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After expressing adoration, we must come with hearts of confession. Remember that we have no right to come before God at all, apart from the finished work of Christ. We can make no claim, in and of ourselves, to the ear of God. We have no intrinsic right to his presence. The Scriptures tell us that God is too holy to even look at sin. God delights in the prayers of the righteous, but we are not very righteous in our daily lives. Nevertheless, the God we serve invites us into his presence in spite of our sin.

In our study of the Lord’s Prayer, we have already considered some of the important elements of confession. As the model prayer indicates, confession is to be a normal part of our conversation with God. Confession is not a frivolous matter to be engaged in only at appointed times and dates throughout the year. Confession should be a daily activity for the Christian, whose entire pilgrimage is characterized by the spirit of repentance. The principal reason why confession must be on a daily basis is because our sins are committed on a daily basis against divine law. We do things we ought not to do and leave undone those things God commands us to do. We run up a daily indebtedness before God. Consequently, our daily prayers must include genuine acts of confession.”

“Confession is like a declaration of bankruptcy. God requires perfection. The slightest sin blemishes a perfect record. All the “good deeds” in the world cannot erase the blemish and move us from imperfection to perfection. Once the sin has been committed, we are morally bankrupt. Our only hope is to have that sin forgiven and covered through the atonement of the one who is altogether perfect.

When we sin, our only option is repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness. We must come before God in contrition. David put it this way:

You do not delight in sacrifice. . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17, NIV)

Here David’s profound thoughts reveal his understanding of what many Old Testament persons failed to grasp–that the offering of sacrifices in the temple did not gain merit for the sinner. Sacrifices pointed beyond themselves to the perfect Sacrifice. The perfect atonement was offered by the perfect Lamb without blemish. The blood of bulls and goats does not take away sin. The blood of Jesus does. To avail ourselves of the atonement of Christ, to gain that covering, requires that we come before God in brokenness and contrition. The true sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

There was an important element of surprise in David’s experience of forgiveness. He had begged God to wash away his sin and to make him clean. In a certain sense, forgiveness must never be a surprise. We should never be surprised when God keeps his word. In 1 John 1:9, God tells us that if we confess our sins, he will be faithful to forgive those sins. God keeps his promises; man does not. God is the covenant Maker; we are covenant breakers.

Looking at the issue from another perspective, however, we ought to be surprised every time we experience forgiveness. We ought never to take God’s mercy and forgiveness for granted, even though we live in a culture that does. It is terrifying to consider the ease with which we take God’s grace for granted. I occasionally ask collegians, seminarians, seminary professors, and ministers the questions, “Is God obligated to be loving? Is he bound to forgiveness and grace?” Again and again their answers are in the affirmative: “Yes, of course, it’s God’s nature to be loving. He’s essentially a God of love. If he didn’t show love, he wouldn’t be God. If God is God, then he must be merciful!”

He must be merciful? If God must be merciful, then his mercy is no longer free or voluntary. It has become obligatory; if so, then it is no longer mercy, but justice. God is never required to be merciful. As soon as we think God is obligated to be merciful, a red light should flash in our brains, indicating that we are no longer thinking about mercy, but about justice. We need to do more than sing “Amazing Grace”–we need to be repeatedly amazed by grace.

Adapted from R.C. Sproul’s small book Does Prayer Change Things?.

Please visit and read the full post here: The Practice of Prayer (pt. 3)