Confession Isn’t Only About Sin (Liturgical Lessons from Isaiah 53)

Zac HicksPersonal Stories & Testimonies, Worship Theology & Thought8 Comments

I have the privilege of being part of a pretty dynamic pastoral team.  We maintain a shared leadership model, and there really is a sense of mutuality among us, despite the pastoral prefixes of “Senior” and “Associate.” Our shared leadership now extends to a more shared preaching model (a newer innovation), and with that comes shared exegetical (Bible study) and homiletical (sermon) preparation. 

A recent thought-provoking concept emerged from my colleague Marty Martin out of one of these think-tank sessions.  Marty read the following passage:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
Yet we considered him stricken by God,
Smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
And by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:4-5, NIV

We’re Protestants, so a big part of our understanding of salvation in Christ involves substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone.  Marty pointed out that one of the negative effects of this theological emphasis is that, in worship, it truncates Confession to be purely a confession of sin.  Of course, confession of sin is valuable and even integral to the gospel, but it is not its sum.  Philosophers would say it is “necessary but not sufficient” to display the gospel.  Marty made the point that personal sin is merely a subset of the greater package of the human problem—need.  He said that our neediness includes but goes beyond our moral sinfulness.

When we read the passage above (observing my underlinings), we notice that what Christ bore on the cross was more than our “transgressions” and “iniquities,” though, so often, that is what we truncate the gospel to.  He bore our “infirmities.”  He held our “sorrows.”  He took on our peacelessness, our sickness, and our brokenness.  It is not “by His wounds we are forgiven,” but, “by His wounds we are healed.”  The Gospel shares the news of a greater healing than merely the healing of our sin.  In it we hear that Christ bore my wife’s cancer, my friend’s chronic illness, my son’s autism, and my grandmother’s dementia.  Christ took on my real animosity against radical Islam in Afghanistan.  He bore the weeping of my friend going through a divorce. 

Liturgically, then, what are we saying if, week after week, all we do is confess our sin?  We are certainly saying that the Gospel is the remedy of our moral failure (which it is) and that it is also the news of a broken relationship restored between me, a sinner, and God all-holy.  But, without further explanation, that’s about where it ends.  Of course, if that’s all we say, I think we’ve done pretty well, because the Gospel’s essence can certainly be distilled into those realities.  But can’t we use the Confession as a time to prepare for receiving a more robust, full-orbed good news?

What if, from time to time, we were to shake things up and not so much have a “Confession of Sin” but a “Confession of Need?”  What if, in our silent prayers, instead of praying, “God, I repent of having done x, y, and z,” we prayed, “God, I’m really sick,” or “God, I’m really sad”?  Imagine how different the proclamation of the Gospel would sound having made those kinds of confessions.  Think about how much more glorious the life, death, and resurrection of Christ becomes in the eyes of the people of God!

8 Comments on “Confession Isn’t Only About Sin (Liturgical Lessons from Isaiah 53)”

  1. Much needed reminder. The ministry of reconciliation cannot be done without bearing the burdens (sorrows/needs) of others. Job even practiced confession on behalf of his children.

    2Co 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
    2Co 5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

    Another aspect of the atonement some we forget is the victory over spiritual forces of darkness. I personally believe this was preliminary to forgiveness. In other words, God saw that his creatures, through disobedience, had surrendered their wills over to bondage under the authority of Satanic forces. The enemy deceived Eve, and Adam followed by neglectful stewardship and hidden rebellion.

    God wanted to primarily liberate us and bring us home again. Forgiveness is a part of that story, not the ultimate reason. I think the concepts of substitutionary atonement and forensic justification tend to focus a little too much on the guilt of transgressing the law. I prefer to look at it from the perspective of deliverance from bondage . . a new Exodus. Forgiveness is how he restores the relationship after he has set us free. Hence Pentecost, the gracious giving of the law, and the Spirit to empower us to practice righteousness.

