About the Confession of Sin
The "Confession of Sin" from the liturgy of Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer is full of Christian theology. Here is a brief explanation, demonstrating how it consists in four distinct sections.
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father;
The confession begins by our addressing God as one who is all powerful and all knowing, from whom there is no escape. It demonstrates that our relationship with God is covenantal, and by that covenant He causes us to be aware of our sins and to confess them. It also demonstrates that we, the members of the Church have a special relationship with God because of Jesus, for we alone are authorized to address Him as "Father."
The confession continues by enumerating five different types of sin for which, apart from God's covenant of grace, all men, even Christians are guilty .
- [Error] We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
- [Idolatry] We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
- [Trespass] We have offended against thy holy laws.
- [Debt] We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
- [Inherited] And there is no health in us.
Note that the first four of these pertain to our actual or visible sins, which we ourselves have committed. Just as offerings and sacrifices under the Law of Moses were enumerated for various types of sins, we should remember the details of our shame. It is not enough that we should use only the generic word "sin." We should spell out the various ways that we have offended God. Debt, trespass, idolatry and error are not synonyms. Moreover, the sacrificial offering that Jesus made on our behalf is the remedy for each of these types of sin separately.
- He has paid or remitted our debt.
- He has forgiven us our trespasses.
- He has given us new hearts inclined not to the honor of self but rather to the honor of God and neighbor.
- He has given us Holy Scripture and the Holy Ghost by whom it is written, such that we should not ever stray again from the way that He has prepared for us.
The fifth type of sin in the list pertains to the invisible, which being inherited from Adam is visible to God alone. Inherited sin is no less real than sins which we know about. We are reminded here that although we might appear at times to be living a sin-free life, we are not, for our sin runs deeper than we can ever know. Therefore we can never claim to deserve salvation. We are wholly dependent upon God to to give us moral and spiritual health.
Suggestion: When praying, if one pauses at least a little between each of the five types of sin, it helps the heart to remember what the mind would prefer to forget, and to carefully consider the covenantal relationship into which God has called us.
Prayer for Mercy
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake;
Now we come to the heart of the confession, which is a prayer for mercy that can be said not by any man, but only by men to whom the covenant promise is given through faith. Their God-given senses have caused them to confess, to be sorry for their sin, to repent, and to declare Jesus as their only savior. Salvation comes to us not because of this work of repentance but rather because of the work of Jesus Christ, His righteous life and atoning sacrifice.
Prayer for Sanctification
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Finally, the prayer of confession turns away from the past and toward the future. The Christian prays to live righteously hereafter, but he is careful to say that his future works of righteousness count only for God's glory. They don't count for salvation or for any heavenly reward. Christ alone has earned our salvation, and He alone has gone into heaven to prepare a place for us.