Psalm 38 TALK: A General but Personal Confession for those who are suffering because of their sins


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I am a Christian first and I really enjoy fellowshipping and working with a wide variety of Christians from many denominations. However I am also an Evangelical Anglican and it was through my local Anglican Church I attended at the time that I became a follower of Christ. I was only 13 years old and I had been attending that church for two years. As a very young child I attended a Presbyterian Sunday School before my family moved to a new house in Liverpool an outer suburb of Sydney.

As an Anglican Christian I am very familiar with set prayers of various kinds and the one I want to share in this study is called, “The General Confession”. This prayer is usually prayed in services of prayer and worship for both mornings and evening prayer. The prayer goes like this (Australian Prayer Book 1978):

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws. We have left undone those things, which we ought to have done; and we have done those things, which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; according to your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of his name. Amen”.

This prayer could be read and is often read with peoples minds disengaged and this is a criticism of set worship services like Anglicans use. However I have read this out aloud on many occasions and felt the full force of its truth and relevance. Psalm 38 interestingly I think is an ancient Hebrew general confession. This comes from a better understanding of the superscription at the top of the Psalm. The NIV translates this, New International version,

“A Psalm of David. A petition”

 Even though this certainly is a petition and is one of the seven “penitential psalms” others include 6, 32, 51,102,130 and 143 the heading more correctly translated is better seen in the New Revised Standard Version which reads,

 “To the Leader. Of David, for the memorial offering”.

 An American Old Testament Scholar named Nancy deClaisse Walford explains the two possible explanations of this better translated superscription that appear not only on this Psalm but Psalm:

“First, it may suggest that the psalms were recited at the occasion of various offerings at the temple or sanctuaries (see Leviticus 1 – 6). Second, it may indicate that these psalms were ‘kept on file’ at the temple or sanctuaries, available for folk to recite who lacked the words to express their heartfelt woes and desires”.

 Both these suggest that this Psalm and Psalm 70 were forms of general confessions for the ancient Hebrews similar to the Anglican one I quoted at the start of this study.

However I don’t think this Psalm started its life as this but rather came out of the very real and bitter experience of David at the time of his coming to terms with his sins with Bathsheba that involved adultery and murder.

Some commentators have dismissed David as the author because they say the historical texts have no reference to David ever having the kind of sickness a literal interpretation of the text suggests. However many other commentators have suggested that the sickness interpreted literally does not exist and suggest that this points to a more poetic form of interpretation. The most famous of this theory is the nineteenth century great Baptist preacher Charles Haden Spurgeon who puts it this way,

“I am persuaded that the description here does not tally with any known disease of the body. It is very like leprosy, but it has certain features which cannot be found in any leprosy ever known, either by ancient or modern writers, The fact is, it is spiritual leprosy, an inward disease which is here described”.

 I will also explore just when I think David wrote this confession in the first part of the study.

I have divided this Psalm into 4 parts:




Many might say that Anglicans starting almost every service of worship with a prayer like the general confession are simply Christians who have not truly taken hold of the forgiveness and new life God provides through Christ. But this attitude is not the true biblical state of every believer.

Yes, we are forgiven and yes God now accepts us as justified in Christ but does this mean that we are now sinless and no longer needing the forgiveness of Christ and confession of sin. Let me quote from a publication my own diocese of Sydney produced called, “Biblical patterns of Prayer”,

“We can only draw near to ‘the throne of the heavenly grace’ as those who are truly penitent and trust in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ for pardon and renewal. So praying for forgiveness is a way of acknowledging the basis of our relationship with God, before we come to him with our various petitions”.

This Psalm is not written from the perspective of a non- believer coming to God asking for God’s forgiveness but is King David, the one called, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13: 14 and Acts 13: 22), who is asking for God to forgive serious sins he has committed as a believer in the God who forgives sins. He writes,

“O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath” (verse 1)

David is praying this desperate prayer I believe after just receiving the news that God knows all about his sins of murder and adultery through his affair with Bathsheba and even though he will be forgiven by God he will lose the first child conceived through this sinful relationship. Let’s read now in 2 Samuel 12: 15 – 17 in which we see how David reacted to the news that his newly born son would die,

“After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them”.