    Heb 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
    Heb 2:15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

    1Jo 3:7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.
    1Jo 3:8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

  2. Christ was not bruised nor pierced "for our" infirmities, or "for our" sorrows. Rather, He took them up and carried them for us. Those are consequences of sin, whether our personal sin or collective effects of sin in the world. We have no need to confess those as we do to confess our transgressions and iniquities, for which He WAS bruised and pierced. We acknowledge our sorrow and sadness and need, but we confess our sin. John said this: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" in I John 1:9, ESV.

  3. Jim,

    Good thoughts. And fair enough. Those prepositions and small words are important, and as I was letting that passage percolate in my head and heart, I had some of those same observations. I understand that some view this as the beginning of a slippery slope towards being light on sin and moving toward the (theologically) liberal position of denying the atonement and the need for it (and I imagine that that’s behind your thoughts and concerns).

    My point is not to minimize sin, but to raise awareness of need of some of these other things that Christ, in His life and death, took up. My question to you is, if you will grant that I’m not attempting to minimize sin and the atonement (perhaps you won’t), What do we lose by making these other things a part of our confession?


  4. Sin and suffering are not insular. To say God was bruised for our sorrows is not a lie. All of our sorrows are brought on by sin, and the effects of the curse.

    If slavery in Egypt is a type of our slavery to sin, then notice how God speaks here.

    Exo 3:7 Then the LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings,
    Exo 3:8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

    We groan under our fallen condition. Our idols do not satisfy us, and yet we ache to embrace them. We need deliverance from the bondage of serving them (sin) and the consequence of serving them (death). Forgiveness is granted to us through the deliverance. We embrace the new life God offers us through His death and resurrection, and we return home to the Father. He forgives us, and gives us a clean robe (Justification), and a ring on our finger (baptism), and prepares a feast (Eucharist).

  5. We lose by introducing extra-biblical concepts and elements where they don’t belong. In my devotional studies of the Lord’s prayer in Matthew and Luke, I see nothing like what you’re suggesting.

    We petition, acknowledging our need and our weaknesses:
    "Give us this day our daily bread, … And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

    and we confess:
    "and forgive us our debts (or sins), as we also have forgiven our debtors. "

    but they are two different things.

    Offhand, I can’t think of any instance of prayer in the Bible where anyone confesses as you are suggesting. Can you provide one?

  6. Do you mean an example of an indirect confession of sin by virtue of declaring our utterly helpless state before God and begging for deliverance . . well Jonah’s prayer from the bowels of the beast for one and probably Psalm 88, just to name a few. . .

    Jon 2:1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish,
    Jon 2:2 saying, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.
    Jon 2:3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.
    Jon 2:4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; Yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’
    Jon 2:5 The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head
    Jon 2:6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.
    Jon 2:7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.
    Jon 2:8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
    Jon 2:9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!"
    Jon 2:10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

    When we pray "Give us this day our daily bread" we are saying we have not the resources to nurture ourselves. A confession of poverty and lack of ability.

    When we pray "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.", it is a confession of a heart that wanders way to easily into the traps of the flesh the eyes and the pride of life.

    I think Zac and I are simply saying that the affirmation of our dependence on God’s grace, and our utter inability to remedy our sorrow and infirmities is a form of confession. We "agree with God" which is what it means to confess, about how sad our state by nature is. . . . .

  7. I guess it’s a matter of semantics. In my mind, confession leads to repentance, and we have no need to repent from our sorrows or our infirmities unless they are of a sinful nature in and of themselves, in which case we would be confessing and repenting for our sins.

  8. Jim I agree with you. I think it could go deeper though. Even though our sorrow may not be sinful, all sorrow is the result of sin.

    Could not therefore our confession also lead to Hope? We confess we are sorrowful, and that He is our comfort. We are saying, "God, your world has been redeemed, but it is still broken. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." We sing of God’s attributes (which is confessing our weakness) like the Psalmist to stir up our faith. Our sighs and laments are just as valid of a declaration of His authority over us as is our declarations of guilt.

    Rev 6:10 They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"

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