Monday, May 31, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Thanksgiving and Confession

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Thanksgiving and Confession”
First Published: April 26, 2001

It occurs to me that two elements often left out of our prayers are thanksgiving and confession. By highlighting these, it is not our intention to downplay other essential aspects to personal and corporate prayer. But it seems to me that these two are crucially important but often absent in our regular practice of prayer.

Without thanksgiving we will lack assurance (because when we fail to rehearse God’s answers and blessings we become forgetful of them and hence discouraged). Think of how the psalmists crammed their prayers with thanksgiving, not only so that their praise would be rooted in God’s goodness to them, but so that in their very praise of God they were being reminded of and reinforced in just how much he loves and gives and cares.

In Psalm 95:6-7, the psalmist is thankful because the Lord “is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” In Psalm 100:1-5 thanksgiving is evoked because “the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” and therefore we should “Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.” Why? “For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 103:8-13 and Psalm 107:1-3 provide further examples of what I mean.

Now, on the other hand, without Confession in our prayers we will not attain a real sense of divine forgiveness and reconciliation (because we know in our hearts that, even as renewed Christians, we sin, and unless that ongoing sin is confessed we will be burdened by unresolved guilt – or else cope with that nagging guilt through denial, delusion, and self-deception).

At this point, I often encounter objections from Christians who say something like: “but all my sins are forgiven in Christ, past, present, and future. So there is no need for me to go on beating myself up for my sins. I’m already justified!”

Well, there are at least four Biblical reasons why Christians must continue to confess sin. First, believers, though united to Christ, still sin: hence to be realistic we must acknowledge it (Romans 6:12; 1 John 1:8).

Second, repentance is not a one-time past action in the Christian life, it is an ongoing project (1 John 1:9; Rev. 2:5). This is a hallmark of Reformation teaching. Martin Luther first thesis of his famous Ninety-Five Theses was that repentance was a lifelong activity of the growing believer.

Third, sin is essentially displeasing to God. He has dealt with the punishment we deserved for our sin, at the Cross, but this does not make sins committed by believers any less displeasing to God (indeed, all the more). The Lord does not take pleasure in evil. And sin is evil. This displeasure of sin will not be eradicated until he eradicates sin in all the saints in the last day (1 John 3:4).

Fourth, the end, the goal of our salvation is not merely rescue from hell, or even justification: it is holiness and the glory of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Until that goal is achieved, there will always be baggage in our lives which will have to be left behind (and which needs to be repented of) before we enter glory.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Excellent post; I think these two elements could help to both humble and encourage our hearts as we pray. But if I could ask, what is the nature of public confession? That is, would we try to think about areas in which we as an individual church have failed (i.e. "forgive us for our lack of reaching out to our community with the gospel"), or areas in which a group of Christians or churches have failed to do ("forgive us because our churches in America are so prone to focus on material things and church growth rather than Your glory, Your faithfulness and Your sufficiency")?
Or is there a place for public confession of the praying individual's sin?
Some biblical prayers are coming to mind of a national leader's confession on behalf of Israel, but it seems difficult to ask forgiveness and pursue repentance for sinful attitudes/actions/omissions that I am not primarily responsible for.