Living Confessionally, Part 4: Inviting the Holy Spirit’s Conviction

I’ve had two recent conversations about confession. In both the other person told me they are often not sure what to confess. They want a specific recognition of sin in their lives beyond the “we have not loved (God) with our whole heart/We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.” The prayer of confession* also refers to sinning against God in “thoughts, words, and deeds” and by “what we have done” and “left undone.” What, in particular, are these—and how do we become more aware of them in our lives?

It’s generally not too difficult to recognize when we commit one of the “big” sins: an outright lie; a lustful thought; an outburst of anger; blatant, hurtful gossip, etc.** But the less obvious ones, the ones that pop up like weeds from our inherent self-focus/self-love, are often overlooked. Our bishop at Church of the Resurrection, Stewart Ruch, calls self-love/focus the “seed of sin.” It’s a very prolific seed, and the “small” sins it sprouts are harmful, no less harmful than the “big” ones. But they are also insidious (I love that word—it actually sounds evil!), working subtly and gradually. Many of them can even disguise themselves as something culture sees as good (like selfish ambition). How can we recognize these in our lives?

A couple of verses from the Psalms have been a great help for me as I’ve thought about this problem. Psalm 139 opens with these lines: “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.” It goes on to show how intimate this knowledge is and the section ends with this statement: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” This “knowledge” is about me—ME! God’s knowledge of me is far, far greater than my own knowledge of myself. He knows me in ways I am completely unable to know myself. That can seem terrifying—but it’s actually very, very helpful. Each of us has major blind spots in our lives; we can point out faults in others but remain unable to see the very same sins in ourselves. Psalm 19:12 says, “…who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” The last two verses in Psalm 139 say, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” In the New Living Translation that last verse reads, “Point out anything in me that offends you”; the Message paraphrases it “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about;”.

I’ve discovered the Holy Spirit really does answer that prayer and does so in very gracious, gentle ways—in exactly the ways that make me recognize and face my sin without completely crushing me. The Spirit is also incredibly creative in this process: I’ve become aware of insidious sin in my life through a particular word that keeps popping up in my mind, through sermons I’ve listened to, books I’ve read (even fiction), my children’s struggles…

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.***

*The first blog post in this series has the prayer of confession in its entirety.

**It can be helpful to simply read some of the lists of sins in Scripture and ask the Spirit to reveal those in our lives. Here are links to some of them: Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6, Proverbs 6:16-19.

***This is the Collect for Purity from the Book of Common Prayer.

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Living Confessionally, Part 3: Stretching my view of God

NOTE: The italicized phrases in this blog post are drawn from the prayer of confession, which follows the post.

In the last blog post in this series, I wrote about how confession has expanded my view of sin: it is not limited to thoughts, words, or actions, for these spring from a self-focus that keeps me from loving God and others. This understanding of sin has also stretched my view of God, for I see that He, unlike me, has NO sin in Him. His Spirit is not bent in self-focus; His every intent and action are for good.

As a child I equated God’s sinlessness (holiness) with a lot of “not” statements. God does not lie, does not steal (kind of impossible for Him to do that!), does not

But the holiness of God is so much greater than that. I turn to my definition of “not-sin” from the last blog post to help me with this idea. “Not sin” (holiness) is loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself.

Does God do that?

Yes!

First, He loves Himself with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength.

That’s a strange statement, and one my mind falls far short of comprehending, but when I consider the Trinity (another idea that blows my mind), I see that in the Three-in-One, God keeps this first-and-greatest commandment perfectly. The Father loves and honors the Son and the Spirit; the Son loves and honors the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit loves and exalts the Father and the Son. (For a GREAT and readable article on this, read “The Good News of the Trinity” by Tim Chester. By the way, he uses the term “perichoresis” in that article; click on the word to find the definition–which I had to look up!)

In the Trinity we catch a glimpse of how relationships are supposed to be. No self-centeredness taints the fellowship of the Trinity. Its members are for each other, loving each other with purity and kindness. The members of the Trinity completely act out the love described in I Corinthians 13 and the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5.

Second, God loves His neighbors (all His creation) as Himself. This doesn’t negate justice. God wouldn’t allow sin within Himself; He cannot accept it in us. And this is exactly where God’s love for us, His “neighbors” shines brightest. Rather than leave us in a state of separation from all that is purely good (Himself), He loved us as Himself and GAVE Himself. There is no greater example of the second commandment. For the sake of the Son, Christ, He forgives us and has mercy on us.

And so the prayer of confession takes my eyes UP—away from my self, away even from my sin—and I am amazed at the Goodness of God. In all His thoughts, words, and deeds toward us, in what He does and does not do

He is Good.

Here is the Prayer of confession in its entirety:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;

That we may delight in your will,

And walk in your ways,

To the glory of your Name.

Amen

 

Almighty God, have mercy on us,

Forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Strengthen us in all goodness,

And by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life.

Amen.