
If we are truly repentant, we not only long for forgiveness and renewed obedience, we have a desire to be restored to ministry—to be able to praise the Lord in ways that speak of Him to others.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise (vv. 14-15).
8. Spiritual confession is fueled by brokenness.
The brokenness David spoke of in Psalm 51 is not the mere crushing that comes from the circumstances of life. It is the spiritual surrender of one’s own will to the will of God.
True confession isn’t penance for our sins (as some teach). God is not impressed by us trying to atone for our sins with good works. He is looking for a heart that is broken and surrendered to Him, understanding that forgiveness comes only from God’s mercy.
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (vv. 16-17).
9. Spiritual confession leads to joy!
When we genuinely deal with our sin God’s way, it does not lead to morose self-inspection, but to ultimate joy. We are saved from our sin, and joy floods our hearts once again as we experience God’s redeeming, cleansing work.
Make me to hear joy and gladness. Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.… Restore to me the joy of Your salvation (vs. 8, 12).
10. Spiritual, personal confession leads to corporate revival.
When God’s people begin to deal honestly with their sin, it opens the way for His presence and power to return. This is personal revival.
And when His people are full of Him, it leads to the church doing its work among those far from God. This leads to spiritual awakening among those who do not know Him.
In this sense, revival and awakening begin with personal repentance! David ended his confession with a prayer for God’s work to extend to his whole city.
By Your favor do good to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem (v. 18).
If we are feeling distant and disconnected from Christ but we long for revival in our hearts, our families, our churches, and our nation, we must begin with an honest look at our own lives and a ruthless dealing with all that is displeasing Him and aborting His work.
It is worth the time, and nothing will be restored to rightness and usefulness until we deal thoroughly with our sin.
Making it personal: What sin has God put his finger on in your life? What immediate steps do you need to take to follow Him in obedience? What joys and freedoms will result from your honest confession?