David is suffering here very greatly under the Lords heavy discipline brought on by David’s willful sins of Adultery and murder. He is asking in the Psalm for God’s hand of discipline and its painful consequences to leave him.

This opening verse is the same as the opening verse of Psalm 6 and in that study I had a good look at why we might suffer in this life. I came up with the following four reasons:

Reason 1. Suffering comes because God wants to test our faith – 1 Peter 1: 6 – 7.

Reason 2. Suffering comes because God will be glorified through it – John 9: 2.

Reason 3. Suffering comes because we live in a sinful fallen world – Romans 8: 19 – 21

Reason 4. Suffering comes because God wants to discipline us – Hebrews 12: 4 to 8.

The last reason for suffering, suffering comes from God’s Discipline, seems to be what David has in mind as he suffered after hearing of God’s knowledge of his sins with Bathsheba.

Some might say how can we say God is truly a loving God if he actually brings pain and difficulty on the ones he says he loves?

The Hebrew 12: 4 – 8 answers this question,

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all”.

David should not have been forgiven for the sins of adultery and murder if we were simply looking at this from a human point of view but in the bible, we are not looking at this from our perspective but God’s perspective and he is the great God of love and his love is unmerited and humanly speaking unbelievable.

Also, David needs to learn that even though he is forgiven he must continually turn from sinful ways and seek to live the way God wants him to. This often can only be learnt from the painful process of God’s disciplinary actions like David was now experiencing.

Verse 2, David poetically describes what these disciplinary actions of God felt like.

“For your arrows have pieced me, and your hand has come down upon me”

The pain of God’s discipline is like the pain of an arrows sticking into a person’s body, which would be very painful, and the guilt of sin is a deep- seated painful experience. Many people suffering from guilt turn to alcohol or drugs to deaden the pain they feel but only a realisation of God’s forgiveness can relieve such a pain as this.

David then describes the pain of God’s disciplinary hand as like God’s hand pressing down upon him. This brings back to me my memories of sleepless nights I can remember having after a time of wilful sins in my life. I felt this terrible heavy pressure constantly on me as my mind kept thinking about my sins. God is heavy on our hearts making sure we are aware that he is aware of our sins and does not like them. But as we saw in Psalm 30 verse 5,

“For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning”

For seven nights David had nights like we read in 2 Samuel 12: 15 – 17 but after the child died and David was told about it we read in verses 18 – 20,

“On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.” David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.

“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”

Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate”.

During that week or so of suffering David describes how he felt in the next part of this Psalm and after that he describes how his sin and God’s discipline effected his relationship with his friends and enemies.


 In the next two sections of this Psalm David spells out the effects of sin and God’s discipline on his life.

This first section uses poetic imagery to describe the effects of his sin and God’s discipline on his soul and mind. He is using the images of a terrible and painful disease to describe his experience at this time.

In 2 Samuel 12: 16 – 17 we read the kind of state David was in once Nathans prophecy of the sickness and ultimate death of David and Bathsheba’s first child came true,

David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackclothon the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them”.

People I have met in the past who have lost an infant child have told me of the agony and pain of grief they have experienced at the time. Well just imagine how you would feel if you knew the sickness and death of your infant child was your fault owing to your adulterous sin. This is the kind of pain and agony David is trying to describe here.

I want to break down this description into two parts:

  1. The effect of sin on David’s mind

 Guilt has a terrible effect on all aspects of us but it centrally plays its way out in the mind of the sufferer. One writer I discovered on the net called Charles R. Swindoll described guilt’s effect on the human mind and experience this way,

Grief over past sins plunges them into a depth of sorrow. Guilt swallows them up, and they feel as if they are drowning”.

In verses 4 to 8 David describes the state of his mind in physical painful images. Let’s go through each of these next four verses and unpack the images David is using.

