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Spiritual Growth Study Guide: Confession

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Confession Sermon

This is part of a complete study guide, including outlines (blank and filled) and a leaders guide.

I. Review

This spring we’re asking the question “What Does It Take To Grow?” There are seven non-negotiable, essential habits you must develop if you want to grow to maturity as a Christian.

    A. Seven Habits of Maturing Christians
      1. In order to grow we need to eat—The Bible
      2. In order to grow we need to breathe—Prayer
      3. In order to grow we need good spiritual hygiene—Confession of sin
      4. In order to grow we need a caring family—Fellowship
      5. In order to grow we need regular exercise—Service
      6. In order to grow we need protection—Temptation
      7. In order to grow we need to give—Stewardship
    B. Theme Verse: memorize it!

2 Pet 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

    C. Why don’t we mature?

I hope that you looked over the list of suggestions (from last week) to ratchet up your commitment in the area of prayer. If you’re like me, you may well have all sorts of good intentions, “I’m going to pray more this year, I’m going to spend time with God.” But your follow-through is probably lousy. Know what? You’re not alone!

George Barna, in his recent book, “Growing True Disciples, said this, “most believers say that their faith matters, but few are investing much energy in the pursuit of spiritual growth. We seem to possess an abundance of desire, but a dearth of commitment.”

His survey found that

18% of all believers surveyed said that their effort to grow spiritually is the single, most intense commitment in their life.

52% said that they work consistently to grow spiritually but with limited success.

Another 20% said that they work occasionally to grow spiritually but are not consistent.

The remaining 10% admitted that they are neither involved nor interested in growing spiritually.

What were their reasons Christians gave for not pursuing spiritual growth more passionately?

66% said they are just too busy to give the process the time it requires.

25% cited a general lack of interest or motivation to grow.

Here’s what Barna concluded. Christianity in America suffers from “a lack of passion to be godly.” “We’re all busy, and Jesus comes along and asks us to get serious about spiritual growth. What’s our response? We give intellectual assent to the idea, but when push comes to shove, our schedules are already bloated with other, more important tasks, opportunities and responsibilities. We have passion, but it is not a passion for the matters of God.”

    D. The Goal: That you will commit to the habits necessary for spiritual maturity.

If you’re here this morning and agreeing with Barna’s survey, I have one suggestion for you—get involved with a small group. Join a group of men, women, a Small Group and tell them where you need to work. Write out on a 3x5 card where your spiritual life needs an overhaul. Ask them to pray for you, walk with you, lovingly hold you accountable for growth and progress.

What Does It Take To Grow? Confession!

II. Introduction

I used to backpack regularly in the Salmo Wilderness area of Northern Washington. After hiking hard for 2 hours, there was nothing better than slipping out of your heavy pack next to a clear mountain stream and getting a drink of water. Once, while we were enjoying the delicious refreshment of the mountain stream, a friend was placing large boulders in the bottoms of our packs. 15 to 20 extra pounds! We came back after 10 minutes, slipped our packs back on, and commented on how heavy they always felt after a break. Our friend agreed! We hiked another 2 to 3 hours to our destination, and only after setting up camp did we realize that we’d been carrying unnecessary weight!

My fear is that many of you here this morning are also carrying unnecessary weight! Burdens on the inside that are slowing you down, weighing you down, bringing you down! Turn to page 670 in your pew Bible, Psalm 32. God has some answers for us…

III. God wants you to experience the incredible joy of being completely forgiven of every sin (1-2)

    A. God’s forgiveness includes every kind of sin imaginable

As I read verses 1 and 2, I want you to circle three words…

1 Oh, what joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!

2 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of sin,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

David uses three distinct words for sin in verses 1-2:

  • “rebellion” or breaking away from God,
  • “transgressions” or missing the mark, and
  • “iniquity,” that which is crooked, morally distorted.

He isn’t saying that God forgives these three distinct kinds of sins as much as He is saying God forgives all kinds of sins…

      1. Sins against God or against people
      2. Large sins or small sins
      3. Intentional sins or unintentional
      4. Sins of commission (doing what you shouldn’t) or omission (not doing what you should have)
    B. God’s forgiveness clears the guilty completely

David uses three distinct terms to describe God’s forgiveness in verses 1-2. I want you to put a box around the words for forgiveness:

1 Oh, what joy for those
whose rebellion is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!

2 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of sin,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

      1. God carries away your burden of guilt—removes it, forgets it
      2. God covers your shame—its defilement is no longer reason for shame, implies that He will never bring it up again
      3. God cancels your debt—nothing left for you to pay
      C. God’s forgiveness results in boundless joy!

