If anyone becomes aware that they are guilty—if they unwittingly touch anything ceremonially unclean (whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground) and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt; or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt — when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.
- Leviticus 5:2-5
While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
So Ezra rose up and put the leading priests and Levites and all Israel under oath to do what had been suggested. And they took the oath. Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. While he was there, he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles.
- Ezra 10:1-6
For I am about to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
I confess my iniquity;
I am troubled by my sin.
- Psalms 38:17-18
“Although he was the cultivated man, his main interests and primary vocation were religious. During the Basel period he wrote a tract on confession, and another on prayer:
“Confession, though not instituted by Christ, is useful. Its form has changed since the days of the early Church when it consisted in an act of public humiliation before the congregation. Today it is private. Confession requires genuine contrition. Do not, therefore, run immediately after an offense to confession, but search your heart as to whether your contrition is genuine and make your ﬁrst confession to God. …”
- Roland H. Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom
Erasmus continued after what is quoted to give guidance to the priest hearing the confessions, but what he says above is strange. We confess only once for each offense. We confess to God first. So, why confess before a priest (confessor) when we have already confessed to God, and we should only confess once? I did not grow up Catholic like my wife did, so I suppose I am missing something here.
But as for confession in the sense that we take our sins and lay them before God, all Christians should agree that this is necessary, but as we see what happened in the case of Ezra, more may be required.
Remember Zacchaeus. He not only repented of his sins, but he also made restitution, above and beyond what he had cheated people out of. That may be impossible for some in that the sin that we have committed has no comparable value for anything that could be made as restitution. I know, lawyers can put a dollar figure on anything as long as they get half.
Regardless, Erasmus’ point is well taken about contrition. Has the Holy Spirit really convicted you of that sin? Are you ready to repent, which means walk away, go in the opposite direction. If not, why are you confessing? It almost seems that you are bragging about having done the sin and you are already planning your next instance of committing that sin again.
I have had arguments with fellow church members, especially with ex-Catholics, who feel they were saved 2,000 years ago. Why ever confess? But we still need to know why Jesus died on that cross for us. That knowledge must be personal. We may not need to bring every sin before him in detail, but we need to have a repentant spirit. We need to humble ourselves before God, but as Erasmus states above, once we’ve confessed a specific sin, let it go.
I once heard a story about a conversation between a person confessing his sin and God. The man made a list of about twenty sins, and he read from the list. As he neared the bottom of the list, he felt he had skipped number twelve. He asked God if he had mentioned number twelve. God replied, “What number twelve? I have no idea what you mean.” You see, God had already forgiven and forgotten, separated our sins as far as east is from west. Why do we keep repeating ourselves?
While it is important to understand that we are sinners, it is equally important that we recognize that God has forgiven our sins. We far too often feel defeated, when God has forgiven our sins already. That thought of defeat and guilt can lead to us forgetting the sacrifice that was made on our behalf and the power that God provides to avoid temptation in the future.
Repent. Confess. Forgive others. Accept forgiveness yourself. Live a victorious life.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.