Confession for People Who Don’t Feel Sinful

How can people confess sin that they do not feel? In an era of self-esteem, confession seems counter-intuitive to many. Even if people grasp something of God’s holiness and our sin, how do we lead them to worship?

In previous centuries the culture at large acknowledged that everyone had crossed God’s boundaries. Judicial descriptions of sin were readily understandable. Everyone was a lawbreaker before God, needing God’s forgiveness. It was obvious.

Our culture today has formed a self-concept so positive that sin is more readily perceived through other biblical descriptions. Sin is polluting oneself, isolating oneself, breaking relationships, becoming lost.

Because our worship traditions reach back centuries, elements such as group confession of sin focus on the judicial concept of sin as transgression. Because of cultural changes, this theme in confession will not resonate with some people.

Confession will strike a deeper chord if it declares what is painfully obvious to those confessing. Walking an ancient path, Holy Cross sometimes declares with our forebears: “We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone….” Those are true words.

And sometimes we taste newer words, such as the following which focuses on lostness (adapted from Aaron Boyd’s 2010 book, God of This City):

“We confess, Lord God, that we are not living the way you intended us to live.
“Instead of living a life rooted in peace, charity, compassion and contentment,
“We live with loss.

“We have lost love.
“We have lost hope.
“We have lost faith.
“We have lost mothers and fathers.
“We have lost children.

“We have lost partners.
“We have lost work.
“We have lost health.
“We have lost trust.
“We have lost security.
“We have lost the dream of how it was all supposed to be.
“We have lost what we never knew we had.

“But, we know that your steadfast love is offered despite our sinfulness.
“We confess, Lord Jesus, that your life, death, and resurrection open for us a better way to live—with clean hands and pure hearts.
“We confess, Holy Spirit, that by your presence and power we are renewed in faith and life. Before you, O God, we stand, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen”

What thoughts and feelings came to you as you read the confession?
How do you recommend that churches lead people into worship?

Here’s a song from Aaron Boyd and his band, Bluetree:

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About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
This entry was posted in worship and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Confession for People Who Don’t Feel Sinful

  1. Pete says:

    You’ve put your finger on an important issue: one that many have ignored in their comfortable, traditional confessions, one that others have ignored in their self-satisfied comfort. I read Aaron Boyd’s words and ask myself what he is “confessing”, merely loss? Seems he is merely confessing loss, pain, and frustration. It’s fine to admit these holes in our lives, but people freely admit much more than that to the person sitting next to them in the dentist’s office or on Facebook. For this level of felt need, Oprah may seem like an adequate option. Jesus came to offer something greater to rescue me from something graver than this.

    How about confessing pride and self-centeredness? What about confessing that we have used, even abused, people who love us, that we have ignored those who needed us? This is less traditional, more relational, and clarifies that we are culpable, that we are not merely suffering loss, but have thrown away much which was precious.

  2. Aaron Boyd did not write this as a church confession. I’m the guilty party there. I’m with you that this confession is not complete. We do not use it once a month or so.

    I notice in Scripture that not everyone came to Jesus declaring their need for salvation. People sought healing, relief from political oppression, etc. It is beneficial for people to confess the brokenness of their lives to God. That much this “confession” does.

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