There are things we take for granted until we really need them. Like windshield wipers. I vividly remember driving down the interstate in a downpour. Rain pounded my car. As I flipped my wipers into high-speed, they suddenly caught on one another. Not good. I pulled over to the shoulder, jumped out of the safety of my dry car, and got soaked as I separated the wipers like two fighting children. After a quick rendition of “Jesus Take the Wheel,” I returned to the road, exhaling a deep, grateful breath.
That’s when I understood the value of windshield wipers. They seem so uncommon and they’re never my focus, but they’re essential to what really matters: the ability to see. Without them, you’re hosed. We value windshield wipers, not because they’re a glitzy feature, but because they provide us with unobstructed vision. With rainwater, dirt and dust, or countless bugs meeting a quick death getting scrubbed away, you can 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 understand the role of confessing 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 know him. It wipes away the relational 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 doesn’t seem like a part of the Christian life we often celebrate, but when we realize how sinful we are, we grasp what a gift confession can be.
Confession and repentance go hand-in-hand. Repentance is a change of mind resulting in a change of direction, or, turning around. In the Bible, it refers to when someone—either at conversion or as part of the ongoing life of a believer—turns from sin and to God. Notice repentance is not only turning from something, it’s returning to Someone (see Joel 2:12-13; Dt. 4:30; Jer. 4:1).
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.
“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 as a return 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’ve done things that cause damage, distance, or disruptions in our relationship. We’re at fault. Any estrangement is on us. And we want the relationship restored.
Running to God and Not from God
Augustine wrote, “Flee to God himself if you would flee from him: flee to him by confessing not hiding; for hide you cannot, but confess you can.” We don’t hide our sin, act as if it doesn’t exist, run from it, pretend our relationship is fine when there’s an elephant in the room, and we don’t act extra nice to fix things. We confess. 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 (see Psalm 32:3-5).
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 and reconciliation Jesus perfectly accomplished through his death and resurrection (1 John 1:9-2:2). 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 darkness to light.
God fully knows us, including the worst part about us. But God’s grace assures us he will not love us less because of sin, and he cannot love us any more than he does when we’re in 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.
Tim Keller writes, “Fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin.” We don’t want to get stuck in sin nor do we want something hindering our relationship with God, so we repent. But we do so rejoicing, knowing our sin is completely paid, we are fully loved, and God our Father is for us.
Confession as a Gift
When we see confession in this light, it becomes a beautiful, gracious gift. Is it still painful, somber, stinging, and a “bitter pill”? Yes. No one likes to say they’re sorry (not my three-year-old, and not me). But, when understood rightly and joined to the gospel, confession brings a renewed walk with God and our conscience to rest. It hurts, but it also heals.
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. In confession, we go home and return to the loving arms of our Father.
Many Christians only confess when they think they did something “really bad” or when they get caught in sin. Our indwelling sin is like a check-engine light for our heart. It’s 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. There’s limitless grace found at the cross.
Confession takes us back to the cross for mercy that reconnects us to God by removing any and all barriers between us. Through the gift of confession we get rid of our guilt and receive grace. It’s your friend, not a foe. Let it take you by the hand and lead you back to your loving God.
For practical advice on practicing confession, see “Ways to Cultivate the Rhythm of Confession” and “What Confession Is and Isn’t.”
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.
 Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), 172.