Giant Theology: Confession of Sins

My class in Johannine Letters has been focusing on a promise passage from 1 John1:8-10:

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. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Our class has examined several aspects of this. Should confession of sins be private or is there a place for public confession? If public, how should this be done? An accountability partner? Is there a place for group/congregational confession? Can this be done through worship songs or liturgy? If confession is merely private in prayer, will there be any change? Are there folks who actually claim to be without sin? Why is the claim to sinlessness both self-deception and insulting to God?

Many questions, and we had good discussion in class and through a reflective essay they all did. One thing I tried to bring out for them is the connection between confessing  sin and repenting of sin. For 1 John, these are essentially the same thing, but this is not necessarily so. To confess means to acknowledge, the opposite of denial. We can certainly confess a sin defiantly with no remorse or shame. I used a little clip from the 4th Harry Potter movie to illustrate this, the scene where Barty Crouch, Jr. is revealed to be a “death-eater” (a servant of the Dark Lord). This is a dramatic moment in the movie, because the judge at this hearing is Barty Crouch, Sr., apparently unknowing of his son’s guiltiness.

Although Junior’s confession is wordless (except for an ironic “Hello Father”), it is clear that he is not in denial mode. Yes, he is guilty of being a death eater, but there is no remorse or sorrow over this. There is no repentance. There is only defiance.

How do we deal with sin in our lives and the guilt it brings? Do we just deny it? Do we find a therapist who will tell us “You’re OK”? In the passage above, John links the denial of personal sin to a denial of God. Anyone who would call God a liar is denying the God who created the universe, the God of the Bible, the God who is the judge of the living and the dead, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Not a good idea. Much better that we admit, we acknowledge, we confess our sins to God with a spirit of repentance. Don’t pray a prayer of confession with a snarling “Hello, Father” and expect to be cleansed from all wickedness. Remember that Barty Crouch Sr. responds to this by saying, “You are no son of mine.”

Pray humbly, admitting your sin and asking for God’s help to overcome. Then you will be cleansed and restored. You will be freed from bondage. You will be more than a conqueror through him who loves you. And that, my friends, is Giant Theology.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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