Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Daniel 9: Two Kinds of Confession

Dan 9:4-7 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 
"Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame — the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you." 

It's interesting that despite God's promise given in Jeremiah that the Jews would return after 70 years in exile, nevertheless, Daniel initiated this divine promise through his prayer of confession: "I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed" (9:4). The word "confess" has now divided the Body of Christ into two theological camps: those who hold that "confession" has to do with human sins and those who insist that that we longer need to confess our sins, only God's righteousness. The same word "confess" now means different things, depending on which church you go to on Sunday.

Daniel is one OT saint whom the angel Gabriel called "highly esteemed" (NIV), "greatly loved" (ESV), "greatly beloved" (NKJV), "great value" (NET), and "very precious" (NLT). Obviously Daniel was someone greatly favoured by God--yet he found it necessary to confess not only positively (God's righteousness) but also negatively (his and his people's sinfulness):
  • Positive Confession ("O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love"): Daniel's confession is firstly focused on the Lord and what He has done for His people. The Lord is the "great and awesome God" who is faithful because He "keeps his covenant of love with all who love him". Further down in his prayer, he also confesses that the Lord is "righteous", and as the God who "brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand". So, the first dimension of Daniel "confession" is God-centred and focused on His divine attributes or power, love, faithfulness and righteousness. But that's not all there is about Daniel's confession. There is another dimension that needs equal emphasis--the confession of our weakness and disobedience which forms the bulk of his prayer.
  • Negative Confession ("we have sinned and done wrong"): As much as we wish Daniel has not prayed so "negatively" and focused so much on the sins of his people, his "confession" would be lopsided if he did not admit his and his people's sins. Those who hold to only "positive" confession feel that such confession will make us sin-conscious and guilt-conscious. But such confession is endorsed by none other than the Lord Jesus in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector when he commended the tax collector who prayed: "God have mercy on me, a sinner!" 
From my personal experience of bringing hundreds of sinners and saints through the prayer of confession and repentance, I have come to the conclusion that what is perceived as "negative" action actually turns out to have very positive outcome--a transformed persons who are refreshed and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Those who claim that confession of sins will lead to guilt and condemnation don't know what they are talking about. That is why I believe 1 John 1:9 is still valid for the church today because the fruit of confession is not guilt and condemnation but cleansing and righteousness: "If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]" (Amplified Bible.)

While we should encourage positive confession to build faith, we cannot ignore negative confession to bring about genuine repentance--a change of attitude towards immoral and unethical behaviour. One of the danger I observe of not emphasizing negative confession is the absence of shame when unethical acts are committed by positive confessors. When we have violated God's moral and ethical standards contained in His Word (e.g. dishonesty, adultery, theft, accounting frauds, or speaking hurtful words, etc), we ought to feel ashamed of our actions: "Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame" (9:7). We justify our lack of shame theologically--that we have been delivered from guilt. Just because we feel no shame does not mean we are right before God. In fact, true Christians should experience godly sorrow whenever they sin because "godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation" (2 Cor 7:10, ESV). And in this context, Paul is referring to the Christians at Corinth, not to Gnostic pagans.

May we learn to "confess" holistically like Daniel--positively about God's righteousness and negatively about our sinfulness.

Thank You Father because of the Cross, we can always receive forgiveness of our sins and be purified from all unrighteousness the moment we admit freely our sins. Amen.

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