  1. Drowning victim – verse 4,

“My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear”

Like Swindoll spoke of in the previous quote many people suffering from the pain of guilt from the memory of past sins feel they are drowning. David uses Hebrew words that project here the sense of drowning, which we read as being overwhelmed. Leslie S. M’can calls it,

“a suffocating flood”

that David goes on to describe,

“crushes the life out of him”.

The pain of guilt can cause us to feel truly miserable and unhappy and only the powerful blood of Christ spilt for us can make us truly forgiven and freed from the power of guilt David feels here. David looked forward to God’s total dealing with our many sins we look back to it.

As the writer to the Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 9: 14,

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,so that we may serve the living God!”

  1. Social outcast – verse 5,

“My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly”

David is saying here I feel like I have festering sores that make me feel like a social outcast. This is the image of leprosy which we have many images of in the bible. If you got this terrible disease in bible times you were treated literally as a social outcast.

David says his sins or as he puts it, “sinful folly”, made him feel, “loathsome” or like a social outcast, as Spurgeon put it, made him feel like he had “Spiritual leprosy”.

  1. Unable to stand up straight – verse 6,

“I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning”

The description of David in 2 Samuel 12: 16 is of David pleading with God fasting and spending the nights,

“lying in sackclothon the ground”.

I remember a friend describing the stature of a person we knew who had recently confessed to a major sin in his life and who had lost his ministry job as a result and he was described as being hunched over and giving the appearance of a broken man. David became a broken man he lay in sackcloth, harsh rough fibres material on the cold floor of his palace room. A mind full of guilt and the pain of sin will do this to anyone it will break us and cause us to not to be able to walk upright in this world both physically and emotionally. We will see in the next section on the effects of sin on the soul that the only way we can stand up straight is by becoming forgiven sinners.

  1. No health in my body – verse 7,

“My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body”.

The total effect of David’s sin on his mind and physical state is concluded in the words,

“there is no health in my body”.

David uses the physical ailment of back pain to describe his mental anguish caused by his sins. I have three times in my life experienced back pain and it was not very pleasant. I only had minor muscle damage but friends of mine over the years have told me of the debilitating excruciating pain they suffered as they had a slipped disk in their back and how they were totally laid up in bed heavily sedated. This is what sin did to David’s mind and physical state it made him suffer debilitating and excruciated pain that affected the entire health of his body.

  1. The effect of sin on David’s soul

The final three verses of this section express how David felt spiritually or how his sins and God’s disciplinary actions affected his soul.

We as human beings are more than just flesh and blood machines as some modern evolutionary thinker’s present. God breaths into us and makes us a living soul at the time of our birth as Genesis 2: 7 suggests. So, David like any human being will feel the effects of sin not only physically in our minds and bodies but deep within us in our souls or as the bible often calls it our hearts.

Let me unpack the images David is using in these next three verses,

  1. Anguish of heart – verse 8,

“I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart”

The guilt caused by sin reaches deep within the human heart. It expresses itself outwardly in deep groans and is felt inwardly as a feeling of being crushed.

This makes us week and powerless in God’s service and David for a number of days after the prophet, Nathan revealed to him God’s knowledge of his sins acted like a totally crushed man. He experienced the heavy discipline of the Lord but he eventually recovered from this and rose from his despair to serve and worship the Lord again as 2 Samuel 12: 20,

“Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped”.

When we sin again as Christians we too need to learn to be truly penitent, confess our sins and then rise as forgiven sinners to love and serve the Lord.

  1. Longings lie open before you – verse 9,

“All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you”

Coffman writes,

“What a horrible creature man appears to be in his conscience when his depravity and vileness are fully exposed by the searching eyes of God”.

David knew that God had searched his heart and mind and found him wanting as he wrote in Psalm 139 verses 23 and 24,

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”.

God had done this and found and revealed the offensive way in David’s heart and now David could do only one thing, lay before the Lord the longings of his heart. This is what the New Testament tells us to do as we see in a verse like 1 John 1: 9,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.

