Why We Confess Our Sins Together
If you’ve been running with us for some length of time, you’ve probably noticed that we often incorporate a form of confession into our Sunday gatherings. That confession can take the form of a prayer, a period of silence, or even a song. We do this regularly to highlight the fact that our faith is a living faith and our battle against sin is an active, daily battle.
In light of the season of Lent (read more HERE), we wanted to give a little more weight and emphasis to this element of our services, and specifically bring a corporate, collective nature to our confessions. Reading the words of a thoughtful, Christ-centered confession together in unison is a very unique and rich expression of our gospel identity as a people.
But for many of us, confessing our sins together can feel strange, uncomfortable, and clunky. The thought and practice of confessing our sins personally with God can be scary enough right? Why add another layer of complexity, awkwardness, and public acknowledgement of our sin when we already struggle to confess our sins privately? I’d like to answer that question, but first we should look at where we get the idea of corporate confession in the first place.
Corporate Confession in the Bible
The first question we should be asking is whether corporate confession is merely a liturgical practice or if there a biblical premise for confessing our sins together? I would submit to us that corporate confession comes first from our biblical heritage before any other church tradition:
Leviticus 16 – An entire day – the Day of Atonement – was set aside yearly for corporate confession among the people of God.
Nehemiah 9:3 – Upon returning from the exile to Assyria, Nehemiah led the people of Israel as they corporately “made confession and worshipped the LORD their God.”
Ezra 9-10 – In a time of widespread revival and reawakening to the Word of God, Ezra led the people in weeping, trembling, and confessing their sin together “before the house of God.”
Psalms – the psalms include numerous prayers and songs of confession, intended for use in the corporate worship of Israel. (e.g. Ps. 51:1 “Have mercy on me of God, according to your loving kindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.”)
Lamentations – the entire book of Lamentations is a corporate confession of Israel’s sin and national mourning over the consequences of that sin (e.g. Lam. 3:40 “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD!”)
James 5:6 – we are invited as the church to “confess [our] sins to one another and prayer for one another”
Revelation 2:5 – the church of Ephesus is admonished by Jesus to corporately “remember” and confess where they have gone astray and to corporately return to their “first love”.
As we see from these passages, biblical confession is often more than a private encounter with God in our own hearts.There is something unique that comes from experiencing confession together, that God has designed to be formative and restorative for us as His people. So why is corporate confession a vital part of God’s means of grace to us? I think there are a number of reasons, but I’ll suggest just a few here:
#1 Corporate confession helps us see our sin for what it truly is.
The reality of sin is that we oftentimes don’t see it for how dark it is, until we bring it into the light. We don’t realize how deeply it has ingrained itself in us. We don’t see how pervasive it is in our actions, words, thoughts, and affections. The beauty of corporate confession is that it provides an opportunity to speak of our sin, exposing it to the light as Paul speaks of (Eph. 5:11-13). When done rightly corporate confession can help us identify species of sin that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen. And God uses these prayers to awaken us, renew us, and give us eyes to see the ugliness of our sin and the beauty of His grace. Corporate confession is meant to lead us to Jesus.
#2 Corporate confession give us words when we have none.
You may feel the same way – sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when we’re confessing our sins. We see the selfishness, we see the pride, we see the greed, anger, lust, and self-righteousness, but we lack the words to articulate how much we want to detest and turn from that sin, as well as humbly ask for true repentance. Corporate confession gives us language – biblical, thoughtful, meaningful words – to express our sorrow and grief over our sin as well as our true and unshakeable hope in the gospel.
#3 Corporate confession reminds us that we are not alone in our need of grace.
This is a beautiful reality and unique benefit of being a member of the body of Christ. We are all humbled at the cross, every one. As we confess our sin together, we see quickly that we are not alone in our struggle against sin (1 Cor. 10:13). We see that we are as much in need of grace as everyone else around us. And we see that the same Savior has died and risen for all of us. Corporate confession gives us the permission to own our sin with each other, lean into his grace together, and walk out our growth and sanctification in a community marked by mercy and hope.
#4 Corporate confession exhibits the unity that we have “in Christ.”
To be “in Christ” is to be joint recipients of all the benefits that come from trusting the gospel of grace and the God of grace. By joining in one voice together to acknowledge our need and embrace his provision, we collectively magnify the One who has united us together through his blood, that is Jesus (Eph 2:11-14)! Corporate confession is a living, dynamic parable and apologetic for the gospel as we embrace our corporate identities together as those “in Christ” and invite everyone everywhere to the same hope in the gospel.
Hopefully you can see that there is much more going on when we confess our sin together, than may first meet the eye. It’s not just a private, isolated encounter with our need for grace. That is by God’s design. He wants us to experience redemption not just individually but as communities of faith together. It’s as we acknowledge our need for grace together that we experience our unity in Christ and we give testimony to the watching world that the gospel is enough, even for us. Jesus gets all the glory in that.
May Jesus give us the courage and grace to be a people who can regularly acknowledge the depths of our sin and the corresponding heights of his grace! The gospel is truly astonishing! His grace is sufficient for me. And His grace is sufficient for you. Let’s remind each other of that often as we gather. Love you all.
Soli Deo gloria,