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Confessing Sin

It's essential.

The Celtic Revival: Afterglow (6)

Come to help me, for the multitude of my inveterate sins have made dense my too guilty heart;
They have bent me, perverted me, have blinded me, have twisted me and withered me;
They have clung to me, have pained me, have moved me, have filled me;
They have humbled me, exhausted me, they have subdued me, possessed me, cast me down;
They have befooled me, drowned me, deceived me, and troubled me;
The have torn me, and chased me;
They have bound me, have ravaged me, have crucified me, rebuked me, sold me, searched me, mocked me;
They have maddened me, bewitched me, betrayed me, delayed me, killed me;

  - Anonymous, Litany of Confession, Irish, 15th century[1]

There is no soundness in my flesh
Because of Your anger,
Nor any health in my bones
Because of my sin.

  - Psalm 38.3

A litany is a series of items for prayer, used in public worship, which may include a space for the congregation to respond. During the afterglow of the Celtic Revival several fairly elaborate litanies appeared which seem to have been intended for private worship, or to be shared by brothers in a monastic community. Among the many themes touched on in these litanies is a heightened awareness of the sin of the petitioner.

Given the deterioration of spiritual life during this period, it’s not surprising that we should find such resources. Reading these confessions and pleas puts me in mind of Daniel’s prayer for Israel in chapter 9 of his book. Daniel was a faithful and holy servant, but his prayer puts him squarely amid a sinful people in need of God’s mercy and deliverance. It may be that the litany writers in the period following the Celtic Revival were, like Daniel, taking on themselves the sins of an entire nation. They may have hoped that by doing so, God would deliver the wayward people of their day as He did those in Daniel’s time.

Sin is a terrible power. It is to be neither ignored nor taken lightly. The present attitude of not making a big deal out of sin reminds us of nothing so much as the Corinthian church, which Paul scalded and scolded into repentance.

Sin eats away at our affections, poisons our mind, compromises our values, and corrupts our lives. It’s no wonder the Scriptures command us to hate sin (Ps. 97.10). We may think we can get by with a little self-indulgent, secret sin or two, but we’re setting ourselves up for disaster at some point.

The psalmists described the wearying effects of sin harbored in the soul. It pollutes the whole being, cuts us off from fellowship with God, and deflects our prayers from His holy ears (Ps. 66.18). The best thing to do with sin is to face up to it, confess it, denounce it, and then set your life on another course (Ps. 51).

But sin isn’t much talked about in churches today. Too negative and old fashioned, I suppose. We don’t want people to feel like they’re sinners; we suspect they already know that well enough. We want them to know we accept and love them just as they are.

What, we can’t do both?

Of course, we must love even the worst of sinners, but that doesn’t mean we should overlook sin in them any more than in ourselves. Sin is corrosive and destructive wherever it lurks, and our calling, in loving our neighbors as ourselves, is to help them escape the clutches and snares of sin with as much fervor and forthrightness as we should direct toward ourselves.

Jesus’ attitude toward sin was not to wink at it, as though it were but a small thing. He exposed the sins of wicked people, confronted them in their self-centered ways, humiliated them for their hypocrisy, and drove them and their sinful practices from the house of prayer. We would find such an approach to sin shocking and unacceptable.

The promises of God that lead us to intimate communion with Him will always elude us if we regard sin as a light matter. Until we have escaped the corruption of sin, we will never partake of Jesus (2 Pet. 1.4). This is not a call for perfectionism of life, which is not possible. It is instead a call for diligent and consistent confession and repentance, whenever the Lord convicts us of sin in our lives or our churches (Ps. 139.23, 24). We should be more consistent in confessing our sins privately to the Lord, and we should insist that our churches include a time of confession as part of every service of worship.

When the early church faced up to sin and dealt with it according to the leading of the Spirit, the Word of God increased, and the church grew in holiness and power (Acts 5, 6).

Today, when the Word of God is not increasing in our society, and when the church is not growing in holiness and influence, we need people, led by the Spirit, who will help us come to our prodigal senses, repent of our self-serving ways, and return in humility to our Father, confessing our sins and seeking the repentance only He can give.

For Reflection
1. Why is it so important to confess our sins?

2. What is your current practice of confessing and repenting of sin?

Psalm 38.17-22 (Leoni – The God of Abraham Praise)
My sins I now confess; my anxious soul, relieve!
Though foes are strong, Lord, heal and bless all who believe!
Forsake me not, O Lord!
Repay my foes with wrath.
Stand by me with Your saving Word and guard my path!

I’m a sinner, Lord, but in what specific ways? Show me now, Lord, so that I can confess, repent, and…

To Know Jesus
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T. M. Moore, Principal
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Plummer, Litanies, pp. 5, 7.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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