What is the proper response to seeing God? When we consider His glory, holiness, righteousness, faithfulness, power, knowledge, patience, and grace, what’s the right way to react? To add another factor, when we take this vision of God, and put next to it a realistic vision of who we are, then what’s a fitting response? What do sinful, limited, selfish, weak, broken, flawed, and impure creatures like us do before the infinite and almighty God?
Seeing God’s holiness and glory, and recognizing our sinfulness and frailty, is why people in the Bible commonly respond in humility and brokenness.
“And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:4–5)
When Isaiah sees God, he says, “Woe is me. I am lost” or ruined or undone. God’s holiness prompts him to confess his sin and the sin of his people. The normal response in the Bible when sinners see God is realizing how sinful we are and falling on our face. The flattened posture of humility then leads to the faith-driven response of confession (see Job 42:5-6; Exodus 3:5; Revelation 7:11).
Confessing God’s glory and confessing our sinfulness go hand-in-hand. The more we rightly see who God is the more we’ll rightly see who we are. Too often our view of self gets over-inflated because we overlook and dismiss our own failures and we compare ourselves to others around us.
If you play basketball with ten-year-olds for a couple hours, you’ll start thinking you’re Michael Jordan. But if you join a pick-up game with college athletes, you realize you shouldn’t even be on the court.
Our view of self often depends on who we’re comparing ourselves too. Biblical confession happens when we see God’s glory, holiness, majesty, and mercy. Such a glorious sight exposes how unlike God we are. We perceive and feel how unlike God we are.
God is holy and we are sinful.
God is merciful but we are begrudging.
God is majestic but our hearts are corrupt, icky, and even embarrassing.
God is loving but we are self-centered and self-seeking.
God is infinite but we are weak, fragile, and needy.
This increased awareness of the gap between who God is and who we are makes us desperate for Him to act with mercy, patience, kindness, and love.
Confession consists of at least two cries or reactions of the heart. It’s first a response of worship to who God is. And second, it’s a humble plea for mercy and grace because of who we are. We cannot run from God, cover up, or hide. We can’t make up for or pay for our sin either by good works or by punishing ourselves for bad deeds. Confession isn’t beating ourselves up but it’s also not beating around the bush about our wickedness. We are sinners. We have sinned. We do sin. And we tell these things to God honestly and humbly.
The only hope sinners have in light of God’s holiness and because of God’s mercy is to come clean before Him. We fall on Jesus and find a rock that holds us up. We bring our sins to God, knowing none of them need hidden in the closet or swept under the rug, because we believe Jesus has fully paid for every one of them. We confess to God (directly) because He offers forgiveness, grace, and cleansing through Jesus. God’s grace gives us a humble boldness. We know our sin can’t make God love us less, so we’re freed to be honest about the worst aspects of who we are. And yet we don’t want sin to get stuck in our sin or for it to get in the way of our relationship with God, so we bring it to Him so we can be cleansed and restored. We clear the air through confession.
I confess for cleansing of the sin and filth that keeps me from seeing and knowing God clearly. Confession is the windshield-wiper of our hearts, helping to remove the built-up sin and scum that needs removed so we can better see, know, and walk with God. Confession isn’t the goal; communion with God is the goal. But apart from honest, humble confession to God we can’t experience a rich, restored communion with God.
You don’t have to identify every sin you’ve committed and you’re not trying to bury yourself in guilt. You’re acknowledging God’s holiness and glory. You’re confessing sins you’re aware of or asking God to reveal sins. Even if nothing specific comes to mind, we confess what we know to be true: that we fall short of His glory and are desperate for His mercy and grace.