  1. The light is gone from my eyes – verse 10,

“My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes”

David is now expressing that his sense of guilt in his heart has made him not only weak but causing him to feel he is actually dying. Churchyard believes that to the Hebrew listener when hearing the expression,

even the light has gone from my eyes”

 would know he is saying,

“I am dying”

Paul taught that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and the curse Adam and Eve received from God because of their sin was death Genesis 3: 19. However a great promise goes with Romans 6: 23 which is,

“But the gift of God is eternal life inChrist Jesus our Lord”.

David did not have knowledge of Jesus Christ and his gift of life but he did know the God of love who he spoke of in Psalm 25: 7,

“Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good”.


David now moves from a description of what he personally felt as a result of his guilt and the discipline of God as a result of his sins to the effect this has on some of his friends and enemies. We will look at each separately.

  1. The effects of his sins on his friends (verse 11)

David states the effect of his being disciplined by God owing to his grievous sins on his friends in just one verse which reads,

“My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbours stay far- away”

When a friend or family member is caught out in serious sin then a major test of how much we love them is revealed. I know from past experience when I have heard or seen the reaction of some people to those close to them being caught out in serious sin I have been surprised and disappointed. Kidner says,

It is ironic that the more desperately a person needs the support of friends and loved ones the less likely he is to receive it”.

I wonder what reaction the ordinary Israelite in the streets of Jerusalem would have been once they found out their supposed Godly and mighty King David committed the sins of adultery and murder let alone the reaction of those close to the king. David tells us he believed many of those close to him avoided him.

As Christians we are exhorted by the New Testament not to do this as Paul teaches in Galatians 6: 1 – 2,

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ”.

  1. The effects of his sins on some of his enemies (verses 12 – 20)

David now spells out in much more detail the effect of his known sins on his enemies. When a high- profile Christian falls to obvious and terrible sin the effects can be devastating on the Church and the message it seeks to proclaim.

David knew all too well the reality of this and a number of Psalms are either devoted to this or mention this. Psalm 26 is one of the Psalms devoted to David’s vindication because of his enemy’s false accusations. However, in this Psalm David does not seek vindication, as he knows his accusers’ accusations and taunts are not false but well founded. This is why in verse 13 and 14 he writes,

“I am like a deaf man, who cannot hear, like a mute, who cannot open his mouth. I have become like a man who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply”.

David can only say nothing and throw himself before the Lord which he says he is doing in verse 15,

“I wait for you. O Lord; you will answer, O Lord my God’”

I think the effects on David by his enemies in this section are threefold:

  1. They seek his life (verse 12)
  2. They hate him with no reason (verse 19)
  3. They slandered him (verse 20)
  4. They seek his life (verse 12)

On many occasions David’s life was in danger from his enemies. The most famous of course was when he was on the run from King Saul but here his enemies falsely accused him of wrong. In this Psalm David has admitted he had sinned and God was chastising him because of it but his enemies used this as an excuse to try and take his life.

There are two times in the second book of Samuel where his enemies are seeking to kill him because of his sinful shortcomings. The first is found in 2 Samuel chapters 15 – 19 where David is on the run from his son Absalom that relates to his sins in the Bathsheba affair because this rebellion is the fulfilment of Nathans prophecy concerning God’s judgment on David for these sins, namely what is recorded in 2 Samuel 12: 11,

“Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you”.

The other is in chapter 20 where a member of Saul’s Benjamin tribe named Sheba leads a revolt against David. This man would have used David’s short falls to raise a revolt against the kingship of David.

The words of verse 12 aptly capture things that took place on both these occasions,

“Those who seek my life set their traps, those who would harm me talk of my ruin; all day long they plot deception”.

  1. They hate him with no reason (verse 19)

Verse 19 reads,

“Many are those who are my vigorous enemies; those who hate me without reason are numerous”

Of course this is not strictly correct because David did sin badly and under the old idea of an eye for an eye type Old Testament judgment he deserved death for organizing the killing of Uriah in battle. However God forgave David and was disciplining him for that and his sin of adultery.

However the enemies of David did not really recognize the true and living God of David and Israel.

They, like all who do not acknowledge God, really were living for their own advancement and interests and therefore were using David’s sins as a chance to legitimately destroy him.

