I have attended many youth conferences where the speaker offers an invitation at the end of a lesson. At some of the conferences the speaker is really effective and it seems a combination of life circumstances and the Spirit of God ripping people’s hearts out causes people to go forward during the invitation and confess their sin asking for prayers. Now I think this is a good opportunity but I also believe this has been abused and turned into a completely different entity than what it started out as (I may blog on the origin and nature of the invitation at some other point). After the students and adults pour forward there usually is a person who will read their responses. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this said:
“I have not been the right person God wants me to be and I just need prayers.”
I applaud their effort to go forward which takes a lot of courage but on the other side I can make the above statement any second of the day. I have not been and never will be the right person God wants me to be. That is what sanctification is for. We will never arrive and say, “I am the right person and I am done” this side of eternity. So what is really occurring in that confession is that there is something else they are struggling with that they are not willing to share. This is an issue because, in my opinion, there is this pervasive thought pattern that all one has to do is “go forward” and confess a general sin to the church and suddenly God has wiped their slate clean. The colloquial term in the tradition I minister in is that this person has been “restored.”
I think what has happened is that we are confusing confession and repentance. Confession is the declaration that we have deviated from God’s path and are incapable of earning our salvation and therefore we desire to place our complete faith and hope in God who, through the gospel and work of the Holy Spirit, will forgive us our sins (see Ps. 51:3-4; Eph. 2:1-10; 1 John 1:9). Repentance is the process in which we reorient ourselves to the good news God has offered to/for us. Peter demanded the Jews at Pentecost to turn (repenance; μετάνοια metanoia) from their old ways and be baptized (Acts 2:38). In the Old Testament the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב shuv (to return) and נחם nicham (to feel sorrow). In Amos 4 God sent all kinds of disasters to the people of God but was amazed because they did not return (shuv) to him.
What’s the point? True biblical repentance is not centered only in the act of confession. An alcoholic can confess that they are drunks every single Sunday but until they stop picking up that bottle they will never understand repentance.
I believe confession and repentance are two different animals. Confession is important but let’s not forget the dirty work of coming clean and sanctification.