“God forgives” is one of the main arteries connected to the heart of the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. The other is that “God changes” those whom he forgives. The same grace that has appeared bringing salvation for all people is the same grace that trains (teaches) those who have been saved how to walk in and to walk out that salvation in godliness (Titus 2:11-12).
God’s forgiveness of us is never granted apart from the expectation that we will also change, slowly, little by little. It is not only in repentance and forgiveness that our sin is “washed away”. It is also that our sinful heart is “washed clean,” cleansed, renewed, restored. It is both our sinning and our sinfulness that encounters God in the act of being forgiving. For this very reason, forgiveness isn’t automatic. It must be asked for.
Thinking it isn’t the same as confessing it. How many times has something I’ve done or said come to my mind. I think over it, I know that I’ve done wrong, but I do nothing with it. I neither confess nor ask forgiveness for it.
A brother who has hurt his sister has not apologized by silently standing in front of her. At least no parent should count it as that. A husband who knows he’s said something hurtful to his wife will surely not by standing before her, silently, thinking that he’s sorry, be credited by her with asking for forgiveness.
God can read my mind. He knows where, when, and how I’ve sinned. But if it was simply a matter of my thinking about what I’ve done and him “reading” that thought and then, “poof,” making my sin vanish, an essential, personal element to the whole act would be lost.
Yes, God can read my mind, but he wants to hear my heart. I was not created to hide from God, to keep “silent about my sin” (Psalm 32:1). I was not made to carry the weight of unconfessed sin around. It is this weight that causes a man to be crushed and to drown. He is desperate to be saved and rescued from the wasting, the groaning, the roaring within his soul (Psalm 32:3). But sin’s last defense, its strongest fight, its deepest hold, comes here at this point of confession.
The early Christian Theologian, Augustine, longed to be free from the sexual lust and craving enslaving his life. “Give me chastity,” he prayed, “but not yet.” There was yet the strongest link in the chain of desire to be broken. Then, like the Psalmist, there comes a breaking point, a breaking in point of God’s kindness that leads us to repentance and salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). His heart, at last, in final surrender says, “I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin…Make haste to help, O Lord, my salvation!” (Psalm 38:18, 22)
Confession brings power into play. But it is not the power of your confession. It is the power of the Savior you confess. In Jesus Christ alone is a power strong enough to deliver and to save—to conquer our sin, it’s power and hold over our lives, and to forgive and wash and cleanse and renew our heart.