  1. They slandered him (verse 20)

David now describes what these enemies were actually doing in verse 20,

“Those who repay my good with evil slander me when I pursue what is good”

These words remind me of an incident in the rebellion of Absalom when David was on the run and his reputation was shot through by slanderous propaganda by his son and his followers. In this situation a man Shimel verbally attacks David. Shimel like Sheba is a Benjamite, the former King Saul’s tribe and his slanderous actions aimed at David are recorded in 2 Samuel 16: 6 – 8,

“He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left.As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel!The Lordhas repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lordhas given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!”

This man vastly outnumbered by David’s men takes on the King running him down with this vicious verbal attack. Interestingly David tells his chief officer Abishai to ignore this man and says these words in 11 – 12,

David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lordhas told him to.It may be that the Lordwill look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

So, like David’s words in the Psalm describe what he did on that day, he became,

“like a deaf man, who cannot hear, whose mouth can offer no reply”

In conclusion what can you do if you fall into sin and your public reputation is ruined and like David you cop slander and abuse from unbelievers?

Well apart from keeping your mouth shut like David you can do what David does in verses 15 – 18.

  1. You can, “wait for you, O Lord” (verse 15)

This mean don’t attempt to fix things yourself but look to God to deal with it.

  1. You can pray therefore specifically for God’s assistance in this difficult situation as verse 16 spells out,

“For I said, ‘Do not let them gloat or exalt themselves over me when my foot slips”

  1. You can tell God how you are really feeling,

“For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me” (verse 17)

  1. You can make sure above all things you confess your sins to God as we read David did in verse 18,

“I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin”


 David now brings his prayer of confession and petition to a close in verses 21 – 22 in which he is not saying that God has answered him as many of the Psalms usually do. Instead David asks God for two more things.

  1. That God would not forsake him (verse 21)
  1. That God would come quickly to save him (verse21)
  1. That God would not forsake him (verse 21)

 We have just seen in the previous sections that many of his best friends had forsaken him and his enemies had turned on him with slander. He asks God not to also turn on him even though he deserves God to do so.

“O Lord do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God”

We have far more assurance of God’s constant, never changing love and forgiveness than David had as we saw from our study of Psalm 31. We have the work and words of Jesus, God become flesh who promises in John 10: 27 and 28,

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand”.

David does not have these words of assurance but he had a lifetime of proof of God’s ever-present love and help in his life. This he often refers to in his Psalms and this is what lies behind his plea for God not to forsake him now.

  1. That God would come quickly to save him (verse21)

Finally, David prays,

“Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savoir”

David has indicated right from the start that God’s discipline of him, which came about owing to his terrible sins, was very painful. He started asking God to stop this harsh discipline and now he finishes asking God to do it quickly. This is a desperate prayer for God to stop his discipline but he is confident it will stop soon because he calls the God he is praying to his,

“Lord and Savoir”,

 the God who constantly reveals himself as a God of love.

In the story of David’s reaction to the news his son to Bathsheba would die David is in a state of mental and spiritual turmoil for about a week but once the child dies and David learns of this David rose from his pain and penitent prayer to worship the Lord.

In the Anglican prayer of general confession, we read,

“Restore those who are penitent; according to your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of his name. Amen”.

Read my poem based on Psalm 38


(Based on Psalm 38)

Oh Lord don’t rebuke me

Turn from your wrath

Turn and forgive me Oh Lord.

For I know you’re a God

Who longs to love

And I know this because of your word.



So I call for your love and forgiveness

Yes I call on the grounds of your grace.

For I know that your son

Paid for my sin

On the cross when he died in my place.


Oh Lord I have sinned

I have turned from your way.

I have followed the desires of my heart.

My guilt overwhelms me

I long to be free

Yes I long for a brand new start.



So I call for your love and forgiveness

Yes I call on the grounds of your grace.

For I know that your son

Paid for my sin

On the cross when he died in my place.


Oh Lord my sin is

Ever before me.

I am bowed down and brought very low.

All day I am mourning

I long to be free

Yes I’m longing for your love to show.



