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4 Critical Elements of Effective Confession

After David's sin with Bathsheba, his friend Nathan confronted him. When David realized the depth of what he had done, we are told that he confessed his sin to Nathan and to the LORD. As he often did, David then turned to his moleskine? to journal his thoughts.

We call David's moleskine the book of Psalms and this particular journal entry is most likely Psalm 51. You can see the Psalm in its entirety at the end of this post, but consider now what it can teach us about how to confess our sins to God:

Ask for Mercy

David wrote, "Have mercy on me, O God..." When we approach God, we should never carry a spirit of entitlement and we should never make demands. We should recognize that we are unworthy of his love and compassions and we are unable to cleanse ourselves.

Those who ask for mercy are those who have realized they need help. Only God can provide us with the righteousness we need, apart from Him and his purification, we are broken and lost souls. Thus we ask for mercy.

Acknowledge your sin

David wrote, "I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me." He made no excuses, he gave no reasons, he didn't try to rationalize his actions. He simply acknowledged that he had failed. Three words which are very difficult to speak are words we must all learn to say. "I was wrong."

I heard it once said that a heartfelt confession does not say, "I broke God's rules" but rather says, "I broke God's heart." Our sin has devastated God's creation and driven a wedge between our heart and God's. Only when we assume full responsibility for our sin can the healing process begin.

Accept purification

David wrote, "Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean. Wash me and I will be whiter than snow." Sin leaves a deep stain on our soul that we cannot get clean, but God washes us with the blood of Christ which purifies us from all unrighteousness.

Hyssop is a sponge like plant that was often used in the ancient world for bathing and cleaning. At the Passover, a hyssop plant was used to spread lamb's blood on the door posts so that the Death Angel would "pass over" the homes of God's people. Later, during tabernacle sacrifices, hyssop was used to sprinkle blood on the alter as a sign of confession and repentance. Moses' law also instructed Israelites to use a hyssop plant in some of the ceremonial cleansing ceremonies. Centuries later, a hyssop plant was used in one more ceremony. On the cross, Jesus said, "I thirst." His executioners provided him a hyssop plant which had been dipped in wine and vinegar.

When David said, "cleanse me with hyssop" he was undoubtedly looking back to Moses' law and the passover, but he was also unwittingly pointing ahead to the work of Jesus on the cross. Because of Jesus, 1 John 1:9 is true, "If we CONFESS our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to CLEANSE US from all unrighteousness."

Assume a new direction

David wrote, "Create in me a pure heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me." David assumed that his life post-confession would be very different than his life pre-temptation.

Once God cleansed him, his heart would be pure. He would learn to love what God loves and to love how God loves. He would desire and pursue  God's priorities instead of his own.

Once God cleansed him, his spirit would be right. He would be content with God's provision. He would find hope and joy in the promises of God rather than the offerings of the world.

True confession doesn't happen because we get caught. True confession happens because we want to change. When we acknowledge our sin and accept God's purification, our life will take a new, and far better direction.


Read the entire Psalm below:


Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

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