You said what? Confession and Psalm 32

by Tim Pauls

I have this little recurring daydream.

We’ve just begun Divine Service III, and I say the first half of Psalm 32:5:

I said, “I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD.”

Then I wait for the congregation to respond.

Instead, there’s a pregnant pause, after which someone in the congregation calls out,

You said what?”

Let’s face it: on the surface, confessing your transgressions unto the Lord sounds like a very bad idea. If you can’t get rid of your faults, it’s only human to hide them. When you’re applying for a job, you wouldn’t start out your resume by listing your worst failures and bad habits. If you’re trying to impress a date, you’re not going to say, “Let me share with you the most disturbing thoughts that cross my mind.” Above all, when you’ve eaten forbidden fruit, you don’t ‘fess up. You hide and sew fig leaves. You conceal your failures. And you hope that, in the meantime, you can build up enough goodwill that people will overlook them if you’re found out.

So why would it ever sound like a good idea to walk into the sanctuary of God and baldly confess your sins to the Holy One who judges sin and condemns sinners? Remember Sodom and Gomorrah, Nadab and Abihu, Samaria and Jerusalem, Ahab and Jezebel, Ananias and Sapphira. Yeesh. Wouldn’t it be far more sensible to sweep those sins under the rug, put on a good face for God and hope He understands that you’re trying to do better?

Why would you ever want to confess your transgressions to the LORD?

Because you know the second half of Psalm 32:5.

 I said, “I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Knowing that God has given His Son to die in the place of sinners, you’re confident that He will keep His promise to forgive. Rather than try to hide your sins (as if you could!) and make up for them with your own charm and wit, you confess them with the confidence that Christ has made you righteous.

Psalm 32:5 is a marvelous verse, the Divine Service summed up in 18 words. Repentant sinners gather together and confess what God already knows with confidence in His promises. He stands ready with abundant grace for His penitent people. He reminds them of their baptism with the invocation, speaks forgiveness in His Word and feeds it to them in His Supper. There’s no doubt: The Lord is present to forgive.

Many live every day in fear that someone will dig up an old social media post that’s now considered politically-incorrect enough to cost them their job. The best they can do is hide the past, put on a brave face and hope that they’re not discovered. Many more live with a bad conscience, knowing that judgment is coming and hoping God won’t notice. With an omniscient holy God on the throne, that’s a vain hope.

But you? You have no such fear. The Lord already knows all your sins, and He’s paid the price for all of them.

Confess your sins to the Lord? Absolutely. Next time Psalm 32:5 appears in the liturgy, rejoice in the news it proclaims. The Lord hears your confession, and He delights to forgive you for the sake of Jesus.

Tim Pauls serves as the pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho.

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