Confession is not a downer, but moves us forward


Acknowledging sin is the first step toward walking in God’s way

By Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today
Passenger in car holding sign that reads: If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

Katie Rodriguez/Unsplash

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart or our neighbors as ourselves. We humbly repent. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways. Amen.

In this classic prayer of confession, we remember both the sins of commission (what we do) and the sins of omission (what we do not do), and we acknowledge that sins are both personal and corporate. Of course, when worship rolls around to the prayer of confession, it’s not unusual for pastors to hear, “I don’t come to church to feel bad about myself. Can’t we just skip the prayer of confession?”

In our Gospel text for Jan. 10, however, Mark tells us that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him [John the baptizer], and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Jerusalem is about 20 miles away from the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism, while “the Judean countryside” could mean locales five times that distance away or more. They literally spent days traveling to be baptized by John. And part and parcel to their baptism was the confession of sins.

Confessing our sins is not meant to be a “downer.” Rather, it’s the first step we take in becoming a new creation in Christ. After confession, those who came to John were ready to enter into the waters of baptism. After confession, what would we be ready for?

Confession and racism

The theme of this year’s Bible Explorations column is “Practicing Racial Justice,” and I want now to explore how we who are white need to confess our sin of racism. To be honest, I’ve only been wrestling with this idea recently. Probably like you, I can’t really think of any specific acts that I have done that seem racist. I admire and love many people of color, and I don’t remember saying anything to them or about anyone who shares their background, at least not on purpose, at least not for decades. Most of us who read Presbyterians Today are probably in this same boat. Why would we confess our sins of racism if we can’t think of any bigoted acts we might have taken? Remember, though, that prayers of confession are corporate as well as personal.

It’s helpful to think about how our culture and society corporately are guilty of the sin of racism. For instance, could it be that one reason for the tragically high incidence of COVID-19 deaths among Blacks, Hispanics/Latinos and Indigenous people is a society that often prevents them from sharing the excellent medical care that whites typically receive? Could it be that Blacks’ wealth on average is one-tenth the amount of whites’ because of redlining and a GI Bill that prevented their grandparents from having access to the wealth-generating resources that whites enjoyed?

Probably none of us have made decisions that led to these specific racial injustices. We probably do not need to confess a sin of commission. Yet living in a culture stained by racism all too often deadens our desires to love our neighbors of color as ourselves.

Our faith in Christ is strengthened when we ask forgiveness for our sins of omission. As we repent, we learn to take steps to join the divine mission toward a more racially just society. We will mess up along the way — saying something wrong or failing to act. But when we confess, our most merciful God will forgive us so that we might delight in God’s will and walk in God’s way.

Mark 1:4–11 is a lectionary text for Jan. 10, Baptism of Our Lord Sunday.

Chip Hardwick is the transitional synod executive of the Synod of the Covenant.

Discussion Questions

  • Can you identify ways that people of color face challenges in America that whites do not?
  • How does it feel to think about sins of omission (what we do not do) as well as sins of commission (what we do)?
  • How might you confess our corporate or national sins of racial injustice to God?

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