Confession is good for the soul. And Absolution is better.

We carry our sins around like weights. Sometimes it even feels like our sins are going to pull our hearts down into our guts. Confessing our sins releases this weight, or at least it starts to. Perhaps you’ve experienced this. I hope you have. You voice, out loud, in the presence of another person, a sin that has been troubling your conscience. And you start to feel lighter. James says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (5:16). I suppose we feel that relief because the other person doesn’t condemn us. They don’t punch us in the face. They don’t turn and walk away. Also, God doesn’t send a lightning bolt from heaven to strike us dead. At least for now, God doesn’t punish us. The absence of condemnation feels a little bit like absolution. Confession is good for the soul.

And absolution is better. Absolution is the proclamation of forgiveness. When we confess our sins, God doesn’t stay silent. He doesn’t just let it go by. But he responds with the gracious and glorious promise: “I forgive you.” If we experience a little bit relief when we confess our sins and nothing bad happens, how much greater when we confess our sins and God completely forgives them! So we retain the practice of absolution, even private absolution. The Augsburg Confession says,

“Our churches teach that private absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession. For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible. ‘Who can discern his errors?’ (Psalm 19:12)” (Augsburg Confession, Article XI).

We might think that private confession and absolution is “too Catholic.” That’s the genetic fallacy. Just because Roman Catholics do something does not mean it’s wrong. If we avoid everything Rome has, we wouldn’t have art, music, buildings, the creeds, or even the Bible. Rome isn’t wrong about everything. The Reformation wasn’t about throwing everything out and starting over. It was about reforming things that needed reforming. So we reformed the practice of private absolution, but we did not discard it. Rome teaches that, in order for a sin to be forgiven, it must be confessed. But the reformers pointed out that it’s impossible to even know all our sins. Rome also teaches that we must do works of satisfaction before absolution is received. But we teach that forgiveness comes through the blood of Christ, so our works can never merit forgiveness. So we do not require private confession and absolution, but we encourage it, because it is biblical and it is good for the soul. And there are no strings attached.

You can confess your sins to any Christian, and any Christian can declare God’s forgiveness to you. For the sake of good order, we usually go to the pastor for confession and absolution. A pastor should know that he’s supposed to absolve you when you confess, and he has already vowed not to gossip about your confession. So you should have confidence that a pastor knows how to handle your confession.

Sometimes confession is formal, and sometimes informal. If you want it to be formal, we can go in the sanctuary and you can kneel at the altar. I’ll offer you a form you can follow, or you can make your confession before God in your own words. Then I will declare God’s forgiveness to you. Other times it is more informal. We might be visiting in the office, your home, or a hospital room. And you might just say what’s on your heart. You might not even realize you’re starting confession. But I will hear your confession before God and pronounce his forgiveness to you.

I suppose the biggest objection to this practice is, “Only God can forgive sins.” Jesus received this objection too (Mark 2:7). But he is God, and he does have authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). God is always the one who forgives sins, and no one can forgive sins without his authority. So Jesus gave his Church the authority to forgive sins on earth (see Matthew 16:13-19; 18:15-20; and especially John 20:19-23). For this reason, we retain the practice of private absolution, and I encourage you to make use of it.

God wants to forgive your sins. Jesus has already atoned for them with his holy and precious blood. He wants this promise to be spoken over you, and he wants you to know it is true: your sins are forgiven.

The peace of Christ be with you all,

Pastor Dan Antal