It is absolutely vital that children understand and are taught to properly confess and repent if they are going to have attached, secure relationships with people – in their childhood and in adulthood. Relationships falter and will, in fact, die if thorough confession is not part of the interaction between individuals and also within groups. Not completely confessing demonstrates a protection of self over the protection of the offended, as well as a lack of respect for the other person. It forces the offended person to carry more than their share of the weight of the offence. By confessing fully and completely, it demonstrates a care for the other person above yourself and releases them from some of the weight of the hurt. Confessing fully, is a caring thing to do. Hiding from confession is what Adam did.
I’d like to make a differentiation. Confession, as I use it, means a verbal speaking process. Repentance, as I use it, means a change of thought about ones self or ones actions with a desire to turn 180 degrees from the wrong actions (or thoughts). Confession can be done without a change of heart. It is an outward physical, audible act. Repentance requires a change of heart and has sorrow along with it – the level dependent on the severity of the offence. Repentance requires confession; confession does not require repentance. In order for repentance to occur, confession must be involved in the process. Repentance could come before during or after confession. Ideally repentance would surround the confession. Sometimes we have to go through the physical process of the thought of what we’ve done, and hear ourselves verbally admit it, and possibly see the results on another person before repentance is present. But, without repentance trust will be eroded away, again dependent on the severity. Repentance is, of course, a matter of the heart and cannot be trained. Sympathy for others, compassion, humility, and honesty are part of daily teaching in the home which bring a person to the maturity to be able to fully repent from the heart. If a change of heart is not present in a confession, hopefully the confession process will prick and grow the change of heart repentance.
In the steps below, the repair steps show the beginnings of a repentant heart. The first part of this repair process can, indeed, be present, without a change of heart. The final steps of this repair process cannot be done without repentance from the heart.
Does detailed confession have to be done to the letter? Well, that depends.
If that means legalism- living by the strictness of law. No. But there are things that a confession needs particularly for large offences. If children and adults don’t practice them in small offences, they won’t do them for large ones. If these components are missing in a confession, the result is broken trust –or foolishly rebuilt trust. God calls us to be discerning.
Small children should be taught these basic steps to confession early, and then it will become natural for them. If this general format isn’t something that was presented early on, it will need to be trained for a period of time. Just like any habit, if you aren’t trained at a young age to take your plate to the sink, later in life when your wife is irritated that you don’t take your plate to the sink, you’ll have to change your thinking, then change your will, and then take the physical steps to do the desired action—as Charlotte has taught us to train habits.
Another consideration is the size of the offence. A small offence that does minimal damage to another person does not need to be made out in a bigger light than it is. However, a large offence against another probably involves a break of trust. Trust is enduring and can take a beating, but, once it is broken, the pieces are scattered and the offender will have a lot to do to put the pieces together. To rebuild trust it takes work. The following steps of confession are part of the process of picking up the shattered glass.
Another note, confession has nothing to do with forgiveness. Forgiveness and confession should not be wrapped up together as though they are one neat package process. Forgiveness has its own components, it’s own process. This is kind-of obvious, but yet, we often overlook the various pieces and blend things all up in our frustration, hurt or anger. Pieces are mistaken for other parts, things get swept under rugs in the confused jumble of broken glass. Keep them separate. Let the parts be replaced to the place they belong. Maybe someday I’ll write more on that….
Here are the Steps of Confession I use with my children. I developed this recently as I’ve had to think through these things on a large scale. I used to just teach my children to say ‘I’m sorry’ to the offended person, but I didn’t think through and go through all the processes surrounding it. That was a mistake. I’ve thought it through now. I now have this printed and hanging up in the kitchen. I used it yesterday with my youngest. We were late for church because of the length of going through it. But, it was truly a good and fruitful process and worth being late. Sometimes we have to back track and sometimes our older children have to be responsible for themselves. We do the best we can for them with where we are in the growth of our own lives. Then the rest is up to God.
STEPS OF CONFESSION
-what you did
-why it was wrong. How did it break God’s laws? Specifically call it what it is (lying, stealing, complaining, gossip)
-Ask Him for forgiveness
-Thank Him for Jesus who paid the price for your wrongs so God doesn’t have to punish you
OTHERS (ALL the people this affected)
-what you did. Tell the whole story
-why it was wrong. Specifically call it what it is
-how it must have hurt them
-Ask if they will forgive you
-Thank them for listening
-Thank them if they forgive you (otherwise say nothing further about forgiveness)
REPAIR (the more serious the offence the further down this list you should go, the more time repair will take)
-how you will try not to do it again
-what you can do to try to fix it (if possible)
-you understand trust has (probably) been broken
-you will remember that they are now forced to deal with the pain and consequences that you have caused. You will always be mindful of the bruise you inflicted that the other person must carry and you will be gentle with the hurt. You will pray that God will heal the pain for them. You will do whatever is needed to relieve them of the consequences and burden as often and for as long as they need.
Bible Verses that go along with the process of confession and the heart change of repentance:
Psalm 51 David’s Prayer of Repentance
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.
When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done.
19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.[c] 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.
2 If anyone becomes aware that they are guilty—if they unwittingly touch anything ceremonially unclean (whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground) and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt;
3 or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt;
4 or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt—
5 when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.
6 As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.
7Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the Lord as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. 8 They are to bring them to the priest, who shall first offer the one for the sin offering. He is to wring its head from its neck, not dividing it completely,
9 and is to splash some of the blood of the sin offering against the side of the altar; the rest of the blood must be drained out at the base of the altar. It is a sin offering.
10 The priest shall then offer the other as a burnt offering in the prescribed way and make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven.
11If, however, they cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, they are to bring as an offering for their sin a tenth of an ephah of the finest flour for a sin offering. They must not put olive oil or incense on it, because it is a sin offering.
12 They are to bring it to the priest, who shall take a handful of it as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar on top of the food offerings presented to the Lord. It is a sin offering. 13 In this way the priest will make atonement for them for any of these sins they have committed, and they will be forgiven. The rest of the offering will belong to the priest, as in the case of the grain offering.
The Guilt Offering.
14 The Lord said to Moses: 15 “When anyone is unfaithful to the Lord by sinning unintentionally in regard to any of the Lord’s holy things, they are to bring to the Lord as a penalty a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value in silver, according to the sanctuary shekel. It is a guilt offering.
16 They must make restitution for what they have failed to do in regard to the holy things, pay an additional penalty of a fifth of its value and give it all to the priest. The priest will make atonement for them with the ram as a guilt offering, and they will be forgiven.
17 “If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible.
18 They are to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the wrong they have committed unintentionally, and they will be forgiven.
19 It is a guilt offering; they have been guilty of[e] wrongdoing against the Lord.”
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
I John 4:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.