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New City Catechism 38.3

Question 38: What is prayer?

Answer: Prayer is pouring out our hearts to God in praise, petition, confession of sin, and thanksgiving.

Why do we need to confess our sins regularly to God if we are already forgiven of all sins in Christ? It is important to recognize what the purpose of confession is not so that we can get a better understanding of what it is. When we confess our sins to God, we are not seeking to be justified before him again. Justification, or being declared righteous before God, is a one-time event. It is not a status that changes back and forth depending on whether or not we have sinned recently and, if so, whether or not we have confessed it. To be in Christ is to be justified forever.

Contrary to Catholic teaching, confession of sin is also not for the purpose of removing “venial” (less serious) sins from our record so that we might have time taken off of Purgatory after death. Purgatory is a teaching that has no basis in Scripture to begin with. Confessing our sins does not address that matter at all.

So then, why should a Christian confess his or her sins regularly before the Lord? It is because regular confession of sins is an ongoing expression of our faith in Jesus Christ. It is the application of our trust in him to the specific failures we know we have committed. As such, it represents a conscious effort to view our sins from God’s perspective, to hate them, to renounce them, and to trust that we are forgiven of them because of Jesus Christ. And in the practice of confession, God extends to us the regular experience of being assured, again and again, that our sins have been covered by the blood of Christ and that he lovingly accepts us as his children. As a father, I always forgive my children when they sin, but often times that experience is sweetened by kind words and affectionate gestures such as a hug that communicate that the past is behind us, and my love for them has not been shaken. By commanding us to confess our sins, God has actually given us the opportunity to experience the same from him over and over, strengthening our assurance of his fatherly love for us.

Suggested passage for personal or family reading: 1 John 1:5-2:2. What does this passage teach about confession of sin? What does it teach about Jesus? How does it apply to our lives?

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