Can you recalling driving in a rainstorm, anxious as you follow a blurry trail of brake lights, only to have a semi-truck fly by and slosh a thick covering of water on your car? Come on. Anxiety shifts into panic or anger because you can no longer see the road lines or slow-moving vehicles ahead. One thing you can be thankful for in this moment is a good pair of windshield wipers. As you sing “Jesus Take the Wheel” with Carrie Underwood, the wipers clear everything out of the way. You can see again.
With a sigh of relief, you lean back into your seat. The windshield wipers aren’t your focus, but they’re essential to what really matters: the ability to see what’s in front of you. Without them, you’re hosed (pun intended). We value windshield wipers not because they’re a fun purchase or glitzy feature of our car but because they provide us with an unobstructed vision. With water, dirt and dust, or countless bugs meeting a quick death now scrubbed away, you can again see what’s ahead and around. You can enjoy the drive rather than having it ruined by a hazy window.
Our Spiritual Windshield Wiper
Windshield wipers offer a metaphor to better understand the role of confession of our sin to God. Since unconfessed sin blurs our vision so we can’t see or communicate with God clearly, confession is how we get that stuff out of the way so we can again see and know Him. It wipes away the junk between us and God. It restores us by eliminating what got in the way (sin and its effects of shame, guilt, and fear).
Confession and repentance go hand in hand. Repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of direction, or, turning around. It’s used in the Bible to refer to when someone—either at conversion or as part of the ongoing life of a believer—turns from sin and to God. But repentance is not only turning from something, it’s returning to Someone. Repentance is a relational act where those who caused a break in their relationship with God come back to Him. It is not only stopping bad behaviors. It’s leaving the things we’ve given our affection and loyalty too that belong to God.
In the Old Testament, God calls His people to “repent” and clarifies this means turning from idols and returning to Him. It is not first the language of a judge or ruler calling us to make things right that we’ve done wrong. We must hear and feel this language as a friend or spouse asking a loved one to come back to them for the sake of a restored relationship. Mark Boda writes:
“Repentance…is presented as a (re)turn to God and away from that which is contrary to God…Therefore, repentance…refers foremost to a turn or return to faithful relationship with God from a former state of estrangement.”
By understanding repentance (returning to God), we better understand confession. It’s the pivotal, outward act or expression tied to our repentance of sin. In biblical confession, we acknowledge to God our sin and shortcomings against Him. To repair a damaged relationship where one person is at fault, there must be the verbal confession or acknowledgement of wrongdoing, often in the form of “I’m sorry for…” When we confess to God, we admit we have done things that cause damage, distance, or disruptions in our relationship. We’re at fault. Any estrangement is on us.
Running to God and Not from God
We don’t hide these things, act as if they don’t exist, run from them, pretend the relationship is fine when there’s an elephant in the room, and we don’t act extra nice to fix things. We confess them. In honesty and humility, we come clean on what we’ve done, admit our wrongs, acknowledge the fault being on us, and we tell God we’re sorry. We come to God with our sin and ready to receive cleansing. We forsake the sin so we can embrace Him. Restoration (restored friendship) is the goal.
When we confess our sin, we claim the cleansing, restoration, and reconciliation Jesus perfectly accomplished through his death and resurrection (see 1 John 1:9). While a “gospel of works” causes us to hide and dismiss our sin to avoid judgment, the true gospel of grace frees us to confess them. It puts underneath us a safety net we can fall into and gives us a humble boldness to move from the darkness into the light. God fully knows us, including the worst part about us. But God’s grace assures us God will not love us less because of sin and yet cannot love us more because we’re justified and accepted through Jesus. Rather than taking away motivation to deal with our sin, grace incentives confession because it rewards us with freedom from sin and reconciliation to the Father. We don’t want to get stuck in sin nor do we want something hindering our relationship with God.
Confession as a Gift
When we see confession in this light, it becomes a beautiful, joyful, and wonderful thing. Is it still painful, somber, stinging, and a “bitter pill”? Yes. But, when understood rightly and joined to the gospel, it’s the very thing that brings a renewed walk with God and a conscience at rest. Confession is part of how we admit our idols have lied to us and failed to provide the things they’ve promised, and so we return to God to find joy, satisfaction, and rest in Him.
Many Christians only confess when they think they did something “really bad” or when they get caught in sin. Our indwelling sin is a nagging reminder we need to confess with as much regularity as we stray, stumble, and sin. The good news is Jesus already paid for our sin and purchased cleansing and reconciliation. Whenever we confess and repent, there’s no penalty box to wait in, no warning ticket telling us we’ve used up our fair share of forgiveness, and no shaming or finger-pointing from God to condemn us. Instead, there’s limitless grace and continual renewal found at the cross. Confession takes us back to the cross for grace and mercy that reconnects us to God by removing any and all barriers between us.
For more on this in the Bible, see the following passages:
Confession: Leviticus 16:20-22; 26:40; Joshua 7:19-21; Psalm 32:3-5; 38:18; 51 (esp. 1-6); Proverbs 28:13; Daniel 9:4-5; James 5:16; 1 John 1:8-10; Matthew 3:5-6; 6:12; Acts 19:18; Luke 15:18-21.
Corporate Confession: Leviticus 16:21; Deuteronomy 9:4; Nehemiah 1:4-11; 1 Samuel 7:5-6; Daniel 9:4-15.
Repentance: Job 42:6; Ezekiel 14:6 (6-11); 18:30-32; Zechariah 1:1-3; Jonah 3:5-6; Matthew 3:2, 8; Mark 6:12; Luke 5:32; 13:3-5: 15:7-10; 24:47; Acts 5:31; 8:32; 20:21; Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:8-11; Revelation 2:5; 3:19.
To be clear, Jesus is the one who paid for our sin and provides the actual forgiveness for what alienates us from God. Confession doesn’t accomplish atonement, but confession is part of how we receive and walk in the cleaning Jesus died to purchase for us.
Mark J. Boda, Return to Me: A Biblical Theology of Repentance(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 31.