We confess our sins at the beginning of worship every week, and there are important reasons for doing so. But we always want to make sure that our reasons are thoroughly evangelical – that is, we want our confession of sin to be firmly built on the gospel and not in any way a confusion of the gospel.
For example, if you are a Christian, then you are not coming to Confession trying to get right with God. If you are a Christian, you are fundamentally right with God already. But Christians who are right with God do sin and need to make those sins right with God and one another. That may seem like a trivial difference, but it really isn’t. It’s like the difference between working something out with someone you hope to marry and working something out with someone you are already married to. In the first situation the whole relationship is potentially on the line; in the second, you are maintaining a relationship that already firmly exists.
What we want to keep clear in our hearts and minds is the difference between justification and sanctification. At the beginning of the Christian life, a believer is justified completely and fully. This is God’s gracious act of wiping away the charges against us even though we were guilty. God takes all our sins away and buries them in the deepest sea. Sanctification is the process by which God is working out in us what He has already authoritatively declared to be true.
This means that when you sin and you confess it on Tuesday or if the Lord brings something to your attention here on a Sunday morning, what you are doing is agreeing with God that this was one of those sins that He wiped clean and buried. We’re not trying to get God to wipe them clean or bury them. He already has. Christ already died and rose again for our sins, definitively forever. It is finished. In justification God set you free from all your sin, in sanctification, we’re removing all our old prison clothes and chains. Taking off those old handcuffs doesn’t make you free, it demonstrates that you agree with God that you really are free.