For every Christian there is, of course, always a temptation to dwell too long over our sin, to sink too deeply in despair, and to re-shackle ourselves to the bondage of the law from which we have been set free. The gospel is hard to believe. It is good news, and we're not used to good news. It is all grace, and we're not used to such unmerited favor. By nature we tend to dwell too long over sin and we too easily forget that sin has been dealt a death blow by the gospel of Christ.
There is, however, another temptation in the opposite direction, and that is to dwell too briefly over our sin as if it is of no consequence. Too easily we forget that all sin is, at it's heart, a direct rebellion against and rejection of God himself. Too often our struggles against sin are no struggles at all. We fight sin with the same zeal we fight mosquitoes... a swat here and there to remove a minor nuisance, all the while forgetting that Jesus fought sin at the cost of his very life.
Because we are prone to both temptations we need both a better grasp of the true weight of sin and of the true wonder of the gospel. Were you alive in Geneva in the mid-1500's, you may have found yourself worshiping at a church that strove to do just that. The confession of sin below was written by John Knox for use in English speaking congregations in Frankfort and Geneva. The prayer is based on Daniel's prayer of confession in Daniel 9. In the worship service this confession of sin would follow a period of "self-examination" in which the minister would urge the people to diligently examine themselves that they might join their hearts with the words of the confession. And this confession of sin provides a great remedy against both temptations (dwelling too long or too lightly over sin). It reminds us that sin is deadly serious business ("we are miserable sinners") and that the grace of God through Christ is infinitely powerful ("nothing is able to remove your heavenly grace and favor from us").
Beloved in Christ, may we learn both the weight of sin and the wonder of the gospel.
Confession of Sin from John Knox's Genevan Liturgy
Eternal God, and most merciful Father! We confess and acknowledge here before your Divine Majesty, that we are miserable sinners, conceived and born in sin and iniquity, so that in us there is no goodness. For the flesh evermore rebels against the spirit, whereby we continually transgress your holy precepts and commandments, and so purchase to ourselves, through your just judgment, death and condemnation. Heavenly Father, we are displeased with ourselves for the sins that we have committed against you, and do sincerely repent of them. We most humbly beseech you, for the sake of Jesus Christ, to show your mercy upon us. to forgive us all our sins, and to increase your Holy Spirit in us. That we may acknowledge from the bottom of our hearts our own unrighteousness, and from henceforth not only mortify our sinful lusts and affections, but also bring forth such fruits as may be agreeable to your most blessed will. We pray, not because of our worthiness, but because of the merits of your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ, our only Savior. You have already given him as an oblation and offering for our sins. We are certainly persuaded that you will deny us nothing that we shall ask in his Name according to your will. Your Holy Spirit does assure our consciences that you are our merciful Father, and so love us, your children, through him, because nothing is able to remove your heavenly grace and favor from us. To you, therefore, O Father, with the Son and with the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, forever. Amen.[Adapted from John Knox, originally in the Service for the English congregation at Frankfort, 1554, then the English congregation at Geneva, 1556, and later adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1560]