"If we confess our sins, then He is faithful and just to us, and will forgive us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness". 1 John 1:9.
It's been interesting being back in a church these past few months, going through a set service of prayers and thanksgiving before the ministry of the word, especially focusing upon our need for grace at the end of what is often difficult weeks.
The aim here is actually very simple. It's to bring us back to the focal-point of our faith... to allow us to see once again what Christ has done and what that means for us as we face the realities of a life which can often seem so far from God and what He intends.
Some people 'read' all this the wrong way round. They take the verse I've quoted above as a pretext for believing that it is their action (in confession and repentance) that is the thing of value, and not the essential work of Christ alone, that this is meant to bring us to, which counts. It's a tragic mistake, because it means that being right with God becomes dependent upon what we say and do, not what He has already accomplished.
Robert Farrar Capon puts it like this:
"All real confession (that is not just a fudging of our own crooked books) is subsequent to forgiveness. Only when, like the prodigal, we are finally confronted with the unqualified gift of someone who died*, in advance, to forgive us, no matter what, can we see that confession has nothing to do with getting ourselves forgiven. Confession is not a transaction, not a negotiation in order to secure forgiveness; it is the 'after' - the last gasp of the corpse (us) - our finally accepting we're dead and accepting His resurrection.
Forgiveness surrounds us...
we only confess to wake ourselves to what we already have".
(Parables of Grace).
It's our realizing that what was ours in the moment He saved us on the cross makes us forgiven 'before, during and after' our sins, because all of this is resolved solely because there is a forgiver, who has acted to forgive, freely and completely, and we are buried and raised into that in our union (baptism) with Christ.
The entire aim is reconciliation, and our moments of confession are to lead us to the one who has brought that peace through the blood of His cross.
so go and call your neighbor
proceed with all due haste
go grab your wife and sweet family
see there is no time to waste
we're gonna drink out of that fountain
on a hill called double cure
i wanna show you my allegiance Lord
yes i wanna be a son of Yours
ask me why i love Him
He gave riches to this poor
yes and i will one day see that face
over yonder shore
Lyrics from 'Double Cure' by Vigilantes of Love.
(*Most of us don't see a 'death' in this parable, aside from the fatted calf, but as Capon shows, there are several - his book is worth reading just for the insights here, but there are many more).