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1 John 1:5-10 – What sins should we confess? A Lenten Sermon

Last Wednesday we looked at how a proper understanding of Confession requires not only that we confess our sins, but also that we receive the Absolution, God’s words of forgiveness and life, spoken by the pastor.

Luther, in the Small Catechism then asks the question “What sins should we confess?”  When it comes to confessing our sins, this can be a daunting concept.  You can fall into the error that Martin Luther during his time as a monk, as well as many other people fell into, namely believing that you must beat yourself up trying to list each and every sin you have ever committed.

More often, today we tend to go in the other direction and we have trouble thinking of our sins whatsoever.  Honestly, outside of church, how often do you think of yourself as a sinner?  Most of the time, we assess ourselves as being pretty good people.  This is probably one of those places where the vast majority of Americans are convinced that we are above average.  We look around at others and then at ourselves and conclude we are not doing too badly.

But, this doesn’t mean that we have a truly accurate picture of ourselves.  John tells us in 1 John 1 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  If you want to have the truth in you, you need to admit that you do sin and sin regularly.  God knows everything you do; there is no sin, no indiscretion, no improper thought hidden from Him.  So, if you try to maintain that you are not sinful, that you are alright, you are only fooling yourself.

This is even where the term “Confession” comes from. It literally means to speak with someone else.  “Con” means with and “fess” means to speak.  So it means to speak with.  Therefore, every time you confess your sins, you are speaking with God; you are agreeing with His assessment that you are sinful and have done wrong.

But there is an even bigger danger if we do not confess our sins to God than just fooling ourselves.  John warns us: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”  So, not only are you fooling yourself, but you are rejecting God’s Word and His truth.

This leads us to one action and one action alone that we are to do, confess our sins.  What sins, all of them.  As the Small Catechism tells us “Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer.”  All sins?  Isn’t that a little much?  Do I really need to confess all sins?  What if I haven’t committed all sins?

First of all, Luther means that we should confess to God all of the sins we have committed, even those we don’t remember or even think were sins.  But also, you need to be careful to not think that you are doing OK in certain areas.  The fullness of human sin resides in each and every one of us.  James tells us in James 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”  It is not like we can say that we are not that bad because we have only broken part of God’s Law.  If you break one part of it, you have broken it all.

So, come before God and confess your sins, even the ones you are unaware of.  In the words of Psalm 19:12 “Who can discern his errors?  Declare me innocent from hidden faults.”  Realize that God knows your sins better than you do, so con-fess, speak with God; agree with God that you are a sinner in desperate need of forgiveness.

Come before God and confess your sins with confidence and hope.  You don’t need to come to God in Confession in fear of His wrath, rather come in faith and hope.  John tells us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This is quite a promise, yet it is a sure promise that rests on Jesus.

Jesus was taken to the cross, after He had been declared innocent by Pilate.  After Jesus, the innocent One had been beaten, flogged, and mocked; as they were nailing Him to that cruel cross, Jesus cried out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Why should God the Father forgive them or us?  Because Jesus took the guilt of all of us on the cross.  Every sin you have ever committed was placed on Jesus that day.  Even those sins that you have forgotten or never even knew you committed, while you might have forgotten them, God hadn’t.  Rather, God placed them all on Jesus so that you might not have to bear the weight of those sins.  It was the full weight of those sins that caused Jesus such great suffering that day.  It was the full measure of your guilt that Jesus took to the grave.  And when Jesus then rose from the grave, your guilt, however was never to be resurrected.  Jesus took it all away from you forever.

In light of this, in the knowledge of this incredible measure of love, you are now called to confess your sins to God, confessing those things that He has taken care of in Jesus’ death.  This is not the dredging up of details from the past, but a complete clearing of the books so that those sins may never haunt you again.

You are not called to confess all your sins before God in order to upset you; rather it is to comfort you.  For when you confess all your sins before God, and hear those blessed words of Absolution, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” then you are assured that you are truly forgiven.  Then you don’t have to worry that there is some little sin lying in a deep corner of your soul needing to be cleansed, rather you have the assurance that every sin be it, big or small, remembered or forgotten, are wiped clean in Jesus blood.



Rev. John Hellwege, Jr., Ph.D.

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