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When I heard the conference coordinator’s request, I nearly dropped the phone: “I want one of your messages to focus on confession and provide an opportunity for people to confess in prayer afterwards.
I knew one thing for sure: speaking on confession would either set the stage for a mighty work of God or be the backdrop for the most awkward moment of my speaking career.
After all, confession doesn’t usually make Christians’ top 10 list of “favorite spiritual habits.”
I’m convinced, though, that if believers fully understood the life-transforming benefits of confession prayer, it would.
Confession prayer will change you and your relationship with God forever. If this is true (and I believe it is), shouldn’t we know how to do it?
What Is Confession?
In the New Testament, “confess” means to “agree or say the same thing as.” So, when we say the same thing about any subject as God says about it (our behavior, our sin, or the Lordship of Jesus, for example), that’s confession.
Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;” The point, of course, is that salvation comes to those who confess (agree) that Jesus is Lord, and that His death and resurrection paid the price for our freedom and forgiveness of sin. The “Sinners Prayer” some of us have grown up hearing is really a confession prayer.
In its simplest terms, confession prayer is the acknowledgement of our sin, or the affirmation of God’s truth, or both.
Why Is Confession Important?
1. Confession is God’s mechanism to restore a broken relationship between Him and us.
Confession allows us to experience the forgiveness of God, which was purchased by the death of Christ on the cross.
1 John 1:8-9 explains the significance of confession: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Many people assume confession adds to the weight of guilt; in reality, confession relieves it. Confession to God leads to peace with God and leaves us with the assurance that we are forgiven, cleansed, and free!
2. Confession increases our love for Jesus.
If we forget to confess our sins, we forget why we need a Savior. On the other hand, the more we confess our sins, the more we’ll appreciate the provision of our Savior. The goodness and mercy of God is real; through confession, I come to know it is real for me.
3. Confession is necessary for our spiritual growth.
Without confession, we stay stuck in our same old patterns of sin. Many Christians mistakenly believe that the more mature one is spiritually, the less one will need to confess.
In reality, the opposite is true. The more mature we are in our faith, the more sensitive we become to the Holy Spirit’s nudging regarding sin in our lives. We see sin in areas we’ve never noticed before. And because we can see it, we can address it and grow.
How Do I Confess in Prayer?
The Bible gives us several notable examples of confession prayers. Daniel, Nehemiah, and David’s prayers of confession are recorded in Scripture.
Though the circumstances surrounding their prayers of confession differ, the elements of their prayers are remarkably similar.
“I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
‘Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets.” (Daniel 9:4-6; 9-10)
Nehemiah prayed this prayer of confession:
“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.
I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:5-7)
After David’s affair with Bathsheba, he confessed:
“Have mercy on me, O God,according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassionblot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;” (Psalm 51:1-4)
Each of these three biblical prayer confessions include:
A humble, contrite heart
Acknowledgement of specific sin
Affirmation of God’s character
Assurance of forgiveness
These same elements should be part of our confession prayers.
It’s worth noting that these prayers were written down for others to read. David, Nehemiah and Daniel didn’t just feel sorrow over their sin in their hearts and their heads; their private sins became a matter of public record.
Confession brings darkness into the light. We don’t need to tell everyone our sins, but we do need to tell God—and, on occasion, others. Secret sin becomes serial sin.
How Does God Respond When I Confess?
In our justice system, when a guilty party confesses, punishment ensues. Sadly, many believers live like God treats our confessions this way, too. As a result, we neglect confession, at best, and avoid it at worst.
But how does God actually respond when we confess?
1. God Cleanses Us
“If we confess our sins, he will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
2. God Heals Us
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
3. God Forgives Us
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
4. God Has Mercy on Us
“People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13-14)
5. God Restores Our Joy and Makes Us Usable
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.” (Psalm 51:3-4; 12-13)
How Can I Integrate Confession into My Prayers?
If confession has never been a part of your prayer life, here’s an easy way to start:
Begin with a blank sheet of paper. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any areas of sin in your life—any thought, any deed, any way you’ve ignored doing what God wanted you to do. As the Spirit brings areas of sin to mind, write them down. Don’t rush this. Allow God to speak to you, about you.
At the bottom of your list, write out the words of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Thank God for Christ’s death and resurrection, which provided the way for your forgiveness. Thank God that since you have confessed your sin, He has been faithful to cleanse you of your sin.
Tear up the piece of paper with your list of sins. Confess (agree with God) that your sins are forgiven, you are clean before God, and you are free.
As you move forward in your walk with God, practice confession the moment you become aware of any attitude or action that is displeasing to God. Don’t wait. Don’t allow sin to become a barrier in your fellowship with Christ. Our relationship with God is like our human relationships; fellowship is better restored sooner, rather than later.
A Helpful Confession Prayer to Model
If confession prayer is new to you, you might want to pray something like this:
Lord, you are merciful and loving. You are holy and just. You sent your one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for my sins. God, I have not listened to your word, or obeyed your commands, and I am sorry. I have______________________________(name your personal, specific sins). But you, Lord, are gracious and compassionate on all you have made—including me.
God, I confess my sins, and I confess the truth of your Word. You said that if I confess my sins, you will cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I come before you with a humble heart, asking for your forgiveness. I repent of my sin. Cleanse me Lord, and I will be clean. Restore to me the joy of my salvation and renew a right spirit in me. I need you, Jesus. And I love you. Thank you for loving me first. Amen.
The words you pray aren’t nearly as important as the heart behind your prayers. Jesus told an eye-opening story about two men who went to the temple to pray. One man went away justified, the other man did not.
What did the man pray who went home clean in God’s sight? An utterly sincere, one-sentence prayer of confession:
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” (Luke 18:13)
As it was then, it is now. The path to God is paved with confession.