True worship: Confessing sin

Those who have been redeemed and brought into fellowship with God do not lose their basic sinful nature. Sadly, we continue to commit sins – and it is both intellectually and spiritually dishonest to claim otherwise (I John 1:8). So we all need to acknowledge these sins and ask for forgiveness.

Under the old covenant, the procedure prescribed was the offering of a sacrifice (Leviticus 4:1-5:13). Nobody was exempt, either on the grounds of status (even the high priest had to present himself with his animal at the sanctuary entrance, next to all the other sinners) or poverty (anyone who could not afford the standard lamb or goat was allowed to bring something much smaller and cheaper).

The Law also recognised that sin is not only an individual matter; there are such things as corporate and community sins, and they also must be acknowledged and atoned for. It was then the responsibility of the community leaders to provide the animal for sacrifice and to perform the necessary ritual (Leviticus 4:13-15).

But the Christian can legitimately ask, is this relevant to us? Animal sacrifices could not actually deal with sin; that was why they had to be endlessly repeated (Hebrews 10:1-4). But if our sins are already completely forgiven through Jesus’ death (I John 2:2), why do Christians need to go through this process?

We need to understand that what is at issue is not our salvation, but our ongoing relationship with our heavenly Father. He never ceases to love His children; but it is precisely because He loves us that He is grieved by our sins. Can we then carry on blithely as if nothing has happened? In Old Testament terms, God’s sanctuary is polluted by our sins and made unfit for His presence. And we, who are the temple of the Holy Spirit, need to keep ourselves in a ‘fit’ state for His residence.

So confession is essential if we are to enjoy real fellowship with God. It also forces us to acknowledge our dependence on Him (because we obviously cannot live holy lives in our own strength) and engenders humility (because we cannot claim to be better than anyone else). And it reminds us just how much we owe to our Saviour, whose shed blood covers not only our past sins but also our future ones. “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).

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