How Lutherans Worship – 3: Confession and Absolution

Moses was told to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Even so, we must cast away our sins to stand in the presence of God, as the Psalmist reminds us, “Who shall stand in his holy place? He that has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24).

The Didache (a 1st century Christian writing) admonishes the early Christians, “Assemble on the Day of the Lord, break bread and celebrate the Eucharist, but first confess your sins.”

The Apostle John declares. “If we confess our sins he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

to say what is true, a disclosure of one’s sins

Corporate (or General) Confession

In the Confession of Sins, we are taught to admit, or confess, sin and the guilt of sin. We are saying “amen,” or “yes, yes, this is true” to God’s righteous judgment against our sin. This is some of the hardest schooling that the liturgy will do because the natural man, the sinful nature, does not want to give up control. Together we, with the Invocation and the Confession of Sins, deny ourselves, and trust in Christ.

As Christians, our lives are to be lives of continual repentance as God promises eternal forgiveness. So we come in penitence and faith and confess our sins.

Psalm 51:1-4, 14
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. …Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


Silence for reflection on God’s Word and for self-examination.

Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.

The expression, “we are by nature sinful and unclean,” comes from Article II:1 of the Augsburg Confession, and is unique to Lutheranism in its structuring of the preparatory rites. The statements made in this prayer of confession are summary of Romans 7:14 – 8:14.

Psalm 32:5
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.


John 20:22-23
[Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

The Absolution is the announcement of forgiveness to the penitent sinner. Our Lord declares through the mouth of his servant, the pastor, that by his grace and mercy our sins are forgiven. The Absolution speaks God’s Word into our ears in a most personal way. Through these Gospel words we receive the salvation earned by Christ upon the cross of Calvary, every sin covered by his blessed death.

to forgive, to set free from the consequences of guilt

Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Word I announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Heavenly peace and joy in the soul replaces the trembling and anguished conscience previously burdened by sin. With clean hands and a pure heart we are now prepared to stand before the holy presence of God (Psalm 24).

Other Scriptural References:
Matthew 11:28
Matthew 26:27
Mark 14:23
Luke 22:17, 18
1 Corinthians 11:24
Psalm 154:8

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Next: The Liturgy: The Pattern for Our Worship

6 thoughts on “How Lutherans Worship – 3: Confession and Absolution

  1. I am just beginning my journey into the Lutheran Faith, and I have never had so much information at my hand from a church. I am very pleased with my new church. I won’t be welcomed in [as a member] till Fall. Do I have the right to use the sign of the cross? I am taking communion and was told I could. I am not accustomed to confession with anyone other than confessing my sins to my Lord. I’m not quite sure on a lot of things I have just been reading Luther’s Small Catechism plus other Books. I don’t want to look stupid in front of the congregation and the Pastor didn’t elaborate what I needed to do. The secretary gave me the Small Catechism Book for me to read, but I am finding I need to know much more even though this book is very useful. I will read in again when I finish it.
    Can I get some insight from who ever is reading this?
    Thank You

    • Hi, Diana,
      I am assuming that since you are being welcomed to receive the Lord’s Supper, that you are baptized. Every baptized child of God receives the cross at baptism. We hear in the Lutheran liturgy for Holy Baptism: “receive the sign of the cross both upon your forehead + and upon your heart + to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” You can find out more about this at While there is no limit as to when you can use the sign of the cross, there are several places indicated in each worship service in the hymnal.
      Luther’s Small Catechism is an excellent summary of the basic and essential doctrines, that is teachings, of God in His Word: The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Holy Communion, The Sacrament of the Altar. The first part of the Catechism is written by Luther to summarize these teachings. The largest part of the book is offered by other authors to further explore Scripture on those teachings. As you look to other sources to understand Scripture and the Lutheran teachings, I would recommend the very readable book, Lutheranism 101. This book is readily available from Amazon or directly from the publisher at
      Class instruction, often called catechesis, can only provide so much information. Each one of us is in a different place in both faith and life. Don’t hesitate to bring your questions and concerns to the Pastor. I am very sure he would certainly not turn away a sincere question from one who wants to deepen faith and practice.
      May the Lord continue to bless your journey in the faith.

      • Thank You for Your Reply:
        Yes I was Baptized when I was a child ,I wouldn’t take Communion if I wasn’t.
        I will check out Lutheranism 101 Thank You Again

  2. Pingback: [email protected] – 7.20.2019: Wade Burleson: Ruth: The Love of a Kinsman | The Wartburg Watch 2019

  3. Do you know who originally penned this corporate prayer? I know that Richard Hillert composed all of the musical arrangements, but I can’t find if he was the mind behind the prayer itself.

    I’m a Reformed Presbyterian (OPC) but I grew up LCMS and continue to use this prayer as my template for personal confession (replacing the “we’s” with “I’s”, obviously). I commended the prayer up to my session to include in our rotation, which they gladly accepted due to the undenying fact that it is one of the most pure and biblical confessions ever penned.

    I’d just really love to know the history of the liturgy, particularly this prayer.

    • Hi Brian,
      I assume what you are referring to is the confession “Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…”. I do not know the origin of this text. It certainly predates Hillert. The oldest Lutheran hymnal I have on hand, dated 1921, has the text in the Common Service.

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