- Father David M. Knight
Confession Is A Profession
Matthew reports that those who converted in response to the preaching of John the Baptizer “were
baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6).
Confession of sins is a characteristic Christian conversion.
We should not interpret this confession as some kind of psychological groveling in guilt or wallowing in self-accusation. The confession of sins appropriate to Christian conversion is in reality a profession of ideals. We make explicit what we reject as sin in order to make clear what we accept as the authentic norm of our behavior.
This profession is a profession of faith. Christian conversion is not just from the bad to the good. It is from the good to the Godlike. What the Christian turns away from is not just that level of behavior which all human beings should recognize as “bad,” but all behavior which is not according to the mind and heart, the attitudes and values, of Jesus Christ himself.
St. Paul instructs us to let our faith be our rule of life (Romans 14:22), and faith is simply union of mind with Christ, a sharing in the light of his own knowledge. To be converted to Christ is to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). It is to put on the “mind of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2: 16) and “acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking” (Ephesians 4:24). Authentic acceptance of Jesus can be nothing less than this.
What “confession of sin” means in an act of Christian conversion is that in the light of what we now see and accept as the ideal of graced behavior, we acknowledge that our former ideals and behavior have “fallen short.” (The New Testament word for “sin” is hamartia, to “miss” or “fall short”). Christian conversion is an upgrading of our moral standards, an acceptance of and surrender to the standards of Jesus himself. The essential element in this confession of sins is not that we condemn our past actions as bad, but that by doing so we profess our acceptance of the ideals of Jesus as good.
What we are really accepting is the person of Jesus.
A response to an event
The motivating force of Christian conversion is an event. “Reform your lives,” John preaches, because “the reign of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The starting point, the exciting force of the whole drama of Christian life in the world is the coming of Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus has come; because he has begun his reign and made it possible now for us to share his own divine Life, the radical transformation of Christian conversion is possible.
Christ's coming is an event with a promise: “He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.” We initiate our process of change because God has drawn near in Christ to invite us, to give us power and hope.
The Gospel is the “good news,” not the good advice. Good advice is something we are given to follow as best we can. But the Gospel is Good News, news of an event that gives us new hope, a hope based, not on what we are able to do of ourselves, but on an intervention of God in history.
The name of that intervention is “Jesus,” which means “God saves.”
(See A Change Within, Chapter One: “Accepting The Call To Conversion.”)
Question: Can you say your whole life is a response to the coming of Jesus Christ? In every confession of sin, are you aware of the profession of faith you are making?