I've recently finished reading the book I told you about a little while ago, Alone With God by John MacArthur. As mentioned, the book is focused on prayer, and on the place that prayer should play in the life of a Christian. MacArthur also discusses the Lord's Prayer, breaking down for his readers the key petitions and their modern-day relevance.
The petition that stuck out particularly to me, and that I want to write about tonight, is "forgive us our debts". As MacArthur points out, to be forgiven requires confession. What do I mean when I say confession? MacArthur brings out several key points that I want to elaborate on tonight.
First, he makes the point that confession of sin, like the rest of the act of prayer, is a means for us to be drawn closer into the will of God. It is an alignment of our hearts with His. Like intercession (praying on behalf of someone else) and adoration (speaking to God about Himself, praising Him for who He is) and even supplication (praying for "our daily bread"--the needs that we have in our lives) confession is not primarily intended to affect God, but rather to affect us. When we pray to God for others, in praise, or for our needs, we aren't telling Him anything He doesn't already know. Rather, in the act of prayer, we are letting Him speak to us, we are focusing our attentions on Him, and we are meditating on His excellence in order to be drawn closer to Him. When we pray "Thy will be done," should we be surprised that our prayer is answered? When we pray "MY will be done" we are usually disappointed.
So it is with confession of sin in prayer. We aren't informing God of our sin--He who sees the inward heart of Man knows already, even sins that we have forgotten or dismissed as "unimportant." Rather, we are reminding ourselves of sin.
MacArthur makes an excellent point here: The very word "Confession" itself has become ill-used in modern evangelical thought. To "Confess" something does not mean to say we're sorry. It doesn't carry a pejorative connotation. Rather, confession is actually a term denoting agreement. Webster's defines confession as "acknowledgement, avowal, admission." or "A formal profession of belief." In fact, in Romans 10, Paul says "...if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (10:9) Confession, then, is agreement, acknowledgement, and profession.
Therefore, seeing this, private confession to God is not telling Him of our sins. Rather, it is agreeing with Him that our sins are heinous, and offensive to Him. It is burdening our hearts with the weight of our sin, and with the consciousness of how desperately we need forgiveness.
Confession doesn't stop there, though. With that consciousness of our desperate situation comes, for the Christian, the awesome peace of knowing that we HAVE been forgiven, that our Savior has paid our price! Confession is a freeing experience, not a burdensome one for the Christian. Confession frees us from the weight of guilt, it does not add to that weight!
I would be faulty if I didn't here mention something of the difference between confession to God and confession to those we have wronged. As David says in Ps 51, our sin is primarily against God, and Him alone. However, we also live in a world of interactions, and our misdeeds do frequently cause hurt, grief, and pain to others. The key distinction between our confession to God and our confession to those we have hurt is this: With God, who knows all things, even before we speak, we are primarily focused on changing our hearts, and accepting the forgiveness that He has already paid for in the death of His Son. When we confess to those we have hurt, or to others who will keep us accountable, we are, in many cases, telling them something they don't already know, and we earnestly seek their forgiveness, without the certainty that it will be provided. We know that, as Christians, we are to imitate Christ and forgive as He forgave, but in the imperfection of our hearts, a confession of sin to another does not automatically grant forgiveness.
Yet, there are similarities. The freedom from guilt and shame is still there. The forgiveness should still be there, human frailty notwithstanding, and our relationship with our fellow man can be restored just as much as our relationship with God.
To close, let's look at 1 John 1:8-9: "If we say that 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."
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