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Apr 2011

Sunday Rhythm | God’s People Respond in Grateful Praise | Confession

As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me. Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me! – Psalm 40:11-13

The rhythm, or order, of our Sunday gatherings is meant to take on the form of the gospel. No because church history requires it, but because the One we worships minsters to us in these redemptive terms. We do not know Christ apart from the truths he has revealed about himself. These truths are always presented in the context of his redemptive ministry. So we want this gospel pattern in our Sunday rhythm not only because our hearts need to feed on his grace, but also because we cannot truly worship Christ apart from the grace by which he has revealed himself to us. This realization makes some of the aspects of the gospel pattern of our Sunday rhythm take on new significance.

We begin our services by asking the questions: “Who is God?” and “Who is Jesus?” We answer these primarily through the songs we sing, scriptures we read, and prayers we pray. We then take time to listen, read, and study God’s written word, as we believe that the Bible is the means by which God graciously reveals Himself to His people. After taking a moment to celebrate the grace of union with Christ and his people, we then move to the portion of service where we reflect upon the question, “Who am I, in light of who God is and what he has done for us through his son Jesus?”

What is our automatic response when we truly recognize the greatness of God’s glory? We bow down. When God revealed the glory of his holiness to Isaiah, the prophet immediately responds:

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” – Isaiah 6:5

The light of the glory of God not only reveals his holiness; it simultaneously reveals the ungodliness of all that is human. Thus, in response to seeing God’s glory, Isaiah confesses his sinfulness and the sinfulness of all he knows. Recognition of who God is, and what he has done for us in Christ, leads to awareness of who we really are, worms (Isaiah 41:17; Psalm 22:6). Therefore, confession of our vileness becomes a natural response to the grace bestowed on us by a divine encounter with God. Confession is the acknowledgment of our sin and need for grace. His praise necessitates our humility. We cannot truly honor his worth without sensing our unworthiness. We cannot really see who he is and fail to bow down before him.

For some, confession of sin may not seem like an appealing aspect of a Sunday gathering, and that dealing with sin is a turnoff that will steer people away from worshipping God. While it is certainly possible for people to grovel without grace, it is impossible to know grace if we have no awareness of sin. If the Spirit of God dwells within us, then we should long to confess our sin in order to experience the mercy of God. In fact, we should question whether the gospel itself is present, if there has been no acknowledgment of sin. The grace of God has no present glory if the sin it overcomes is not a present reality, and the ministry of Christ has no significance if the sin he came to defeat will not even be faced.

In his book Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, author Bryan Chappel defends having a time of confession in the order of our Sunday gatherings:

We want to make sure we adequately represent our condition as a covenant people who are cherished by God despite our sin. To neglect the Scriptures telling us that the kindness of God leads to repentance (Romans 2:4) will seem to make God’s forgiveness conditional upon our repentance rather than making the certainty and completeness of his mercy the magnet of confession. We run to his arms with our sin-sick hearts because we know there is grace sufficient, boundless, and free already there. We repent because we are forgiven, not to gain forgiveness. In our confession we experience God’s love because we confront our sin with the greatness of mercy that is already ours through faith in Christ, but we do not earn, gain, or force God’s pity by the words or weight of our confession. We are forgiven because he was forsaken, not because our contrition is adequate. If God’s forgiveness were gained by the adequacy of our repentance, then no one but his Son would know his care. But because our faith is in the finished work of that Child, we are cherished children of God despite our constant waywardness and the inevitable inadequacy of our confession.

Grace is all the more beautiful when we face the ugliness of our sin. But we do not confess our wretchedness to wallow in self-pity or merit divine mercy; we confess our destitution so that our hearts will be enraptured anew and motivated afresh by the riches of our Savior’s love.


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