So I call for your love and forgiveness

Yes I call on the grounds of your grace.

For I know that your son

Paid for my sin

On the cross when he died in my place.


My friends they seem

To turn from me

When they learn that I’ve sinned again.

My enemies taunt me

They say I not true

To the message I preach to them.



So I call for your love and forgiveness

Yes I call on the grounds of your grace.

For I know that your son

Paid for my sin

On the cross when he died in my place.


So I pray that you Lord

Will forgive me

And your peace will soon come in my heart.

For I know from your word

You will not forsake

Yes your love will never depart.



So I call for your love and forgiveness

Yes I call on the grounds of your grace.

For I know that your son

Paid for my sin

On the cross when he died in my place.


By: Jim Wenman


 Psalm 38 is a prayer of confession and it became to be used as a prayer available in the Temple of sanctuaries as a kind of general prayer for the ancient Israelites like the Anglican prayer of General confession. I googled the word confession into my computer and it revealed three famous New Testament passages on confession. They are New Testament passages that contain the word, “confess” and they give us three different New Testament applications of the concept of confession. Interestingly my search also revealed that many of the articles on “confession” are written by Roman Catholics who have a different view on how we confess.

As bible believing Christians we too should know and teach others about confession but we do not confess to a priest or some kind of other mediator but we confess directly to Jesus who Paul describes in 1 Timothy 2: 5 as the,

“One God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus”.

Lest now look at the three confession New Testament passages my Google search found.


The first result of my Internet search led me to the first letter of John where he states clearly what confession leads to and why it is so important for every Christian. The three things I see in this passage area:

  1. It’s impossible to be without sin
  2. It’s impossible to be forgiven without confession
  3. It’s impossible to live a Christian life without further confession of sins
  4. It’s impossible to be without sin (vs. 8)

This seems to be an obvious thing to know that everyone has sinned and Paul spoke on this on a number of occasions. However, before we come to Christ we live as though we have nothing to answer for before God. However, when someone says to me that mankind is basically good I refer them to our need for locks on our doors and the fact that everyone cannot claim they have never told a lie.

John points out to his readers this fact by writing,

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”.

He was writing against a false teaching of the time that said the body was sinful but the soul was good but he made it clear that to teach that even our souls are good is a lie and is not part of God’s truth.

  1. It’s impossible to be forgiven without confession (verse 9)

John goes on to say that,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.

The second point is that without the confession of our sins there is no forgiveness of them. When a person becomes a Christian, they must first “repent” that is turn away from sins. Confession of sins is the first part of repenting and the next step is believing that through the death of Christ our sins have been forgiven. This is something we must continue to do all the days of our life after coming to Christ as the next point will teach us.

  1. It’s impossible to live the Christian life without further confession of sins (verse 10)

The final point from this passage is that all Christians continue to fall to sin in their daily lives.

In Johns day the false teachers he battled with taught that they knew the secret to not sinning and this secret teaching known as Gnosticism taught that there was a way to free the sinful body to know the experience of the sinless soul. John makes it clear in verse 10,

“If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives”.

In all ages the church has had to face false teaching about Christians being able to become sinless in this life. I once met a lady on a church pastoral home visit who belonged to a false teaching movement called “The Holiness Movement”, she said I denied my salvation in Christ by not believing I was now sinless. I took her to this verse in the bible but she had such a crazy view of sanctification she dismissed what I said and re-interpreted this verse form her perspective. I left that meeting with her with a big headache.

As Christians we should seek to not sin but when we do sin and we will we must confess our sins to God and as the verse says God will forgive us.


Some see this passage in James as being very controversial because it has a major reference to healing. However, I woukd like to just read it as it stands and for me it has more to say about the role and power of God’s forgiveness than anything else.

I want to focus on three issues again:

  1. The power of being happy or sad through prayer
  2. The power of prayer
  3. The power of the fellowship of confession and forgiveness
  4. The power of being happy or sad through prayer (13)

I always find the book of James both practical and refreshing and this passage has both those qualities going for it. It speaks of how the real Christian life is a combination of happiness and sadness, good times and difficult times. James has already made it clear earlier that God uses even the difficult times for his good purposes, as we see in 1: 2 – 4,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”.

