Why we need to bring our sins to church
By Connie Faber
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
For me it’s my new purse. I bet you have something like it: a car trunk, the entire top of your desk or a closet. This is a place that, like my purse, creates a black hole into which things go, never to be seen again! While using a purse that conceals things is proving to be a bad thing, I am often tempted to regard hiding sin as a good thing. Why not let the folds and creases of my life cover up the sin? Why not lose my sins under the stuff of everyday living?
Oddly enough, one place we Christians can often comfortably go with respect to our hidden sins is church. We are seldom asked in times of corporate worship to dig into our recent thoughts and actions, identifying those times when we missed God’s mark, confessing our shortcomings and asking God’s forgiveness—and the forgiveness of those we’ve wronged.
However, confession is an act of obedient worship. “It is impossible,” writes Gareth J. Goossen in his book Worship Walk: Where Worship and Life Intersect, “to worship when we belligerently hold on to sin in our lives.”
Worship that is focused on Christ Jesus, says theologian Bryan Chapell in his book Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, reflects a biblical pattern: recognizing the greatness and goodness of God, confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, instruction and a charge to serve God in response to his grace in Christ.
“This is not a novel idea,” Chapell says in a September 2009 interview with Christianity Today, “but, in fact, is the way most churches have organized their worship across the centuries. Only in recent times have we lost sight of these gospel contours and substituted pragmatic preferences for Christ-centered worship.”
The word “worship,” in both Hebrew and Greek, means to “bow before” in the sense of submitting to or giving honor to someone, to be in awe of or to render service to someone. With this understanding of worship, it seems inevitable that in personal or corporate worship we would move from acknowledging God’s greatness to recognizing our sin and need of grace; and from confession to assurance that God forgives us through Christ Jesus. So why is sin, confession and God’s forgiveness elements that are often missing from corporate worship times?
There may be theological, historical and practical reasons why we spend more of our worship gatherings doing things other than confessing our sins. That said, I believe one reason that times for confession are omitted from our services is because we like to avoid thinking about how bad we are. John Piper, in his book The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die, writes, “I have heard it said ‘God didn’t die for frogs. So he was responding to our value as humans.’ This turns grace on its head. We are worse off than frogs. They have not sinned. They have not rebelled and treated God with the contempt of being inconsequential in their lives. God did not have to die for frogs. They aren’t bad enough. We are. Our debt is so great, only a divine sacrifice could pay it.”
This month begins the season of Lent, a time of reflection and renewal that precedes Easter Sunday. The 40 days of Lent provide a natural opportunity for us to rethink the role that sin, confession and forgiveness play in our worship services. In his model prayer, Jesus instructs us to seek forgiveness of God and others. Confession is to be part of our relationship with God—as individuals and as congregations.
Our congregations will be stronger when we are encouraged to not let sin pile up, to keep short accounts with God and with others. Our congregations will be renewed and our witness strengthened when we confess our sins to one another, clearing the way for God to speak to us and to change us. As we prepare for the celebration of Resurrection Sunday, let’s challenge our leaders to include a time of confession in our worship services. Let’s publicly confess that Jesus died on the cross because of our sins, because we are bad enough.