Why Do We Do What We Do In Worship? # 4 - The Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar,
and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:8-10
Just as the gospel shapes the individual life of a Christian, it should also fashion the corporate life of the church and in particular the corporate worship of the church. And because we are in the habit of forgetting the good news of the gospel, corporate worship should remind us of the gospel every week.
If the gospel can be viewed rightly as a message about God, sin and Christ as well as a summons to faith and repentance (see J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, Chapter 3), then the topic of sin, both in its confession and in the assurance of its forgiveness, should not be neglected but rather regularly included in the public worship of God.
The Bible is like a window in that we look “through it” and see God for who He really is, and the Bible is also like a mirror in that we look “into it” and see ourselves for who we really are. Therefore, in a worship service we should see God for who He is – holy, righteous, and deserving of our worship, and we should see ourselves for who we are – already justified by faith in Jesus Christ but yet still sinful and thus needing to confess our sins and to be assured of our forgiveness. Repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ is not just the entrance ramp into the Christian life; rather, it is also the highway itself on which we travel to the final destination of our heavenly home with God.
The corporate confession of sin is a prayer in which we plead guilty and admit our lack of conformity to and our transgression of the law of God. It is our agreement with God’s view of sin, and it is our acknowledgement to God of what He already knows, that we have sinned in what we have done as well as in what we have not done in thought, word, and deed. And it is then asking for His forgiveness on the basis of the declarations and promises of His Word.
Thankfully, the confession of sin is not the last word, for confession is followed immediately (see Psalm 32:5) by a joyful declaration of God’s forgiveness, pardon from sin that is obtained through the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. The assurance that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) is found not in the words of a priest or in the rituals of church tradition but in the truth and promise of God’s Word, and it rests upon the mercy of God and the merit of Jesus Christ.