November 26, 2018

Confession and Assurance

Confession is a good and fitting dimension of what we do in worshiping the One who is completely holy and righteous.

Confession. In recent conversations, several of my colleagues and friends have observed how confession is not occurring as frequently within our worship gatherings as it used to. Not that confession has ever been a very popular aspect of worship—how many times have you heard someone say “I can’t wait to go to church on Sunday, so I can confess my sins”?—but confession has been a good and fitting dimension of what we do in worshiping the One who is completely holy and righteous.

Our elders have been talking about confession and the place of confession within our worship gatherings this fall. One of our realizations has been that we often don’t even know where to begin with confessing our sins, and because of that, we can fall into a habit of taking for granted that our sins are forgiven.

Confession Can Be Difficult

It’s not that we think we have it all together and have nothing to confess—though, admittedly, sometimes we act that way. Rather, we swim in the waters of a North American culture that overflows with gossip about other people’s faults and struggles. It feels much safer to keep our sins in the harbor of hearts than to risk the possibility that they might be blown and tossed about by the waves of the local gossip.

But what we often don’t recognize is that our hearts get more and more polluted the longer we keep our sins locked up inside of us. When we fail to regularly confess our sins before God—both the wrong we’ve done and the good we’ve left undone—the sediment and debris build up, we became shallow, less inclined and capable of receiving the depth of God’s love, God’s wisdom, God’s truth.

Whether or not we look forward to confessing our sins, we need a regular practice of coming before God to admit the ways that our lives do not yet reflect and resemble the life of Jesus Christ. As the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 2 teaches us, we need to know our misery—the depth of our sin and its consequences—in order to receive the comfort that we do indeed belong to Jesus Christ in life and in death.

Like a water treatment facility, the confession and assurance section of our worship service serves as a regular way of removing the impurities that have accumulated in and polluted our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies, so that we receive God’s forgiveness and, in thanksgiving, might love God and our neighbors more fully and more faithfully.

What Can This Confession and Assurance Look Like?

The following confession and assurance litany comes from a recent worship gathering at First Hamilton CRC, where I serve as one of the pastors:

Call to Confession: Isaiah 53:1–6; 55:6–7

Prayer of Confession

Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” Thompson, LUYH 615, v. 1 and refrain

We hear your invitation, Jesus. But we must admit:

We’ve been

too busy to pray,

too frazzled to stop and listen for your voice,

too guilty to approach you,

too afraid to let go of what is comfortable and familiar,

too proud to admit we don’t know how to change,

too fearful to confess that we don’t understand how to make our way back to you,

too slothful to leave our sin behind.

Our heads and our spirits are weighed down in shame.

We don’t dare to make eye contact with you, for you know what we have done, and what we have left undone.

Though it’s destroying us to stay away from you,

somehow it feels too difficult,

the challenges too insurmountable

for us to come home to One who is as holy, righteous, just, and pure as you.

We are prodigal children who left you for dead and squandered the life you’ve given us.

We are self-righteous older siblings rejecting your invitation to come inside and be associated with your lavish grace.

We are duty-bound servants who refuse to be called your children.

We want to come home.

But truth be told,

we don’t know how to come home.

Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” Thompson, LUYH 615, v. 2 and refrain

Like the tax collector beating his breast and weeping at a distance,

we, too, cry out: God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Like Bartimaeus, we are blind beggars on the side of the road, crying out:

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Like the centurion, we don’t deserve to have you come into our homes,

but we long for your healing, knowing if that you but say the word, all will be well.

And yet, you, Creator of heaven and earth,

did not hold back your own Son

in order to liberate us from our sins and reconcile us to yourself.

Like the loving Father that you are, you run to us,

embracing us,

welcoming us back into your presence.

And amazingly, you even call us your children,

and have promised to make your home with us—

and to live with us forever.

Holy Spirit, help us to abandon our sinful ways and come home.

Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” Thompson, LUYH 615, v. 3 and refrain

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Titus 2:11–14

In Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven and we have been made right with God. Go, therefore, with the Holy Spirit, and sin no more.

How about You?

What role does confession and assurance play in your worship gatherings?

Does your congregation have practices around confession and assurance of pardon that have been meaningful to you?

Chris Schoon (Th.D., Wycliffe College) is the Director of Faith Formation Ministries for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Previously, Chris has served as a pastor in both Michigan and Ontario. Along with contributing regularly to Reformed Worship, Chris is the author of Cultivating an Evangelistic Character (Wipf & Stock, 2018), which takes an in-depth look at worship and discipleship in the missional church movement. You can find him on Twitter: @chrisjschoon.