We can’t ignore our need of confession.
John Wesley defined sin as a willful transgression against the known law of God. The Church of the Nazarene teaches that if we sin unintentionally or unknowingly, we are not responsible for that sin. Should we still confess it?
Before we tackle that question, let’s note that by discriminating between intentional sin and unintentional sin, Wesley affirmed the Apostle John’s teaching that we do not commit intentional “sin every day in word, thought, and deed” (1 John 5:18).
Still, while we can sing “Victory in Jesus,” we must acknowledge that when we are tempted, we are free by God’s grace to choose to commit, or not commit, intentional sins.
As Wesleyans, we know that we must confess our intentional sins. James teaches, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16a). John writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
But what about those “unintentional sins?” Are we required to confess and seek forgiveness for them?
The Old Testament Levitical law certainly took them seriously. Appropriate sacrifices were established for the atonement not only for voluntary sins, but also for involuntary sins: “When anyone is unfaithful to the Lord by sinning unintentionally in regard to any of the Lord’s holy things, they are to bring to the Lord as a penalty a ram from the flock. . . . If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible. They are to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock” (Leviticus 5:15, 17–18a).
Thankfully, we can be forgiven, as the Apostle John reminds us: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One" (1 John 2:1–2).
However, we may fail to remember that we must also humbly address and confess our unintentional sins to God and to each other. This Christmas season, as we celebrate Immanuel, God is with us, we humbly bow at the Lord’s feet.
Here is a confessional prayer that my wife and I have used in recent times of prayer.
Lord, we worship You as our savior and our deliverer. You are the Victor over sin and death in our world and in our lives. We are totally dependent on You. We are the branches attached to You, our living vine. Every moment we need the redemptive work of Your death and the work of Your grace.
We desire to become like You in word, thought, and deed; however, we confess that at times our lives fall short of Your glory. As humble pilgrims on this highway of holiness, we have not always lived the way You have told us to live.
As You were tempted, Lord, we are also tempted to live for the flesh, to seek power, and to live for the approval of others. Forgive us for the wrong things we have done and for the good things we failed to do. Forgive us for not truly trusting and obeying You, which lead us to self-pity, fear, and worry.
We confess that at times we are selfish and proud, ignoring You, Lord, and neglecting others. Fill us with Your love that we may forgive others as You have forgiven us. We confess that we have not loved You, Lord, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we have not loved those around us as we love ourselves.
Baptize us with Your holy love, cleansing our hearts from all that displeases You. Father, through the redeeming death of Your Son on the cross, and by the Holy Spirit’s constant infilling and cleansing, we pray You will deliver us from evil, for Your name’s sake. Amen.
Jerry D. Porter is general superintendent emeritus in the Church of the Nazarene.
Please note: This article was originally published in 2016. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.