Last time, I compared the use of various Eastern practices by the EC with our accepted practices of using Pagan deity worship in the celebration of Christ, which generated quite a bit of response. I had not intended for that to be the case, but that is what happened. I have decided to re-write part 2 and take a different angle.
A very popular, and oft-quoted, verse of Scripture states,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV)
But have you ever heard anyone explain what confessing our sins actually means? I hear the word “confession” thrown around almost as much as I hear the word “heresy” thrown around: it’s real, but it’s hard to really pin down what it is and isn’t. That is what I want to attempt to do today. I want to give us a working definition of what the confession of sin is; what confession means.
St. Augustine wrote a book back in the 400’s entitled “Confessions” in which he confessed everything that he had done from stealing a pear from an orchard to having a live-in whore. He confessed all of the sins that he had committed that he could remember knowing full well, and taking seriously, that God was “just to forgive [him his] sins and to cleanse [him] from all unrighteousness.”
I believe Augustine’s book to be a perfect example of what confession is. Augustine doesn’t paraphrase his sins and say, “God, forgive me of every wrong I have done today. Amen” and go on his way. Rather, he sits down and confesses everything that he could recall that he had done wrong and tells God that he did it.
Augustine didn’t tell God his faults, though, as if he thought that God didn’t know what he had done. Augustine was no stranger to the biblical understanding of God’s foreknowledge. He stated in his great work The City of God,
…For what else is to be understood by that invariable refrain, “And God saw that it was good,” than the approval of the work in its design, which is the wisdom of God? For certainly God did not in the actual achievement of the work first learn that it was good, but, on the contrary nothing would have been made had it not been first known by Him. While, therefore, He sees that that is good which, had He not seen it before it was made, would never have been made, it is plain that he is not discovering, but teaching that it is good. Plato, indeed, was bold enough to say that , when the universe was completed, God was, as it were, elated with joy. And Plato was not so foolish as to mean by this that God was rendered more blessed by the novelty of His creation; but he wished thus to indicate that the work now completed met with its Maker’s approval, as it had while yet in design. It is not as if the knowledge of God were of various kinds, knowing in different ways things which as yet are not, things which are, and things which have been. For not in our fashion does He look forward to what is future, quite different and far and profoundly remote from our way of thinking. For he does not pass form this to that by transition of thought, but beholds all things with absolute unchangeableness; so that of those things which emerge in time, the future indeed, are not yet, and the present are now, and the past no longer are; but all of these are by Him comprehended in His stable and eternal presence. Neither does He see in one fashion by the eye, in another by the mind, for He is not composed of mind and body; nor does His present knowledge differ from that which it ever was or shall be, for those variations of time, past, present, future, though they alter our knowledge, do not affect His, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Neither is there any growth from thought to thought in the conceptions of Him in whose spiritual vision all things which He knows are at once embraced. For as without movement that time can measure, he Himself moves all temporal things, so He knows all times with a knowledge that time cannot measure. And therefore He saw that what He had made was good, when He saw that it was good to make it. And when He saw it made, He had not on that account a twofold nor any way increased knowledge of it; as if He had less knowledge before He made what He saw. For certainly He would not be the perfect worker He is, unless His knowledge were so perfect as to receive no addition from His finished works…Nevertheless, they are far more tolerable who assert the fatal influence of the stars than they who deny the foreknowledge of future events. For, to confess, that God exists, and at the same time to deny that He has foreknowledge of future things, is the most manifest folly…(St. Augustine. The City of God. Book 21.)
But even with this understanding of God’s foreknowledge, he still confessed his sins individually.
This is what it means to confess our sins. We must be specific otherwise we will not turn from that sin. If we make a blanket confession, we have not truly confessed our sins. All we have done, in essence, is tie togather a suit of fig leaves to cover ourselves, just like Adam and Eve did.
But we cannot cover our own sinfulness. That must be done by God, and He won’t do so until we confess our sin. He may be sovereign, but we are still responsible for our condition before Him.
To be continued…