How to Root Out Sin: The Importance of Examination of Conscience and Confession
Examination of conscience. Is that ever something we really want to do? Despite our judgment of Pinocchio for ignoring his conscience, Jimmy Cricket, we often want to stifle ours. We focus on the good intentions, the excuses we have, the pressure we were under, and often pledge to just “move forward well” without repenting of what we are determining to move forward from.
But we know it matters. We certainly think other people should examine themselves, we, or maybe just me, in the quiet of my heart, tend to think that I am the exception. Because again, I know my strengths and weaknesses, I know how particularly hangry I was in the moment I lashed my tongue in anger, I know the provocation I was under, how long I resisted, the edge of my patience. But rarely, if ever, do I give others the same benefit of the doubt.
As GK Chesterton said, we don’t differ on what we call sin, we differ on what sins we think are excusable.
Practically, my sins are excusable and your sins are not.
But as Christians, we believe that, while sin might grieve God differently, all sin is sin. All sin separates us from our holy God. Each and every “little” sin is so detrimental that it requires the precious blood of Christ.
So recognizing the high price with which we have been redeemed and working to separate ourselves and repent from sin and embrace the holy life we are called to should be central to our lives.
Hebrews 10 makes it clear that all Christians are called to cast off sin and live holy lives, undefiled by the sins we knew previously, “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27 RSVCE).
St. John makes it clear in his first epistle that confession of sin is necessary for forgiveness. But of course, we are not left alone in this. God desires us to be holy, and He will equip us with all we need to respond to His call. One of the benefits of the Holy Spirit coming upon us was the conviction of our sin.
If you desire to truly examine your life and repent of sin, invite the Holy Spirit in to help you.
It is crucial when we are trying to see truths about ourselves that we have both the eyes of God’s holiness awakening our hearts and also the comfort of His mercy.
Satan accuses the believers, pointing out our sins and failures, leaving us knowing that we are insufficient. By contrast, the Holy Spirit’s conviction is never to leave us wallowing. It is imbued with the love of God that always hopes, always believes, and always perseveres. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, it is always to show us that the price has been paid and that, like the Prodigal Son, we need just turn from our ways and start the journey home to be met by our loving Father, eager to rejoice with us.
Nothing has opened my eyes to the true nature of my sin like the Holy Scriptures. Hebrews 4 tell us that the Word of God is living and active. It reveals the contents of our hearts to us. When we see the perfect law of God presented over and over again, we see where we fall short. When we wonder how the Israelites could turn, again and again, from God, we see our own fickle nature that quickly slips into apathy and rebellion.
The New Testament also reminds me just how short I fall of being the person God created me to be.
The Sermon on the Mount shows how often I try to justify myself by my actions and just how far I fall short. If I need more of a reason not to justify my minor sins, I am given one in several of the epistles:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, RSVCE
Greed and adultery, reviler and idolatry, drunkard and sexually immoral, all put in the same category. No sin is excused or lesser. It is all indicative of life before, life apart from the saving work of Jesus.
But they were all also given hope. Because the God who calls us to sin no more is also ready to wash, sanctify, and justify us.
We need to be eager to embrace this call to invite the Holy Spirit to root out the sin in our life. Confession of sin is central to the Christian life. It is an avenue of healing for our bodies and souls.
James 5 tells us, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16 RSVCE).
If, like me, you are Catholic, make it a habit to avail yourself of the grace available to you in the sacrament of Reconciliation. There is true grace available for you. Never in my life has the mercy of God been more overwhelming than in the words of absolution and the knowledge that Jesus didn’t just suffer and die for vague sins but, in an incredibly personal way for my specific sins.
My sins are grave but His mercy for me is great.
If you are not Catholic, I encourage you to wrestle with this passage and its application in your life. Find an accountability partner, friend, family member, or someone you can be honest with who can encourage and hold you accountable. While we may have different theology on what this looks like, Scripture makes it clear that actually confessing our sins to someone else, not just in prayer to God, is part of His plan for believers.
His plan for us is good and gracious. Awareness of our sin should never move us to despair but should always move us to realize the deep mercy and love of God displayed through the sacrifice of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
As far as the East is from the West, He has removed your sin. He has promised that, if we confess our sins, He will be faithful and just. He will forgive us. He will wash us and sanctify us.