carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
The Issues and Elements of Worshipping God
Part 5 – Confession of Sin
“Until we have truly and sincerely confess our sin before the Lord, our worship will not be acceptable in His sight.” R. Rayburn
In the Old Testament, the ugliness of sin, what it deserved before a holy God, what it cost, and the principle of God’s paying for it Himself, were all constantly before the worshipper. Worship was primarily confession of sin before God. You prayed in confession, your guilt and shame were ceremonially transferred to an animal – an animal that cost you dearly and which was spotless and innocent – and then you watched as that animal was slaughtered, as its blood poured out of the knife cut until the animal was dead. And then you watched as it was placed on the altar and was consumed by fire. You went away from the presence of God knowing your sin had been typically paid for in a substitutionary way – the animal had died instead of you and you were free.
Today, of course, we know the full story. The blood of bulls, goats and sheep cannot take away sin. Only the gift of God’s own son can do that. And that “once-for-all” sacrifice changes the content of our service of worship today. We no longer make such sacrifices. In fact, we must not.
But this change has also resulted in some rather drastic misconceptions of worship in this age as well. On one side are churches or denominations that declare a kind of “class action” atonement and forgiveness: “we live in the age of redemption”, or “you are saved because you are a part of the church” (ie. “no matter what really lies in your heart”). On the other side are those who take the finished work of Christ too generally and, as a result, have transformed worship into only a service of celebration of that fact. “We’ve been saved by the blood of the Lamb. Stand up and rejoice!”
Both of these have gone too far and have left truth behind as a result. Worship is still the needful sinner facing the God of all justice as well as all mercy. Here’s the key: while Christ’s work on the cross is thoroughly done, His work in us is not. Furthermore, it will not ever be done until this life is over. That is because Christians continue to sin – sin in thought, word and deed – every day and in every way. You see, while justification is the declaration pronounced upon you individually that your sin has been paid for by Christ’s work on the cross, you are still being transformed daily in the image of Christ through the work of sanctification by God’s Holy Spirit. (Read Westminster Confession of Faith, ch. 11 and 13, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism, #33, 35. You will find them both in the back pages of the Trinity Hymnal.)
It is very much a part of our Reformed heritage to be called to constantly wrestle with our sin nature just as much as we delight to live in newness of faith. Frankly put, sin simply cannot be made light of or dismissed. Yet that is what many church services do and that is what many Christians individually do. As a result, many Christians today do not even know what sin is when they do it. And many have learned simply not to care.
So if my confession of faith is important, it must be clear to me what God calls sin. That brings us back to our continuing attention to the Moral Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, which is what we studied last month. Being confronted with what God calls sin is a necessary part of our worshipping Him because our hearts want to excuse us and overlook our sin. But God cannot allow that and receive your worship anyway.
In Luke 18 there is the parable Jesus told of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It is a good analogy for New Testament worship because there is no sacrifice at the altar in focus. Both men are simply coming before their God. One, the Pharisee, is not worried about his standing and position before God. So his worship is just in praise and thanksgiving. He is only celebrating. In contrast, the other man, the tax collector, is humbled before God.
Now, we don’t know anything else about this tax collector. For all we know, he could have been obeying the law in all the very same outward ways the Pharisee had been doing. The only thing we know for sure is, this man was dealing with the continuing sin in his heart and life. “Who worshipped God that day?” Jesus wanted to know. Only the second man. Why? Because he had studied God’s Word prior to his coming before God, and he knew his sin. It broke his heart, it made him burdened in his soul, and he came humbling himself before God that he might yet again receive God’s mercy.
Which more obviously represents the way you come before God? Have you reminded yourself through regular reading of God’s Word just what sin truly is and what it deserves? Do you give any thought to your sins before entering into worship? Is there a grief and hatred of them in you? Are you repentant of them? Do you wrestle to see them purged out of your life? Is the joy of your singing not only in what Christ did at the cross but at what the Holy Spirit is doing in you?
Lastly, while it is important that we have time in the worship of God to confess our sins individually, more vitally, the confession we make as part of our worship service has a corporate element to it. We need to also recognize that as God’s people, as people united to one another in marriages, families, as a community of faith drawn together by God, that we also have fallen short of the glory of God in our testimony, our witness, our service and duty as a church called to be salt and light to our communities. This is too often woefully absent in our services. We must seek to include this as well.
David G. Barker, 2003
|David G. Barker