Practicing Confession

Is there something you would like more understanding, maybe parenting, leadership, teaching, economics, or fishing? When we have been doing something consistently over a long time, we gain wisdom. Fathers and mothers who have raised their grown children have more knowledge than new parents. Someone who has been doing an extreme sport, like base jumping, understands how to open the parachute in time to land safely. But it’s a pretty dangerous sport, so those who know what it is might choose zorbing instead. Doing something without understanding can be catastrophic. Someone who has worked two jobs or worked while attending college classes understands the pressures that accompany it. A person who has never had to work or has worked only a 40-hour a week job won’t appreciate the weariness, physical exhaustion, mental fogginess, and risk of burnout. With practice, any activity or situation becomes more “normal,” resulting in mastery and appreciation for the process. People who have had numerous surgeries and know how to prepare themselves for each step of the process. If the surgeries have been successful, they have confidence in the hospital staff, their instructions, the surgeon, and the recovery process.

Confession is like surgery.

Confession and repentance are a bit like heart, mind, and soul surgery. Understanding God’s forgiveness and repentance—mastering them—is only developed by confessing consistently. Some Christians confess once of unbelief when they are brought to faith by the Holy Spirit. But after that, they become non-repenters, hardly ever doing it, and therefore have little understanding of God’s grace in forgiveness and its fruit of repentance. I have found a few people who repent when they seriously sin, but only then. Other believers are radical repenters, who confess frequently, and have a deep understanding and appreciation of God’s forgiveness. As a result, they also understand and experience God’s power to continue transforming them. Not only that, but drawing close to God in confession allows us the opportunity to wrestle with him as Job did. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6) King David was an extreme repenter. Psalms 32 and 51 are good illustrations of his confessional humility. After David sinned, he wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalms 32:5) God may sharpen our understanding of biblical confession to appreciate repentance more as we study David’s admission about his confession. 

God’s Heavy Hand Leads to Confession and Blessing.

King David considered himself a blessed man. He begins his psalm, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Psalms 32:1-4) “These verses support the theme that only the forgiven are truly happy. They recount a time…when the singer refused to confess his sins in order to have God forgive them. The lost vitality of verses 3–4 is really a mercy; it is God’s hand…heavy upon his faithful, to help them come to the point of confessing. Having come to that point, the singer acknowledged his sin, and God forgave the iniquity of his sin; this brings the psalm back to verse 1, with the implication that the singer has now learned more fully the blessedness of being forgiven.” (1) David would not have known the joy of God’s particular forgiveness had the Lord not convicted him with his “hand heavy upon him.” God, in His mercy, not wanting us to continue in our sinful ways, brings us to the end of our strength and ability to “fix” ourselves. “This was Saint Augustine’s favorite psalm. Augustine had it inscribed on the wall next to his bed before he died in order to meditate on it better. He liked it because, as he said: intelligentia prima est ut te noris peccatorem (the beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner).” (2) Only sinners confess; if you don’t think you’ve sinned lately, then you will have no motivation to confess, no fruit of repentance, no deepening of your relationship with God, and no joy when he lightens your burden of guilt.

David Confessed Three Offences Toward God

David acknowledged his sin to God, putting it on display rather than hiding it. “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity…” After that, he intentionally and specifically confessed that he broke God’s Law, offending the Lord. “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord…'” Finally, he tells us that the Lord forgave his guilt about his sin, “…and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” When he acknowledged his sin to God, David agreed with the Lord about it being sinful, admitting it to be rebellious and unacceptable to the Lord. “This is what makes sin so dreadful, of course—that it is transgression not only against other people, whom we hurt by our sin, but at its root also against God. Alexander Maclaren captures the force of this word when he writes, ‘You do not understand the gravity of the most trivial wrong act when you think of it as a sin against the order of Nature, or against the law written on your heart, or as the breach of the constitution of your own nature, or as a crime against your fellows. You have not got to the bottom of the blackness until you see that it is a flat rebellion against God himself.’…The second word for sin is ‘chattath’…[meaning] ‘coming short’ or ‘falling short’ of a mark. In the ancient world the term was used in archery to describe a person who shoots at a target but whose arrow falls short. The target is God’s law, and the sin described by this word is a failure to measure up to it…The third word for sin is ‘iniquity’…It means ‘corrupt,’ ‘twisted,’ or ‘crooked.’ It rounds out the other terms in this way: The first describes sin in view of our relationship to God. It pictures us as being in rebellion against him. The second word describes sin in relation to the divine law. We fall short of it and are condemned by it. The third word describes sin in relation to ourselves. It is a corruption or twisting of right standards as well as of our own beings. That is, to the degree that we indulge in sin we become both twisted and twisting creatures.” (3) Why spend so much time on understanding the need to confess all three? The more we meditate on them, and confess our different kinds of sin, the more understanding we will have of biblical confession, better appreciate God’s forgiveness, experience more freedom from enslavement to sin, and enjoy peace with God.

The Lord Forgives Fully and Quickly.

“David says that his very bones seemed to be wasting away and that his strength was drawn out of him as if he were exposed to the heat of the summer sun. The reason, of course, is that the Lord’s hand was upon him heavily in judgment, as it will be with anyone who tries to do as David did. When we sin we wish God would ignore our transgression. But God cannot ignore sin and will not. He brings pressure upon us, often very acute pressure, until we acknowledge the sin, confess it, and return to him…What is really striking…is verse 5, in which David explains how God forgave his sin once he had confessed it. God forgave it completely and immediately. It was not brought up again. If this psalm is David’s testimony, then this verse is the heart of that testimony…David confessed it all, and God forgave it all…David said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ Then immediately: ‘and you forgave the guilt of my sin.’…I cannot read this without thinking of the nearly identical sequence in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. The son had sinned against God and against his father, as he acknowledges in the story (Luke 15:18)…He starts his confession. But before he finishes it the father is already calling out to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate’…God is ready and even yearning to forgive and restore us fully—if only we will confess our sin… “ (4) 

Christians who are experienced at confession and repentance for sins understand the enormous relief and joy of reconciliation with God through his forgiveness. The more we practice it, the more benefit and skill we will achieve, leading to greater transformation. Let’s be radical, master repenters. God has blessed  us twice—through the repentance of unbelief and continuing to forgive us for our innumerable sins. “…blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:8)

Related Scripture: Psalm 38:18; 51:2; 53:1-3; 103:3, 12; 106:43; 119:133; Proverbs 16:17-20; Job 14:15-17; 36:21-23; Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 8:6; 31:19; Romans 4:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; 1 John 1:9.


  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 32:3–5, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 32, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Boice, Ibid.
  4. Boice, Ibid

May 13, 2021

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