What We Do When We Do Church – Confession of Sins

1 John 1:8-9

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Part 1 – Hymnody

Part 2 – Invocation

Part 3 – Baptism

You may have heard the expression, “confession is good for the soul.” It is apparently an old Scottish proverb that is almost always misquoted – or at least not fully quoted.

The quote actually is “Open confession is good for the soul.”

When it comes to the Confession of Sin in the Church there are two forms.

One is “Private Confession.”

The Explanation to Martin Luther’s Small Catechism says this about private confession:

Before the pastor or confessor we confess those sins which we know and feel in our hearts, especially those that trouble us.

Private confession is not a “Catholic” thing but rather a very comforting experience for all Christians who are distressed over particular sins.

The other form is “Corporate Confession.”

Corporate confession is what we do at the beginning of a worship service, especially if the Sacrament of the Altar (the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion) is celebrated.

It is “corporate” because we are all doing it together. In this form of confession, we would not articulate specific sins that are distressing us but rather make a public proclamation that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

When I have done something wrong and I feel sorry, I first go to the person I have wronged (if I have) and ask for their forgiveness. Usually that will be the end of it but if I continue to feel bad, I’ll go to my pastor and confess my sin to him. He usually follows this formula (it is also what I do as a pastor when someone comes to me):

A Short Form of Confession

The penitent says:

Dear confessor, I ask you please to hear my confession and to pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God’s will.

I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins. In particular I confess before you that as a servant, maid, etc., I, sad to say, serve my master unfaithfully, for in this and that I have not done what I was told to do. I have made him angry and caused him to curse. I have been negligent and allowed damage to be done. I have also been offensive in words and deeds. I have quarreled with my peers. I have grumbled about the lady of the house and cursed her. I am sorry for all of this and I ask for grace. I want to do better.

A master or lady of the house may say:

In particular I confess before you that I have not faithfully guided my children, servants, and wife to the glory of God. I have cursed. I have set a bad example by indecent words and deeds. I have hurt my neighbor and spoken evil of him. I have overcharged, sold inferior merchandise, and given less than was paid for.

If, however, someone does not find himself burdened with these or greater sins, he should not trouble himself or search for or invent other sins, and thereby make confession a torture. Instead, he should mention one or two that he knows:

In particular I confess that I have cursed; I have used improper words; I have neglected this or that, etc.

Let that be enough.

But if you know of none at all (which hardly seems possible), then mention none in particular, but receive the forgiveness upon the general confession which you make to God before the confessor.

Then the confessor shall say:

God be merciful to you and strengthen your faith. Amen.


Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?

Yes, dear confessor.

Then let him say:

Let it be done for you as you believe. And I, by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Go in peace.

[From the online version of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.]

Private confession is not something I use all the time. Usually, for me, Corporate Confession and then receiving the Sacrament of the Altar is enough. Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes.

Confessing our sins is good for the soul because it first helps us understand and remember that we are, on our own, lost and condemned people. But confessing our sins also leads directly to Absolution – the pronouncement of the reality of the forgiveness of our sins.

That’s what we’ll explore in our next devotion.


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