God intends confession to be a gift for you. A gift whereby you can be comforted in knowing that a specific sin has indeed been forgiven. That truth alone should help encourage you to confession! But when you get there, how should you begin? What should you confess? You are probably already going to be just a bit nervous, so how do you even begin to identify which of your sins has burdened you enough to drive you to confession?
There of lots of times where lots of Christians are content with saying, “I am a sinner.” They will say it by rote, knowing it is true and yet not examining the depths of what that means. Looking too closely at one’s own sin presses the already uncomfortable truth of the rote statement into the realm of the concrete . . . the actual . . . the measurable. Self-examination proves to them that not only are they generic sinners, but that they can actually name real, true, gross, and all-too apparent sins in their lives. Lots of Christians don’t like that, so they don’t do it.
But not you. You’re still reading this blog series on confession, so you want something more. You’re not content with the status quo, a generic faith, an unexamined life. You have purposed in your heart that you will bravely look into the dark shadows of your own soul and drag the ugliness you find there wriggling and fighting and biting into the open and kill it through confession. So . . . how do you do it? How do you examine yourself to find that sin?
I like to suggest that you first approach confession by establishing categories that you can use to examine your own conduct. Establishing some categories will benefit your self-examination by making it more methodical and less generic. You want to get to specifics, but remember that neither do you want to get bogged down in extremely minute details. So in general the broader the categories are, the better. You might consider categories such as “work, world, and family.” I personally grew up using the categories of “thoughts, words, and deeds.” If you’re troubled by a specific a personal sin, however, you might consider getting a little more specific with that one sin and develop some categories such as “avoiding temptation, resisting temptation, and thinking rightly.”
Whatever categories you choose for your own use, what you should do with them is reflect on how well (or indeed how poorly) you exhibited the character of Christ in each of those categories in the past week. This means not only did you actively resist evil, but did you actively pursue what is good? At your work, for instance: Did you refuse to join in the slanderous office gossip? And if so, did you slink away or did you make a specific effort to speak well of the person who was the target of such talk? Remember: It is just as much of a sin to omit good as it is to commit evil.
This process of actually looking for sin in your life will not be comfortable, I’ll admit. But it will be beneficial. As you examine more and more of your life, bringing the sin you find into the light where it can be seen in all its true ugliness, you will also see more and more of the cross of Christ. You will come to treasure the cross more, to more fully understand just how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Confession will be God’s gift to you.