Beckett: Confession – What Do I Confess?

What sins should we confess? “Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts” (Small Catechism).

Unlike the Papacy, we do not require that a penitent make full enumeration of sins since it is an impossible and fruitless endeavour. The confession given during public Confession & Absolution in the Divine Service, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You,” etc., as well as the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us our trespasses”) are a sufficient confession for the full enumeration of your sins to be forgiven since not a single drop of Christ’s blood fails to cover any sin. Private Confession & Absolution is reserved for those sins “which at the time are oppressing and frightening the conscience” (LW 35:20).

Christians should take full advantage of private Confession & Absolution whenever their conscience is burdened with sin, for when the devil uses your conscience against you to tell you that you are not worthy of Christ’s forgiveness, the words from the pastor as from Christ Himself throw these lies of the devil into the trash where they belong. That is why Luther viewed private Confession & Absolution in high esteem, saying, “Because private absolution is derived from the office of the keys, we should not neglect it but value it highly, just as all the other offices of the Christian church” (SA III VIII, 2). Go to your local shepherd, therefore, who will lead you beside still waters to drink from Christ’s bottomless well of forgiveness (Psalm 23:1-2; John 4:14).


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