KEY THOT: Grace releases God's forgiveness and cleansing in our heart through confession. The psalmist asserts that "if I had cherished (keep quiet by not acknowledging) iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (v.18). The on-going debate and discussion on the necessity of confession of our sin reflects our confusion between what God has done for us through Christ and what God is doing in us through His Spirit. What God has done for us is an eternal fact: "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:9-10).
Jesus' death and resurrection is not just a historical event taking place at a point in human history. From God's timeless perspective, the Cross is an eternal fact applicable to all people at all time: past, present and future. We don't have to be born "after Christ" to benefit from the grace revealed through Christ's work at the Cross.
So, whether one is born before the historical event of the Cross or after makes little difference: the same grace is available to OT saints as it is to NT saints. While the OT saints and everyone who lived before Christ's appearing had only types and shadows of the reality revealed at Christ's appearing, they nevertheless were able to experience God's grace through faith the way we NT saints experience. So, the psalmist was able to experience God's forgiveness and cleansing through his confession of sin just as we do--in lieu of Christ's atoning sacrifice taking place 1,000 years after his time.
But what God is doing in us is an existential truth: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:9-10). The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. He takes the eternal fact of God's forgiveness offered at the cross and applies it to the individual's heart that believes the fact. This personal experience of God's eternal fact is our existential experience as God's truth in us as revealed by the Spirit.
The psalmist says that if "I had cherished in my heart"--that is, not acknowledging it as sin and not confessing it before God--then "the Lord would not have listened" (v.18) because the unconfessed sin blocks our communication between us and God. It's like when husband and wife have hurt one another and there is no confession (acknowledging of the wrong) nor asking for forgiveness--the unforgiven hurt undermines intimacy and transparency in communication.
The purpose of confession is not to secure forgiveness from God, for that is available to anyone who believe. The purpose of confession is for the cleansing of the defiled heart, so that it can be pure before God. Jesus says in one of the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8). It is interesting that the Greek root for "pure" (katharos) is the same as the one used in 1 John 1:9 as "cleansed (katharizo) from all unrighteousness". If we want to "see God" we will have to stay pure (cleansed) and the Scripture's prescription to staying pure is not staying sinless but staying cleansed through confession.
But if we don't confess, we are not cleansed. And if we are not cleansed, we are not pure in heart. And if we are not pure in heart, we cannot see God, for the accumulated sins will ultimately block our transparency and intimacy with God. The only way we can continue to discern God's presence in our lives is to live with a pure/cleansed heart by confession of our sin. Jesus himself (speaking as God) taught us to include confession in our daily prayer: "Forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sinned against us" (Mt. 6:12). Anyone who teaches otherwise is undermining Jesus' authority as God.
But what is confession? In Greek it is homologeo, which means literally, to agree with God that what we have done is sin (homo-same; logeo-speak): "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge" (Psalms 51:4). But when we do not confess, we are saying we do not agree with God that what we've done is sin. That we have not sinned: "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:10).
Father, help us to stay pure through confession that we might agree with You that what we have done is sin and needs to be cleansed from our heart. Amen.