Confession of sins. A spiritual practice and imperative of grace in the Christian walk now clouded in confusion. Pseudo-grace proponents insist that a born-again believer need no longer (or should no longer) confess their sins. Rather they should only confess their righteousness in Christ. This is because Christ has done a finished work and we are now in Christ, clothed with His righteousness. That is now our identity.
Well, not quite. Yes, we are indeed made righteous in Christ by His finished work. We have been saved. But we are also being saved. And we will be saved. This is the already-and-not-yet principle so crucial to getting this right. Yes, our identity is in Christ but our experience is not, at least not fully. Ontologically, Christ has regenerated our spirit (upon which our identity is imputed) but our souls (mind, heart, will, conscience) and bodies remain to be regenerated. The nominal term ‘flesh’ pertains to this experiential fact: our unrenewed soul and body awaiting sanctification and transformation into Christ-likeness, by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling our spirit. Growth is needed. Progressive sanctification is imperative, now and into eternity in Christ.
Pseudo-grace overreaches when it throws away confession of sins by wrongly applied reason of Christ’s finished work. Why? Because given our unrenewed souls and bodies, we are liable to sinfulness in thought, motive, word, and deed. As we are new creations in Christ in our spirit, where His Spirit resides, we can now rely on the gracious power of His Spirit to effect transformation of all that we are into all that He is. Thus, we have need of being redeemed and saved and sanctified in experience even if we have been redeemed, saved, sanctified in spirit and identity. As an imperative of grace, confession of sins is crucial to this process of ongoing redemption and sanctification.
What is sin?
Sin. What is it? It is falling short of the glory of God, morally and existentially. Apart from the usual moral failings we fall into, sin has to do with self-occupied, self-oriented, self-directed turning away from God and into the autonomous agent who alone is and sets itself up as lord. This self-ruling lord establishes itself in active or passive rebellion against, conscious or unconscious resistance towards, the true Lord who is its Creator and only Redeemer upon whom it is utterly contingent. This is opposite to faith. From this, we see how often and incessantly we sin in relation to God who made us and loves us even to the point of death to save and redeem us from ourselves.
Hence, consciousness of our sin and openly confessing our sin before the Lord is a deeply renewing and healing exercise. It is a movement of grace within us that inspires us to see ourselves honestly as we are, to see God as He is, and to lean into Him in spite of all our faults and failings of the soul and body. Rather than avoiding, hiding, denying the fact of our sin, we come boldly to God’s throne of grace to obtain mercy and help in our weakness and brokenness. This refreshes our vision of God’s grace, renews our sense of identity in Christ, and re-energizes our dynamic journey of growth and maturation in Christ.
Legalism and its cure
It is possible that an overzealous and legalistic attitude to confession of sins can create problems. For example, rigid obsessive keeping of short accounts with God out of fear and terror, constantly confessing sins to God like a terrified slave in bondage or fanatical zealot harsh on himself. This approach can lead to mental health issues. That said, the problem is not with confession or consciousness of sins per se but with the spirit of legalism and sentiment of slavish fear of God. The baby of confession should not be thrown out with the bathwater of slavish zealot legalism. Let’s be discerning here.
Also, it is possible that an emphasis on confession of righteousness in Christ for believers can serve as a corrective to the previously held slavish zealot legalism. For many, chronic habituation in legalistic religious works-based church environments may have resulted in a massive baggage of self-condemnation and affliction. For such, a period of spiritual rehabilitation focused on confession of righteousness in Christ is beneficial and therapeutic. But looking beyond, perpetual wallowing in the shallow waters of bold declarations of faith will not enable and empower further growth and maturation in the Spirit, in grace and truth, in and into Christ. Born-again believers of Christ must necessarily participate in a journey of spiritual formation where authentic consciousness and confession of sins play an important role.
Such spiritual formation goes beyond the surface waters of thought and emotion, belief and dogma, into deeper oceans of insights, recognitions, realisations, illuminations, convictions, and communion with, in, into and as part of the triune dance of divine love—Father-Son-Spirit—in Christ. This formation is liberating and transformational, not without trial and suffering but incarnational and cruciform (cross-shaped). We take up our own crosses in communion with and participation into the cross of Christ. This formation is missional and evangelical: reaching out to a lost broken world in love and grace, in sacrifice and surrender, unashamedly proclaiming the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. And this formation is deeply contemplative: attending to and nurturing the spirit of silence and solitude, reflective prayerfulness, reflexive awareness and insight, tender loving surrender, mystical communion and union.
Pseudo-grace and true grace
Pseudo-grace has no power to grow, mature, transform and truly free one’s soul into the true glory of God in Christ. Pseudo-grace does not truly save. Pseudo-grace misconceives confession of sins, negates its authentic practice, and thwarts our spiritual growth in favour of hedonistic obsession and entitlement. Pseudo-grace errs on the side of over-realized eschatology (a big topic in itself) and unwarranted sense of triumphalism.
True grace bears the power of God unto salvation and sanctification. True grace truly saves. True grace embraces confession of sins as well as confession of righteousness in Christ. True grace releases us from worldly attachments and humbles us, truly. True grace places right emphasis on the hope of eschatological renewal and espouses a right measure of confidence in Christ for us to be ambassadors of God’s gospel grace and usherers of God’s coming kingdom.
Let us turn away from pseudo-grace to true grace. The cost of discipleship might seem difficult to bear, but His yoke is easy and His burden is light. For Christ has already borne the weight in full for us and as us. In Christ, we are blessed to be able to participate in His eternal ministry as His disciples, followers, friends, lovers, and corporately as His bride. True grace makes all of this possible. Amen.