Excerpt from The Making Of An Ordinary Saint

Confession is the spiritual discipline that allows us to enter into the grace and mercy of God in such a way that we experience forgiveness and healing for the sins and sorrows of the past. 

Both forgiveness and healing are involved in confession. Forgiveness positions us in a right relationship toward God— objective righteousness, to use a theological term. Healing frees us from the domination of our present by our past — subjective righteousness, to use another term from theology. 

It is the cross of Jesus Christ that makes both the forgiveness and the healing a reality. Without the cross, the discipline of confession would be only psychologically therapeutic. 

The redemptive process of the cross of Christ is a great mystery hidden in the heart of God. Sophisticated theories have been devised to help us better understand what happened on the cross — ransom theory, satisfaction theory, substitutionary theory, moral influence theory, and more. The Canons of Dort summarize the matter this way: The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, of infinite value and worth, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.” These explanations do help us in some measure. But the mystery remains. 

Here is what we do know: Jesus on the cross somehow took into himself all of the sin and all of the evil of all of humanity and redeemed it. Jesus, who had walked in constant communion with the Father, now on the cross became so totally identified with humankind that he was the actual embodiment of sin. Paul put it this way: For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). How all this transpired we do not understand, and perhaps at this point our understanding needs to give way to doxology. 

Confession is both private and communal. It is a wonderful truth that the individual can break through into new life through the cross without the aid of any human mediator. But if we have not experienced release from the sins and sorrows of the past by means of private confession, we have not exhausted our resources, nor God’s grace. In The Book of Common Prayer we read these encouraging words: If there be any of you who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein but require further comfort or counsel, let him come to me or to some other minister of God’s Word, and open his grief.” 

So God has given the Christian fellowship to help us. We can share our burden with another in the Christian community. Such persons will stand in Christ’s stead and give us the word of forgiveness in Christ’s name. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Confession shows us the greatness and the goodness of God. Bernard of Clairvaux captures this reality well when he writes: 

To shame our sins He blushed in blood;
He closed His eyes to show us God;
Let all the world fall down and know
That none but God such love can show.1

Foster, Nathan. The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines. Baker Publishing Group.

For each chapter in Nathan’s book, Richard Foster writes an introductory essay — like this one from the chapter on Confession.

[1] Bernard of Clairvaux, Of Him Who Did Salvation Bring” (hymn), as quoted in Martin Madan, A Collection of Psalms and Hymns Extracted from Various Authors, 1760.

Text First Published October 2014