“Confession: Confession Has Two Parts”

Midweek Lenten Service
Wednesday, March 22, 2023

“Confession: Confession Has Two Parts”

Today we continue our midweek series on the Small Catechism with the section on Confession. The catechism asks the question, “What is Confession?” And the way the answer begins gives us our theme for today: “Confession Has Two Parts.”

Those two parts, of course, are Confession and Absolution: “Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

Now you may be thinking, “OK, fine, we do that every Sunday at the start of the service.” However, that is not the same type of confession the catechism is talking about. It’s not the same setting. What we do on Sunday mornings is a general confession and absolution. What the catechism is referring to is private confession, one-on-one with the pastor.

“Huh?” you say. “Private confession? I thought we Lutherans didn’t do that. I thought that was just for the Catholics.” No, that’s not the case. Lutherans made a number of reforms to various church practices, as they did with confession. But we did not get rid of private confession.

Quite the contrary. Luther encourages Christians to go to private confession: “If you are poor and miserable, then go to Confession and make use of its healing medicine.” Or, “So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is.” Or again, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.” Likewise, our Lutheran Confessions make the point of saying that we keep the practice of private confession: “Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches.” And: “Confession and Absolution should by no means be abolished in the Church.” Again, this is talking about private confession.

So we kept private confession in the Lutheran church. But it has become a church practice that is only rarely practiced. Most of our members don’t take advantage of it. But it’s here for you whenever you want it. I’m here for you, whenever you want to go to confession. I can meet you here at church or at your home or wherever you prefer. Just let me know where and when.

Now when you come to confession, what do you bring to the table? Your sins. Particularly the ones that trouble you and are on your conscience. It should come as no surprise that you have sins to confess. We all do. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Just look at your life in the mirror of the Ten Commandments. You will find examples of how you have broken God’s commands in thought, word, and deed, in the things you have done wrong and in the things you have failed to do right. Don’t be surprised that you have sins to confess. Poor miserable sinners do poor miserable sins.

So you come to your pastor and confess those sins. Don’t worry, I won’t think any less of you if you have sins to confess. It won’t change our personal relationship. And my ears are a graveyard. I don’t carry your sins around with me. When they are forgiven, they are forgotten. And my lips are sealed. When I was ordained, I took a sacred oath never to divulge the sins confessed to me. And I never have.

So the first part of confession is that you confess your sins. Now we come to the second part, the absolution: “And second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” And this absolution, this word of forgiveness, is why the practice of private confession is such a treasure.

As a pastor, I’m here to be the forgiveness guy. Jesus sent me here for your benefit, so that you can know for sure that your sins are forgiven. Jesus authorized his ministers to speak his liberating gospel word into your ears: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” And “this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”

You see, Jesus wants you to know for sure that your sins are forgiven. He did the big forgiveness job for you when he, the Son of God, climbed Calvary’s hill and was nailed to the cross to pay the price for all of your sins. His holy blood has purchased your forgiveness.

Now the Lord has provided the means to deliver and apply that forgiveness to you, with your name on it. That’s what happens in Holy Absolution. You hear in your own ears, with the pastor’s hands placed on your head, with your name spoken out loud, that Christ’s forgiveness is for you. God knows all your sins, those things you’re ashamed of, the sins you just confessed. And yet he forgives you! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The slate is wiped clean! What a relief to your conscience! What a blessing, this authoritative word of forgiveness, Holy Absolution!

Again from Luther: “So any heart that feels its sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God through a human being looses and absolves him from his sins.” And again: “[It] is a work that God does when he declares me free of my sin through His Word placed in the mouth of a man. It is this splendid, noble thing that makes Confession so lovely, so comforting.”

Today we have heard from the catechism: “Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins.” OK, that we have sins to confess should come as no surprise. I’m a sinner. So are you. We all have broken God’s commandments, and we all deserve God’s punishment. But it is the second part of confession that is the wonderful and amazing surprise, which we know only through the gospel, namely, “that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

Confession has two parts, Confession and Absolution. I can sum it all up like this:

If my sins should cause me grief,
When my conscience seeks relief,
To my pastor I can go
And confess the sins I know;
He will lay hands on my head
And forgive in Jesus’ stead.
Absolution, full and free!
God’s forgiveness–yes, for me!

Published in: on March 22, 2023 at 9:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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