1 Oh, what joy…

Do you want that? Maybe you’re here this morning with no joy. Weighed down with the guilt of your sins. Guilty, ashamed, a prisoner of your troubled conscience. Doesn’t have to go on that way! You can go free! You can know joy again!

D. Objections

You’re thinking, “If that were only true. It may be true for others, but it isn’t true for me. My sin is different. God’s forgiveness be extended to others, but not to me.”

The background of this Psalm is probably David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba, and then his murder of her husband Uriah. Adultery. Murder. David says that God has forgiven him of these things. If God can forgive David of these, why don’t you think he can forgive you of your sins? You may be thinking

    1. God can’t forgive me

What I've done is so horrible, it is inconceivable that He could ever forgive." I have a word from God for you.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. I Jn 1:9 (NIV)

Now if you are here today saying "God can't forgive me" that just makes one more thing God can and will forgive you for. God is not a liar. When He says He will forgive, he means it.

    2. God can’t forgive me again

I have done this sin so many times, that God by now is sick and tired of me coming to him over and over. God can't possibly forgive me again."

We think of God like someone on the other end of a phone. We have called him and called him about the same sin. Over and over and over again. And we are sure that if we call once more, He's going to yell into the phone, "YOU AGAIN!!!" and then slam down the receiver.

But notice again what the verse says, "If we confess our sins...He will forgive us our sins up to 10 times, up to 100 times, up to 1000 times." No. Is says that if we confess, He will forgive. Period.

    3. God can’t forgive me now

Maybe he'll be able to forgive me once I've proved to him how sorry I really am, how sincere I am this time to go straight. Once I have had opportunity to prove to God I mean business, then maybe he will forgive me."

So to demonstrate your sincerity you:

  • Tell God that you will go to church for 10 straight Sundays, even if it is snowing, even if you have a head cold.
  • Promise that if He will forgive you just once more, you will volunteer to work with the Youth Group this year as punishment.

But notice again what the verse says, "If we confess our sins..." It doesn't say "If we confess and give $100 a month; If we confess and pray an hour a day; If we confess and read 5 chapters a day for a year; If we confess and ..."

Sometimes we wait to come and confess our sins until we think we have a better case. I don’t know if that was in David’s heart, but he waited a year after his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. An entire year went by until he finally came and acknowledged to God his wrong.

No. God doesn’t say we need to prove our sincerity. God says that all we need to do is confess. What He will invariably do is to forgive. But what if we don’t confess? Look again at Psalm 32…

IV. Living with unconfessed sin results in sickness of body and soul (3-4)

I refused to confess my sin…” Is it hard to admit you’ve been wrong? Absolutely! So sometimes we stubbornly refuse to admit we are in the wrong. Pretend as though if enough time goes by, God will forget about it. Pretend as though it wasn’t that big of sin. Excuse, rationalize, justify. There are predictable consequences for refusing to confess your sins…

    A. You’ll lose your strength and peace

3 When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable…(lit. my bones wasted away.)

    B. You’ll lose your joy

3 When I refused to confess my sin…I groaned all day long.

    C. You’ll find no relief

4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

    D. You’ll be thwarted and frustrated, lasting success will always elude you

People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy. Proverbs 28:13

Sometimes, because the consequences of not confessing are so hard, we opt for a counterfeit confession. Let me run a few of them by you, and see if you’ve ever tried getting God off your back with any of these…

    E. Confession Counterfeits
      1. The Martyr’s confession—“OK, I sinned, so shoot me”

“God, I don’t really believe that what I did was that bad, but if you’re going to be so unreasonable and make me confess, well, just go ahead and strike me dead right here, right now!”

      2. The Politician’s confession, part 1—“Errors were made”

The passive voice negates the need for accepting any responsibility. This is like the captain of the Titanic getting on the P.A. system and announcing, “Icebergs were hit.” No one is responsible. And that isn’t confession!

      3. The Politician’s confession, part 2—“I’m sorry you took offense”

This pseudo-confession throws the blame on the offended party. “God, I can’t believe you were offended at my “French.” But if that bothered you, I’m sorry for the offense.” Not sorry that I did anything wrong, because I don’t believe I did!

      4. The Burglar’s confession—“I’m sorry I got caught”

Sometimes what sounds like a confession of wrongdoing is really just regret for getting caught. “God, I’m sorry” really means, “God, I’m sure sorry I got caught.”

      5. The POW confession—“I’ll mouth the words, but I won’t mean them”

This Is like the prisoners of war confessions that were coerced. They might have been saying the words with their mouths, but their hearts certainly weren’t in it. To get God off my back, I’ll say the words, but my heart isn’t in it, and I really don’t mean it at all.

      6. The Negotiator’s confession—“I’ll say I was wrong if you’ll cut me a deal”

“OK, God, I’ll give up my speeding and admit it was wrong if you’ll let me skip church twice a month. Deal?” That’s not confession. That’s just plea bargaining with the Almighty!

