Obviously, that statement has stuck with me all these years; indeed, it was a beginning-place for my ongoing consideration of what constitutes right, healthy, biblical worship. For many, however, my friend's statement seems unreasonable, or even perhaps mistaken. Confessing our sin week by week may strike us as off-putting and even offensive. Why DO we confess our sin in worship every week?
I believe there are a number of good reasons to do so. Here I'd like to offer a brief glimpse of some of them.
We confess our sin because we can see a clear biblical pattern of confession in worship. Throughout the Bible, those who worship do so with confession of their sin readily on the tips of their tongues. As we read the Psalms, which was the hymnal and prayer book for the Old Testament church, we see that most of them contain a strong element of lament for sin. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He included a clear prayer of confession and request for forgiveness. Worship that is guided by the Bible, and not simply by preference, includes confession of sin.
We confess our sin because we recognize God's glory and, therefore, our sin. Every week our worship service begins with open and abundant praise to God. This is right! God is glorious and worthy of all of our praise— indeed, He is worthy of even more praise than we are able to give. If we honestly acknowledge God's glory and worthiness for praise, it should be a natural response to that to confess our own sin. The light of God's glory shines into the dark corners of our lives, and exposes who we really are.
We confess our sin because we are told, in Scripture, to approach God in worship with a humble spirit. The Psalmist wrote, "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Psalm 66:18). Likewise James, the brother of Jesus, tells us that, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6) and therefore urges Christians, "humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you" (4:10). Pride keeps us from confession of sin; humility is required for forgiveness.
We confess our sins because we have them! No one— believer or unbeliever— is without sin. Christians don't stop sinning; we simply grow in our awareness of it and honesty about it. John the apostle, writing to believers, said, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). He was including himself, and all of the other believers, in this active and present-tense declaration. We have sins, and we must confront that fact— not with effort or desire to improve in our own strength, but with reliance upon God's grace, mercy, and strength.
We confess our sin because we have been promised forgiveness, assurance, and deliverance of it. Those who are believers are not only called to confession, but are promised assurance of pardon of the sins we confess. John immediately followed the verse above with this promise: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Not only are promised forgiveness, but also that God Himself will work in response to our confession to give us more righteousness.
We confess our sin because we are bound together in it. Sometimes the specific confessions of sin that we use may describe particular sins that we do not directly struggle with; yet, because we are bound together in Christ, and because we are commanded to bear one another's burdens, then we confess our own participation in the sins of our brothers and sisters. This is one reason why public and corporate confession is so vital: it encourages and enforces a solidarity with one another that the Bible tells us is necessary for our individual and corporate spiritual growth.
One of my favorite writers on Christian worship described confession of sin in this way:
"…Worship must include recognition of our sin. This is difficult for our age, but without it our worship lacks integrity. It is a matter of honesty. God is offended by sin, and yet he accepts sinners… Honesty demands that when we approach God sin be confessed. Otherwise we have an uneasy conscience about it, and, even worse, we compromise the holiness of God."
(Hughes Oliphant Old, Leading in Prayer: a workbook for worship [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995], p. 79.)