Language can be redemptive, Philip H. Phenix explained in Education and the Worship of God. “The saving power of language consists in its capacity for reestablishing broken relationships. By forming a bond of mutual understanding it overcomes estrangements and heals divisions. The God who creates also recreates, by restoring relations that have become disordered. Wherever words become an instrument in such restoration, the Word of God is at work.”
Phenix used confession of sin as his first example. To confess sin is to seek healing in broken relationships. For us as Christian pilgrims, confession is one of the key purposes of language. Having considered the foundations for a theology of language and explored passages about speaking and listening in the life of faith, we turn next in our month’s study to the biblical purposes for words and language. Given narratives such as the Tower of Babel (Oct. 4) and the slaughter of the Ephraimites (Oct. 10), it’s no surprise that confession of sin ranks high on the list.
Today’s reading includes a spiritual metaphor underlying confession (1:5–7), a description of confession (1:8–10), and a theological context for confession (2:1–6). The spiritual metaphor is light and dark. “God is light,” meaning He is absolutely pure and holy. As His children, we are to “walk in the light,” suggesting that righteousness is necessary for fellowship with God and others. Sin is darkness and breaks these relationships. Sadly, this side of heaven it is a certainty that we will sin. We cannot purify ourselves—only Christ’s blood can do that—but when we sin we can confess in order to receive God’s forgiveness. He will cleanse us from sin because He is faithful (loving, keeps His promises) and just (Christ paid the price). In this matter, Christ is our advocate and atoning sacrifice.