Christians seek, among other things, authenticity. So what makes authentic worship? Scripture links authentic worship to our lives outside of worship. Our love for God is expressed in worship just as it is expressed in our lives. In gratitude for what God has done for us, our lives are to express God’s love through the practice of righteousness and justice, faith, and mercy. That is, we are to love God by obeying God’s commandments, a love expressed through worship as well. But it is not so much that worship must be accompanied by a life of righteousness, mercy, etc, but that without a congruence between our lives and what God commands the worship of God loses its authenticity. Worship and our lives are not separate silos; lives of righteousness and mercy are the precondition for worship. That’s not a call to try and earn God’s love in our lives, but a call to live lives of gratitude by practising mercy and love in faith.
So a precondition of authentic worship is authenticity in our discipleship day to day. And that’s a problem. Whose life is one of perfect obedience? Does this mean that our worship is necessarily inauthentic? Confession in worship can help us out here. In confession, we come as authentic sinners confessing authentic sins to an authentically loving and forgiving God. And God’s forgiveness is ahead of us in this. It is not that we repent and confess our sins and God forgives us as a reward. God’s love is already waiting for us and does not need our confession first to then be able to forgive us. God loves us now, so we confess in the knowledge of that love. And so confession and absolution become an expression of authenticity and the means to seek greater authenticity. We acknowledge who we have made ourselves into, and in this context of forgiveness and love need not hide from who we are. That’s authenticity. And we can begin to unravel what we have made ourselves into via this path of authenticity. That’s authentic change.
In other words, confession is an aid in avoiding hypocrisy, an archenemy of authenticity. We don’t have to come to worship ignoring our failure to live authentic Christian lives. Instead, we can come to the God who is rich in mercy as an authentic sinner who is authentically forgiven. It is, after all, not the perfection of the pure that makes the angels rejoice in heaven, but, if I could rephrase Jesus, the sinner authentically repenting.