The Spiritual Disciplines of Confession and Repentance
The Spiritual Disciplines of Confession and Repentance (3-13-21)
The spiritual disciplines of confession and repentance are critical to the life of the Christian. Luther said this well in his first of the 95 theses he posted on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany, thereby beginning the Protestant Reformation. His first thesis reads, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Luther was clarifying that all of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and taking up a new path in light of the gospel is not something we did only on the day God gave us saving faith, but it is a daily practice of the Christian life.
Also, confession and repentance are dealt with together in this week’s reading and lesson because they need to always go together. They are also often misunderstood or confused for one another. So, it is important that we do some work today to rightly understand these vital disciplines of the Christian life.
First, let’s talk about confession.
The root word of “confession” means “to agree together with.” Confession is an admittance, but it is an admittance that agrees with God that something is what it is. When we confess, we are saying, “I am not lying to myself nor to you about this. I am admitting that it is what it is.” So, confession is simply acknowledging, “I have sinned!” It is agreeing with God, or the judge before whom you are standing, that you did it; you are guilty. You are not trying to paint a story on it nor making it something it is not. It is standing before God or another person and declaring, “This was sin. You call it sin. I am calling it sin. I am saying out loud, ‘I sinned!’”
Because our sin is deceiving and our flesh wants to live in the dark and in lies, it is super important that a blood-bought Christian wants to expose their sin to the light—to be honest about what has happened or is happening and to bring it into the light by declaring it what it really is: sin! Seeing our sin for what it is, is the very first thing God blesses us with in our salvation. We do not see how desperate we are for the good news of Jesus Christ without first seeing the depth of our sin and admitting that we are indeed sinful and in need of a Savior. This practice of having a right and honest view of our sin is a critical practice, because anytime we are tempted, or guilty of hiding our sin, or making excuses for our sin, we are not honoring God with our lives and walking in God-honoring righteousness.
1 John 1:8-9 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We need to be regular in admitting our sin before the Lord. Do you practice confession regularly? Don’t forget when you are confessing sin to God that you are already forgiven. God has forgiven your past, present, and future sins. You are forgiven fully by the blood of Jesus, but you must practice confession. This is how we make war with our sin.
Another way we can fight our sin is to bring it into the light by confessing our sins to a brother in the Lord.
James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
The accountability this brings is an extra way we fight our sin. If we keep it to ourselves, we can often get used to making excuses. But when we invite others in, we build an army to help us in our fight against sin. Who do you go to when you are fighting sin and need to confess your struggle or error? We all need people who can walk with us in this way. Do you have any sin that needs to be confessed right now? Go to God in prayer and confess it and thank Him that He has forgiven you and given you the power in the gospel not to do it anymore. Additionally, go to a trusted friend in Christ and confess it to him. Ask him to hold you accountable to not do it again and to be upright in facing whatever right consequences are before you.
Before we move on to repentance, understand that a right view of our sin is what makes our love and worship for our Savior so sweet. If we have a weak view of our sin, we will have a weak view of our need for a savior. It was the Baptist Preacher Charles Spurgeon who said it so well: "He that thinks lightly of sin, thinks lightly of the Savior."
The reason confession is so important is that it leads to repentance. You can’t practice repentance without true confession.
If confession is admittance (to agree together with God who knows already what really happened), repentance is a new direction! It is surrendering your current, wrong path in order to get on the right one.
Repentance is taking up a new path in light of the gospel. Christ in us means we walk by faith and in righteousness. It means we honor God with our lives. The problem is we are still at war with sin until He takes us home to be with Him in glory. Since we are at war with sin and are consistently being sanctified and matured in our faith, we will need to take up new practices in light of the gospel along the way. So, when we identify sin in our life, we need to confess it and then turn from it. We need to take up a new path or practice that honors God. Confession is something we say; repentance is something we do.
When Jesus says that the prodigal son “came to his senses” in Luke 15:17, it means he “gathered himself again.” It means he stopped the pursuit of sin and turned in a new direction. Repentance starts when you come to your senses! If sin is the act of running from God, repentance is running to God and doing what honors God.
Our lost world defines repentance as something only the weak need to do. The world says, “Repentance is an experience of disempowerment.” But the Christian sees that it is necessary in everything—it is actually a sign of strength.
Think about how strong you must be to repent at the drop of a hat. To be able to say, “I was wrong, and I will do it differently.” This takes courage and humility. The weak thing to do is to just keep running down a road you know leads you to failure because you are too lazy or prideful to admit you were wrong.
2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Now, we need to be careful that we are not repentant only because we are sorry for the consequences of the sin. This is a confession and repentance only because you got caught. True repentance will not happen in this circumstance. This is because without a remorse for what we did and not just that we got caught, we will do that very sin again the moment we think we can have it without getting caught; this is not truly taking a new path. It is just tossing the car in park for a few and waiting for the right opportunity to continue down the same path.
When John the Baptist says, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” in Matthew 3:2, he is saying, “Repent in light of the gospel.”
Repentance is a new life or practice with the King and for the King! It is a new life even while still on earth. Repentance is how you remember who you really are in Christ! You are a child of the living God, once an enslaved sinner who has been set free by grace to honor God with your life.
May we truly embrace the practice of honest confession and active repentance so that we are like the justified tax collector and not like the excluded Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14. The Pharisee was prideful in his self-righteousness, but the tax collector was broken in his sin before God, and he confessed and cried for mercy. Jesus says that he is the one who was exalted in the end.
Finally, may we see that one of the signs of a true Christian is that he always repents. It is not an option for a Christian not to repent. The prideful person who refuses to repent is the one who is cast out of the church in discipline because his testimony doesn’t glorify God, only himself. The person who claims Christ and yet goes on sinning without repentance proves to not be in Christ, for the true Christ-follower will always look to honor God and turn from sin when that sin becomes evident.
I pray that this lesson is one you keep and read again. This is an area of Christian life we cannot afford to miss nor get wrong—not only for ourselves, but because it affects the testimony that we claim in Christ. May we confess every day and never be done repenting until the Lord calls us home.
By His grace and for His glory,
-Joshua “Shepherd” Kirstine
Soldiers For Jesus MC