Confession of sin is vital in the Christian life. It plays a powerful role in our coming to terms with ourselves and our sin, and in our attempts to reconcile ourselves with those we have wronged: ourselves, our neighbors and our God. But confession, it turns out, is far more than repentantly making our sin known to others.
Throughout the Confessions, Augustine takes our notion of confession and raises it to a new level, replacing our emphasis upon sin with a much more appropriate accent: the grace and mercy of God. His confession of sin, in other words, is only the harmony to a far greater and more powerful melody: the saving work of God. It is only the latter which provides the context in which the former has its place and meaning. But such a reworking of confession suggests the possibility of yet higher levels within that doctrine, the highest of all being: in what ways, if any, is confession related to the being and act of God, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
The Father eternal speaks forth the Son – an act that we might re-characterize as the Father eternal confessing the Son, telling forth the truth about himself in the eternal Word. If that is the case, then our confession as telling forth the truth of God finds its basis in the far greater, the complete act of the Father from eternity telling forth the truth about himself in the person of his Son. This act of truth-telling continues in the act of creation, with God confessing the goodness of creation, culminating in the confession that it is “very good.”
The sin of humankind, when viewed from this standpoint, takes the form of judging goodness (and evil) for ourselves (Gen. 3), rather than confessing the goodness and lordship of God. The history of sin is a history of judgments and false confessions, a smorgasbord of ways to avoid confessing the truth about God. In Christ, God makes our situation his own, confessing the truth about God, ourselves as sinners, and ourselves as God’s children. The incarnation, death and resurrection is thus God’s giant project of confession.
And because the Christian life is a participation in the life of God, it is a participation in this project of confession. Through Christ, we have a creaturely participation in the confession of the truth of God which is a participation in the very life of God (as the Father eternally confesses for the Son). And because the truth of God includes the fact that he has been sinned against, and taken sin into his own hands in Christ, confession now includes the truth about sin: our own, and that of our people. But first and foremost, confession is itself a participation in the life of God, speaking forth the truth about him—the present anticipation of the salvation to come.
Why does this matter? Why bind confession into the very life of God and the salvation we await? Because confession is more than a means to an end. It is more than a ladder (or hurdle) to restored relationships. It is so much more than something we desperately avoid but succumb to at last resort in our feeble grasp at dignity and honor. Confession of sin, and above all the confession of God within which confession of sin takes place, is itself the eternal life offered us in Christ, the reality for which we long.