Why do we confess our sins every service?
“I know, I know, I’m a sinner. Why do I have to remind myself every Sunday? I thought Jesus took care of that.” Well, he did! All baptized believers have an eternally pure conscience in the sight of God, who has removed their sins from them. On the cross Christ bore all past, present, and future sins of the world. When you were baptized into Christ, even the sins you have yet to commit were laid on the cross and dealt with. There! So it’s all in the past (even the future!). Why bring it up again?
Here’s the thing: confession isn’t for God. He doesn’t need us to confess each sin in order to forgive it. Confession is for us. As much as it seems easier and more convenient to minimize our personal errs or try to forget about them, it is technically impossible for us to do that. For every sin we consciously commit, there is a burden of guilt placed on our consciences. Our culture works hard to train us to ignore it. But Christianity offers something better than “try not to think about it.” We offer the opportunity to deal with it forever by bringing it to the foot of the cross. Though we already have God’s forgiveness, in terms of our legal debt to the judge being cancelled, we do not always live as forgiven children of God because we need a continual experience of this forgiveness in order to remind us who we are. Instead of stuffing our feelings, burying our negative emotions, and putting on a superficial mask when we come to worship, Jesus invites us to be honest with God and ourselves, and confess the truth about who we are and what we’ve done, in order that we might rejoice in the fact that in Christ God accepts us fully, freely, and unconditionally, despite the fact that we can never deserve this. It is psychologically unhealthy to live in denial of our inability to do what we believe is right. Confession gives us that freeing moment where we simply admit what is true: God expects this of us, and we don’t do it.
We don’t have to hide our failure from our loving Father in heaven. He sees, He knows, and He understands. It is US who begin to think, when we fail to admit to the truth, that either we’ll get it right next time and then God will have to accept us on the basis of our better performance, OR that our sins aren’t really that bad and God probably just looks the other way. Neither is true. The truth is better. God takes evil with the utmost seriousness and punishes it with the utmost severity, but even more than that, he delights to show mercy to his children. When we confess the truth of our brokenness, we also confess the truth of God’s goodness. As Luther says in the Small Catechism: “In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” Christ doesn’t just forgive our sins once and for all: He loves to shower his children with forgiveness, again and again, in order that His kindness might lead us to walk in repentance. Confession is not about groveling before the angry judge: to confess is simply to declare something to be true. In a sense, all of the Divine Service is a confession of something: The good news of Jesus Christ! As we confess our sins today, let’s lay our burdens at the foot of the cross, and allow Christ, through His words of forgiveness, to give us the grace we need to carry on.
From the Large Catechism: on the Apostles’ Creed, third article: We further believe that in this Christian Church we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments, and Absolution and through all kinds of comforting promises form the entire Gospel. ...Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal: we shall daily receive in the Church nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. So even though we have sins, the grace of the Holy Spirit does not allow them to harm us. For we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but continuous, interrupted forgiveness of sin. This is because God forgives us and because we forgive, bear with, and help one another.