In the verses leading up to this passage James speaks of being patient as we wait for the Lords return and how this might require us to endure suffering. In 5: 10 – 11, James says this,

“Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy”.

Now James speaks to both states of Christian experience, being troubled and happy in verse 13,

“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise”

James is following through his previous words in chapter 1 where he says that difficult times should lead to praise and joy because they are used by God to help us grow and be useful. Therefore, there is power and purpose for the Christian in being both happy or sad.

  1. The power of prayer (14 – 15)

This is the controversial part of our passage where the prayer of faith is said to make a person well. To me I don’t believe this verse is guaranteeing a healing result we might always have in mind but real prayer done by real believers is always heard by God and receives his answer. If a person is sick and we pray for them we cannot say God has not answered if they don’t get better or even die as James has already said that God uses trials and difficulties in his plan for us. If the person is a believer and they die they have not lost out because they are now with the Lord in heaven. I don’t think we can then seek our prayer answer agenda when even Jesus himself said on the night before he was crucified,

“Yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22: 42

So, let’s look at what these verses are really saying,

 “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven”.

This passage is telling us the sort of things we should do when we find ourselves sick. James has already said if we are in trouble we should pray. He now says we should also enlist the help of others in our church to pray as well. He speaks of calling the elders, which could be as it is in my current church a group of people the church has nominated and sought to train as carers.

These people offer prayer and in James time oil, which many commentators say, was an example first century practical medicine. This would mean that carers and others who want to help a fellow sick brother or sister should both pray and offer any practical assistance they can. We have the gift of modern medicine to look to also for help in our times of sickness.

Then James says,

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven”.

Taking this on face value it is saying prayer offered in faith is very powerful and I have seen over the years how praying for my brothers and sisters in Christ when they were sick has really helped them. I have seen or heard of God healing people and I know some others have not recovered when very ill but have gone peacefully to meet the Lord in heaven. Both these results are positive and fit James description of making the sick person well.

Finally note the reference to forgiveness at the end of this verse. The prayer of faithfully believers is also the key to forgiveness as we saw in the previous 1 John passage. To be truly “well’ means to be right with God and in a healthy relationship with his Son, The Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. The power of the fellowship of confession and forgiveness (16)

Finally, we come to our “Confession” reference in this passage. James points us also to the power of confession and the forgiveness in this verse.

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”.

Again, to limit the idea of being healed to just physical illness is selling this verse short of its true impact. James has shown over and over again in his letter that he is not just concerned for our physical well -being but our spiritual and eternal well- being as well.

Note how this confession of sin is not just our personal and private confession to God as John spoke about in the previous 1 John passage but is confession to one another. This corporate confession in the early church sowed the seeds of the Roman Catholic practice of confession to a priest.

Apparently corporate confession got out of hand by the third or fourth century and the priest became the representative of the church and God and he became the one to confess to. This is out of line with the biblical concept of Jesus being the one mediator between God and man and the actual teaching in this passage of corporate confession.

I think there is an answer to the problems of corporate confession getting out of hand. First, we can all pray together some form of general confession like my church does in the general confession and we can do some confessing together in smaller group church meetings.

I have always belonged to some form of Church based bible study group which my current church calls a “Growth Group”. At these smaller meetings of Christians, we always pray for one another and the wider church and sometimes this involves some kind of confession of sins to one another. I find the intimate fellowship of these small church group meetings vital to my own walk with the Lord.

Finally note what this confession of sins to one another leads to. James tells us it has two effects.

  1. It heals us (Physically and Spiritually)
  2. Is Powerful and effective

Confession and the forgiveness it brings to us is a wonderful and powerful gift from God that we all should seek to practice in both our private and church lives. It will lead to our growth and power in our daily walk with the Lord.


The final New Testament passage my Internet Google search led me to on confession was Romans 10: 9- 13. Paul is teaching us here how we can be saved and his words are clear and decisive and I want to point to three great truths again from this passage.

