The power of the words “I am sorry” – Advent 2022, Week 2, Part 3

In our study of John’s preaching in Matthew 3, so far this week we’ve learned that he called people to repent. We also learned that repentance is often predicated by sorrow. But sorrow is not repentance. Instead, we learned the repentance is an action. What action? As we continue reading in Matthew 3, look at verse 6, where we read that the people, as part of the process of baptism, confessed their sins.  So what is confession?

Confession is when we own up to the wrong we did. Whether out loud, in prayer, in writing.  We actually say the words, “I was wrong. I am sorry.”  Notice that the people baptized by John were publicly confessing their sins. 

We humans are not often fans of confession.  It is very humbling and embarrassing to say, “I was wrong.”  Even harder to do so publicly to the person we wronged. Maybe, we think, we can just confess our sins to God.  Confessing our sins to God is good.  Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Father, forgive us our sins.”  That’s kind of a blanket statement.  It’s probably also very good to get specific with God. We can and should confess to God.

But confession is not just something that should remain in our minds, or as a prayer to God.  If we hold confession inside, we will not and we cannot get to repentance.

If you do a search on the word “confess” or “confession” in the New Testament, you’ll find it most often refers to confessing that a person believes in Jesus.  When the New Testament writers wrote about confession, they did not mean an internal thought.  They understood confession as a verbal, out-loud expression that people can hear.  It was actually risky, bold, to put your belief out there in that day and age.  To admit publicly that you were a Christ-follower could get you imprisoned or killed.  Confession was out loud. 

Interesting, then, isn’t it, that James writes, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  (James 5:16)  You cannot think your confession of sin to another person.  Unless you have ESP, I guess.   But I doubt you have ESP. Instead, we should verbalize our confession to others.  To fulfill the biblical imperative of confession, we need to actually talk with the person or people we have sinned.

When Michelle and I were dating, I went with her to her church one Sunday, and it was a doozy.  After the service was over the pastor asked everyone to stay, as he had an announcement.  Their elder board had received the resignation of the chairperson of the elder board because the chairperson was found to be having an extramarital affair.  Then the chairperson got up and admitted to it, in front of the whole church, confessing his sin. 

It can be very difficult to know when public confession is necessary, and how public it ought to be. It is important to keep many, if not most, situations confidential. Sometimes, however, public sins are best addressed by public confessions. That said, it seems to me that the vast majority of situations can be kept confidential, only involving the affected parties. It also seems to me that the Catholic church has a wonderful practice of the sacrament of confession. Though it is often lampooned, the confessional booth can be a vital place of spiritual renewal. I personally have never been to a priest for confession, but I do meet regularly with my long-time friend and accountability partner to talk about our lives. We met in college and started up a friendship that included asking each other a list of accountability questions. It was most definitely a time of confession. Still is all these years later, though we don’t use a list anymore.

Sorrow should lead to confession. How do you confess your sins?

But neither sorrow nor confession is repentance. It is to repentance that we turn in our next post.

Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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