Why have Christian sages throughout the ages stressed that confession of our sins is a vital practice for those who wish to grow in spiritual strength and peace?
The reason is: Confession of our sins is the first step we can take in standing with God instead of standing against God.
The word confess means, literally, “to acknowledge with” someone. When we confess our sins, we acknowledge with God that we have done wrong, and that the wrong we have done is harmful to us and to others.
About the harmfulness of sin, Thomas Merton comments,
“Sin destroys the one reality on which our true character, identity, and happiness depend: our fundamental orientation to God…. Sin is the will to do what God does not will, to know what He does not know, to love what He does not love…in all these things sin proves itself to be a supreme injustice not only against God but, above all, against ourselves.”
When we confess our sins, we take the first step of acknowledging with God the fact of our sin and the tragedy of our sin (that we have, indeed, done wrong and that the wrong is deeply harmful).
About the healing power of confession, Frederick Buechner points out: “To confess your sins to God is not to tell Him anything He doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.”
The problem is that ever since Adam & Eve ate the forbidden fruit, confession has not come naturally to us. When Adam & Eve committed that first sin, God gave them a great opportunity to confess what they had done. He asked Adam straightforwardly, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
What a wonderful opening for Adam “to acknowledge with” God, ‘Yes, I sinned, and this sin has filled me with such embarrassment that it warped the way Eve and I look at each other. We even hid from You because we suddenly felt fear which we had never known before.’
But that’s not what Adam said. Rather than taking the first step to stand with God, he took a step in the opposite direction. He threw the blame on Eve.
When we do wrong, harming ourselves and others, we have the same options. We can take a step of standing with God by confessing our sin. Or we can deny our wrong, cover it up with excuses, throw the blame on someone else, or soft-sell it as though the wrong is not really so bad that it needs to be apologized for.
The problem is that our sin is harmful to us and to others, and it becomes an abyss between us and God. It is confession that becomes the bridge, for with confession we take the step of standing with God in acknowledging with Him the truth about our sin.
As confession is the first step we take in standing with God instead of against Him, repentance is the next step we can and must take, for repentance has to do with turning around so as to begin walking with God rather than in a way that is contrary to God.
The Bible and the Holy Spirit are continually calling us to confession and repentance, for the ever-loving-God truly desires that we stand with Him and that we walk with Him in the way that He is going.