The Bible teaches us that Christians are people who repent from sin. To repent is to have a change of mind about sin and turn away from it. Scripture also teaches us that repentance includes confession of sin. Sin has to be named, identified. We find many examples of that in the Psalms, especially the penitential Psalms. There’s also the implied command in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God wants us to confess to him and seek his forgiveness through Christ.
Given all of that, a parishioner asked me: “How often should I confess my sin?”
In Reformed churches, when we gather for worship on Sunday mornings, the first prayer is often a prayer of confession. After listening to the Law of God and examining our lives in view of it, we humble ourselves and confess together our sins before our heavenly Father. So, just by virtue of worshipping with God’s people each week, we’ll be confessing our sin at least once per week. This is something we do together as God’s children. But what about individually?
There’s no direct teaching in Scripture about the frequency of confessing our sins. We should approach it first from the angle of how frequently we sin. Given that we sin each day, it would make sense that we confess our sins each day and ask for our Father’s forgiveness each day. Not a day passes where we have nothing to confess.
There is another angle by which we can approach this. Is it good for us to confess our sins more or less? Confessing sin leads us to humility before God and one another. Is it better to have more humility or less humility? I think we all know the answer. But should there be any doubt, remember that it was the tax collector who humbly confessed himself to be a sinner who was commended by our Lord Jesus in Luke 18:9-14.
It would also be worthwhile to reflect for a moment on how we do this practice of regular confession of sin. Confession of sin obviously happens in prayer. It can happen that you’re quite aware of some of your daily sins before you pray. But you may need to give it some thought. You could mentally review each of the Ten Commandments and compare your life to them. You could also simply take the two great commandments and ask: how did I fare in loving God with all my being and my neighbour as myself? Or you could think in terms of sins of omission and commission. Where did I fail to do what God commands today (sinning by omission)? Where did I directly contravene what God positively commands (sinning by commission)?
When we confess our sins, it’s important to do that looking to God as our Father. Whenever I lead the congregation in the prayer of confession, I’m quite intentional on referring to God as Father and to us as his children. We’re confessing as children to their Father, within an existing relationship established by God’s grace in Christ. Not as accused defendants before a Judge do we confess, but as dearly loved children already justified through Jesus. We confess for the sake of parental forgiveness, not judicial. It’s important that we understand that and express that when we confess our sins to God. Confession of sin is an important element of what it means to live as a Christian. It brings us again and again to our need for Jesus Christ.
As long as we live in this world, we sin and we’ll need to keep confessing. It’s for our good – it humbles us – but it’s also for God’s glory as we keep on fleeing to our Saviour. And remember the sage advice from of old: “For every one look you take to yourself, take ten looks to Christ.” Keep your eyes fixed on him.