The 19th Sunday After Pentecost October 15, 2006
1 John 1:8-2:2
743 [TLH alt. 30], 323, 779 [TLH 32], 324 (7-8)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Dear friends in Christ:
For just about every bodily ailment there is some sort of home remedy. Some of the remedies work, some don’t. As a child, I remember when one of us would start coughing or swallow something wrong, my dad would tell us to raise our right hand. I don’t know why it was the right hand, but generally that seemed to work. Out of habit I think I’ve told my children the same thing. There are probably dozens if not hundreds of cures for hiccoughs, and chicken soup is supposed to do all sorts of good for illnesses. There’s also the old maxim, “Starve a cold and feed a fever,” and the list could go on and on.
Before we digress any further into home remedies, let’s talk about the cure for a guilty conscience. Since sin is the common ailment of us all, it’s no surprise that we have guilty consciences. The cure is simple, yet probably something that we don’t do as often as we should, and that is confess our sins. When we confess our sins to Christ we find relief. That forgiveness of Jesus is the best cure of all and it is foolproof. So then, let us examine the practice of confession, and see why we should put it into practice more often.
When our conscience senses wrongdoing it triggers our emotion of guilt. We find written in Romans 2:15, “[The Gentiles] show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” God has provided us with this inner voice which makes us feel good when we do the right thing, and makes us feel bad when we do the wrong thing. I suppose there are times when we wish that we didn’t have a conscience so that we wouldn’t have those feelings of remorse and the pangs of guilt. This would defeat the purpose of having a conscience, namely to generate guilt and remorse and lead us to confess of our sin, and to lead us to be sorrowful over what we have done.
As we take a look at what we’ve done, say in the last month, or even the last week, or even yesterday, and compare it to what God expects of us we’re going to find that we have fallen short—way short. It becomes painfully obvious that we could have done better in our life roles—as an employee or husband or wife or as children. There are many areas in our life which need refinement. Perhaps there was even a particular event that we delighted in doing at the time, but we have come to the realization that it was against the will of God. Even without examining God’s Law you may find that your conscience will make you aware that you’ve done wrong. That is why God has placed it in us, so that we have no excuse for sin. While we may skip out on reading the Bible or coming to church our conscience can still help to keep us in check.
We should also mention that for a conscience to function properly it needs to be in tune with God’s Word, otherwise it can become dull and will not detect when sin is present. A conscience that is not correctly trained by God’s Word may even detect sin when there is none there.
As a rule, sin will produce guilt in all but the most hardened sinners. The effect of that guilt is that it ravages our soul and may even affect our bodies. We have this vivid picture painted by our text: “When I kept silent, my bones grew old Through my groaning all the day long.” [v.3]
The feeling of a body growing older is not a pleasant one. Our bodies get worn out with age. Sin and guilt which are locked in and not confessed can have the same effect. I remember when I was a young boy and I shot a bird with my pellet gun just for the fun of it and against my parents’ wishes. I buried the bird but could not bury the guilt. I could not sleep because of the guilt. I believe I felt much like the psalmist, and also like the psalmist, I felt better after I got out of bed and confessed my actions to them. I think we all know that awful feeling of a guilty conscience.
The illustration in verse 4 adds even more detail. “For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer.” Vitality could be translated literally as juice. When guilt gnaws away at us it can sap us of our energy. When we have sinned against God and do not see His forgiveness we are drained of our vitality, just as we are on a hot summer’s day. A sin can eat away at us until it occupies every waking thought and we wonder how we can make that sin go away.
Guilt can lead us in three directions only one of which is the direction that God wants. It can lead to 1) confession (admitting guilt), 2) despair, or 3) denial. We have to find a way to quiet our conscience and to relieve the burden, but despair is not the answer. Denial is only a temporary fix and does no good. Confessing our sin is the only right way to go.
We will find relief in confessing our sin because in Christian confession there are two parts: admitting our guilt and then finding absolution (forgiveness) in Christ. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).
We have the certainty that these words are genuine because the actions of Jesus Himself back them up. The death of Jesus had the effect of blotting out our iniquity. Two verses earlier in 1 John we read, “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). We are not only freed from sin, but also from the guilt of sin. The familiar hymn Rock of Ages also puts it well when talking about sin: “Cleanse me from its guilt and power.” [TLH 376]
Once the Lord has forgiven your sin there’s no need to dwell on it anymore. Learn from it. Try to avoid doing it again, but have no fear that God is going to call on you to account for it. God says in Jeremiah 31:34: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Or how about one more from Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” We should not be afraid to confess our sins to God, for just look as His reaction: full and free forgiveness. Granted, this forgiveness came with a price—nothing less than the death of God’s own Son, but since that has taken place the result is God’s unending mercy and patience. Our text puts it well: “I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” [v.5]
Confessing our sins should be a habit. It’s not for God’s sake that we do it. He knows what we’ve done wrong. The point is that God wants us to recognize our sin, know the need for forgiveness, and realize that there is forgiveness in Him. God encourages us to confess our sin to Him, and also to one another.
On television or in the movies we usually only see confession made in a confessional booth, or to a bartender, but hear what God tells us in James 5:16, “Confess your trespasses to one another.” That same assurance of forgiveness is found, or at least should be found, with fellow Christians. Confession is not only good for the soul, but it serves to strengthen our relationship with one another. If you feel guilt confess your sin to God, to your pastor, to a fellow Christian, and then receive the sweetness of absolution knowing that you don’t have to do anything to take away that sin. God has done that for you. We want our conscience to be cleared by forgiveness, not dulled by denial.
Since it is so important to acknowledge our sin, the liturgy that we use in worship services places a high emphasis on confession. We acknowledge to one another and to God our wrongdoing, and then receive those marvelous words of forgiveness.
In the Lord’s Supper we receive the very body and blood of Christ which was given and shed for us to remove our sin. The very source of our forgiveness is offered to us in that spiritual eating and drinking. We are indeed remembering the death of Jesus Christ, and all that it entails—absolution, a pardoning of our sin.
It is important to realize that the power and relief of guilt is not in the act of confession. If we would believe that it is, confession would be a strictly mechanical action that would place emphasis on us rather than on Christ. The relief comes in knowing the action of your Savior, and the promise of complete forgiveness in the blood of Jesus.
Sin is a burden that saps us of our strength and wearies our soul. Find relief by confessing your sin and know that God forgives the iniquity of your sin. This is a cure that is genuine and never goes out of style. God will always be there to pick us up after we have fallen. He’ll be there to say, “I love you, and I do forgive you for Christ’s sake.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.