    F. Have you had enough yet?

Some of you here this morning have been trying to run from God, trying to run from your sin. Some of you here this morning have a temper that flares, and you strike out in anger at those you love—your spouse, your kids. And because you’ve refused to confess it for the sin it is, you’ve been wandering in the wilderness. It’s dry. It’s desolate. There’s a cancer eating at your soul. Have you had enough yet?

Some of you here this morning have been trying to run from God, trying to run from your sin. Some of you here this morning have been convicted by God about your adultery, but you don’t want to acknowledge it and confess it as sin. The doctor says he’s not sure why you can’t sleep at night, but you know. The doctor says your stomach problems are real puzzling, but you know. You’ve been wandering in the wilderness. It’s dry. It’s desolate. Have you had enough yet?

Transition: Refusing to confess leaves us miserable—sick in body and sick in soul. Counterfeit confessions are even worse. So what’s the answer?

V. The only way you can find the joy of forgiveness is through the humility of confession (5)

      A. Confession means I acknowledge ownership of my sins

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide them.

Did you catch whose sins they were? David’s sins. One essential part of confession is ownership—these are my sins. In verse 5, three times David acknowledges that these sins are his sins. Circle the phrases “my sins” “my rebellion” and “my guilt.”

  • Today I claim ownership of my sins
      B. Confession means I don’t disguise my sins

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide them.

There are all sorts of ways we try to hide our sins. We call them by all sorts of other names, “My Irish blood,” “The neighborhood I grew up in,” “If you had a boss like mine.” Confession means I quit rationalizing, explaining, justifying my sins. I rip the disguises off and call them what they are—sins!

  • It’s not flirting, it’s emotional adultery.
  • It’s not an intense discussion, with your teenage son, it’s verbal abuse.
  • It’s not one of the perks of the job, it’s stealing.
  • It’s not catching a few more winks, it’s laziness.
  • It’s not studying with friends, it’s cheating.
  • It’s not saving money on music, it’s stealing.
  • It’s not a platonic relationship, it’s adultery
  • Today I call my sins what they are—wrong.
      C. Confession means I come back to God on His terms.

5 I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

Who is it in verse 5 that David confesses his sins to? To the Lord. God is mentioned twice. The One David had been running from ignoring, is the One David finally comes back to. Confession always involves a return to reality about myself, about my sin, and about my God. Are you ready to do that? To come back?

  • Today I will come back to God on His terms.

VI. Those who confess their sin gain God’s help

      A. Those who confess their sins gain God’s complete forgiveness

5 I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

      B. Those who confess their sin gain God’s secure protection

6 Therefore, let all the godly confess their rebellion to you while there is time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.

7 For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble
You surround me with songs of victory.

  • Today I choose God’s protection rather than His judgment
      C. Those who confess their sin gain God’s wise guidance

8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.

9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

  • Today I choose God’s loving guidance rather than His harsh discipline
      D. Those who confess their sin gain God’s unfailing love

10 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.

  • Today I choose God’s unfailing love rather than sin’s unending sorrow
      E. Those who confess their sin gain God’s triumphant joy

11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

  • Today I choose God’s joyful victory rather than sin’s sad defeat

VII. Conclusion—The Seven A’s of Confession

Would you be willing to work your way through the steps of confession before this service is over? You may have come here this morning with unnecessary weight, unnecessary guilt, but you don’t have to leave the same way. The choice is yours…

    1. Address everyone involved

That may be just God. That may be others as well. You need to confess your wrong to everyone affected by your sin.

    2. Avoid ifs, buts, maybes

“God, I cheated on the test, but if You hadn’t let her paper be so visible, I don’t think I would have.” “God, I yelled at my mom, but she yelled right back at me too!” Dr. Tony Evans says, “If it contains an excuse, it isn’t a confession.”

    3. Admit specifically what you did wrong

It’s easy to hide behind vague generalities. Don’t do it. Identify your sinful attitudes (pride, selfishness, envy, greed, bitterness, ingratitude, stubbornness, etc.) and sinful actions.

    4. Acknowledge the hurt you’ve caused

Let God know you realize your sinful behavior has caused him pain.

    5. Accept the consequences

Tell God that you’re willing to bear the consequences of your sin. God may graciously let you off the hook. That’s his call, not yours.

    6. Alter your behavior

Proverbs 28:13 says we should confess and forsake our sin. Make a commitment that with God’s help, you won’t walk down this path again.

    7. Accept God’s forgiveness

If after confessing your sin, you find your conscience still plagued with guilt, that’s not from God. He says that if you confess, He will forgive. Receive it, believe it, accept it!

Related Topics: Teaching the Bible, Confession