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.

Originally published October 2014

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