We must be intense, honest, and urgent concerning our sin before our Holy God if we are serious about our sanctification.
Having been in the Marine Corps, I know about acronyms and abbreviations! There’s NavPers, Navair, HaveElex. There is also AWOP, AWM, MiniComp. We see acronyms all around us too. They’re in church life – WBC, MABC, NASB, KJV and so on. There are still more when we consider theological subjects. Ever here of TULIP? Theologically that does not refer to a flower! The point is that acronyms and abbreviations abound. But what does IHU mean? And how does that impact or even relate to my prayer life? Lets return to Nehemiah and see if we can discover the answer to these questions.
After becoming concerned about the problem, and expressing his conviction about God’s character, Nehemiah is now moved to admit his sin and the sins of his people in verses 6-7:
“Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees, and laws you gave your servant Moses.”
It’s one thing to be concerned about a problem. To have a firm conviction about God’s character is important in one’s prayer life. It’s another thing to actually confess. Many of us never get this far. We might feel bad about our sins or be concerned about how things are going. Our theology may even be correct. We know things are bad and that God is good but we hesitate at this next step. Nehemiah boldly asks God to hear his prayer, which literally means, “to hear intelligently with great attention.” I see at least three key ingredients in his confession of sin.
Overwhelmed by concern about sin and in awe of God’s character, Nehemiah gave himself to prolonged petition and intercession. He prayed day and night, spending every moment of time in God’s presence. This is very similar to Psalm 88:1 where we read, “O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you.”
Nehemiah made no attempt to excuse the Israelites for their sin and actually owned his part in their culpability. He surveyed the grim record of Israel’s past and present failure, and he knew that he was not exempt from blame. Notice that he prays, “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself…we have acted very wickedly…we have not obeyed…” This is remarkable to me. It would have been easy for Nehemiah to look back and blame his ancestors but instead he looked within and blamed himself. It’s so easy for us to blame others, isn’t it? We need to learn from Nehemiah and confess honestly, “Lord, I am wrong. I not only want to be part of the answer, I confess that I’m part of the problem.”
Nehemiah recognized that sin is not merely a stubborn refusal to obey certain rules, but is also a defiant act of aggressive personal rebellion against a holy God. He knows that they “have acted very wickedly.” He didn’t try to candy-coat his sin. He owned it and called it what it was. He was emphatic about this to the point of urgency. How urgent is your confession of your sin to our God?
Trying to hide our sins from God is impossible. He knows all about them. When we confess our sins we are not sending a list of particular sins upward. If that was true, we would have a problem if we forgot one particular sin. No, when we confess we are agreeing with God that we are sinners. In fact, in the oft cited promise of 1 John “If we confess our sins… He will cleanse us of all unrighteousness” the word homolegeo is the word translated as “confess”. This word means to “speak the same word”. The idea behind this is to agree.
So when I confess my “sins” to God, I am agreeing with Him that I am a sinner and I affirm my faith in Him, His promises, and His word. We must be intense, honest, and urgent concerning our sin before our Holy God if we are serious about our sanctification.
Do you remember the publican and the Pharisee? Remember how the Pharisee listed his accomplishments? Remember how proud he was? Compare that with the publican who simply said “have mercy on me a sinner!” Jesus said then that the publican went away justified not the Pharisee. Our long list of accomplishments – regardless of how wrapped they are in spirituality, are useless if we are dishonest with God concerning ourselves.