Jim Rosscup studied every prayer in the Bible and has written an incredible book called An Exposition on Prayer in the Bible: Igniting the Fuel to Flame Our Communication with God (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research). What he learned he taught at the Master’s Seminary for many years. In his section on Psalm 51 he lists these principles regarding confession in the prayer life of a Christian. What a gem! Boy, do I have some things to learn about true confession.
First, a believer ought to desire to be washed from his sin, not just pardoned from guilt or freed from pressures so that he can feel soothed. David is concerned about pollution as well as pardon. He means business with the Lord.
Second, confession needs frank exposure of the sin, not tolerating any traffic in deceit before God (cf. v. 3).
Third, the sinning believer should show a deep conviction that his sin has essentially been an affront to God (4). Basically sin is a rebel’s hold out against the laws of God (1 John 3:4).
Fourth, confess with a heart-cry aware of how enormous and revolting sin is to God. It is not something to be hastily glossed over, softened, or excused.
Fifth, discern a far more serious problem in the root of sin even than in its fruit (5) The sins are despicable, and the culprit behind them is the principle of sin, the factory of sins, and the person who has generated them. This is why people need the new nature from Christ, the power of the Spirit, sensitive saturation in God’s word, and taking a deliberate stand (Eph. 6:10–20) to win.
Sixth, God does not simply seek to pardon the one confessing. This is only a clearing of the decks for what follows. He wants to have His way in him (6). God wanted truth and wisdom in place of deceit and foolishness.
Seventh, to lose the sense of the Spirit empowering life is to lose everything of value. It is to be worthless in being spiritually useful to God (11).
Eighth, any interest in God and in what is best for ourselves spiritually should issue in an interest in others for God’s sake (13).
Ninth, the arousal to be forgiven should not be prompted just by a craving for relief or to benefit the confessor, but primarily to glorify God (14, 15).
Tenth, genuine confession must spring out of inward reality under God’s searchlight (cf. 139:23, 24; 119:9–11). It is never true if permitted to be only an outward ritual of pacing oneself through insincere motions (51:16, 17).
Eleventh, real confession is not a morbid, unhealthy dredging up of spiritual sludge. It is not an unwholesome preoccupation with the sins, or a brooding that keeps digging them up again to engage in self-pity, a refusal to believe that God does forgive. Vital confession is completely health-dealing in exposing sins openly to God with a genuine desire to forsake them and gain mastery over them by God’s power.
Twelfth, confession of personal sins is best done in private with God, never as a kind of exhibitionism or glory-seeking. Some thrive on talking about lurid sins because it draws attention to themselves, as perhaps more daring than others. Some even chuckle about their sins, making light of what God hates as if they are only humorous shortcomings that set them on a pedestal as colorful and different.
Thirteenth, be careful that confession is not a mere exposure to people and not a deep-seated dealing with God. Some confession meetings feature “hanging out the dirty linen” of believers, and everybody gets in on the dirt of others. This can entice the weak to experiment with the sins, and seek the public limelight.
Fourteenth, be sure that faith in God to forgive accompanies confession. David clearly joined the two. A tragedy lies in confessing sin but not trusting God to be compassionate as He pledges. Some fish the sin out of the foul pond again and again, trying to work up sorrow and basing forgiveness on whether they get that certain feeling. A firm and believing look at God as 1 John 1:9 describes Him is a way to victory in confession.
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