When we come to God, we don’t have to wonder whether or not he’ll forgive. It’s not like he is standing far off, waiting to hear our confession before he decides to be merciful. He has proven himself merciful, since the beginning of time and climaxing in the death and resurrection of his Son. After all, we are not forgiven because of anything we’ve done or haven’t done, confessed or haven’t confessed. We’re forgiven because God loves us and delights in showing mercy toward us.
Recently I visited a church with my brother. It’s a reformed congregation that uses liturgy to guide and structure its service. When we got to the time of confession and assurance, I was struck by something unexpected: this part of the service was “backwards.” The pastor read the words of assurance first, and then came the time for confession.
In the church I grew up in, the confession part always came first. After singing or hearing Scripture about the glory of God, we would spend a moment of reflection looking inward and confessing where we did not match up. Then we’d hear a passage of Scripture assuring us of our pardon. Nothing necessarily wrong with this confession.
However, at this church I was visiting, we started out with assurance. We looked right in the face of who God is—his mercy, his abundant grace, his willingness to forgive. And from there we confessed, both corporately and privately, the ways we fail to love God and neighbor. And then came the assurance.
Why? Because God’s assurance of pardon is the basis for our confession.