  1. Confession must be both by mouth and heart (vs. 9 – 11)
  2. Confession is the way for all people (vs. 12)
  3. Confession is calling on the name of the Lord (vs. 13) 
  1. Confession must be both by mouth and heart (vs. 9 – 11)

Paul wants to make it even clearer how a person becomes a true believer in Christ and discover the life changing power of justification by faith in Christ. I once heard this theological explanation of justification being explained as, JUST IF I HAD NEVER SINNED. This is how God treats us in the sense of his certain judgment of this world if we have faith in Christ. But the question Paul is answering here is:

How do I know I have faith in Christ?

Paul’s answer is verses 9 – 10,

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved”.

Note this speaks of two clear aspects of human experience, our mouths and our hearts. When I taught scripture lessons in schools many years ago when I was a full time Church Youth Worker I would ask the students how are you saved and sometimes they would answer by believing in Jesus but even though they could say it with their mouths they did not necessary believe it in their hearts.

The confession Paul speaks about is Jesus is Lord and this was the stumbling block for not only my students but is for most people when they hear the gospel. Paul made it clear in the early part of Romans that sin is when people turn away from God to go their own way, Romans 3: 12,

“All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one”.

So, to say Jesus Is Lord is to truly believe in Jesus in your heart. The statement,

“that God raised him from the dead”,

means that the full work of Jesus on the cross is recognised by the true believer.

So, this confession of the heart and mouth is how a person connects to the salvation offered by Christ. Nothing else is needed to be saved but whether this is a true confession is revealed by the changed life of the person who has confessed.

  1. Confession is the way for all people (vs. 12)

Paul goes on in the next verse to make it clear that this confession of belief in Christ is the way of salvation for all people. He has spent a lot of time in Romans talking about the Jews and how the Old Testament presented the way of the law but he goes to great pains to point out that salvation by the law just won’t do it. As Paul says in Romans 3: 20,

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin”.

So, Paul declares in Romans 10: 12,

“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who calls on him”.

So, whether we are rich or poor, clever or dumb, young or old and what race of people we belong to we all come to Christ the same way by confessing that he is now the Lord of our lives.

  1. Confession is calling on the name of the Lord (vs. 13)

So, Paul makes it clear in our last verse from this passage how anyone and everyone is saved,

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.

The name of the Lord is a loaded term because his name was not just a way of identifying him but his name meant something. It is:

Jesus= Savour and

The Christ= the promised one from God who would come to earth and make the way back to God in heaven.

We call on him remember when we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead. We show that we really are doing this by the way we now seek to live. Ironically this is where the law comes back into play.

If I want to know how God wants me to live where do I look?

The answer is the law of God. The Ten Commandments could be seen as a list of don’t do’s but to a saved person they become a list of do’s.

Let me show you:

  1. You shall have no other God before me becomes you now put Jesus first as Lord of your life.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol becomes you only worship God through Christ.
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord becomes you honour the name of Jesus as the name above all names.
  4. Observe the Sabbath day means you seek to worship with others the things God has done for you through Christ.
  5. Honour your father and mother becomes obey you mum and dad.
  6. You shall not murder becomes love your enemies.
  7. You shall not commit adultery becomes love and serve your wife or husband and be totally faithful to them.
  8. You shall not steal becomes be generous and give to others.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour become always tell the truth.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbours wife, house or land etc. becomes love your neighbour as yourself.

So, the law becomes a guide to the new life we live in Christ. Not that we keep this guide all the time as we are still sinful fallen beings but we have learnt all we need to do is confess our sins to God and God because of the work of Christ will forgive us.


So, we have seen through this study of Psalm 38 the importance of confession. Confession is not just a Roman Catholic activity that sadly misses the real point of what true biblical confession is all about.

Biblical confession is best summed up in the words of 1 John 1: 8 – 9,

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.

PRAYER: I started with the Anglican prayer of confession so I close with it.

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws. We have left undone those things, which we ought to have done; and we have done those things, which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; according to your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of his name. Amen”.