Ezra 9:5 And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God,
I was recently having a conversation with a prisoner at our weekly prison ministry about why so many of them are incarcerated again shortly after getting out. It’s not uncommon to see men return in less than three-months, and last year one come back after only three weeks of freedom!
It’s a confusing situation because most of the men (I believe) are genuinely sorry for what they had done, and have no intention of coming back.
So why do they keep returning? It seems that they don’t understand the difference between confession and repentance.
Confession is being sorry for what you have done
Repentance is making life changes, and turning from those sinful actions in the power of God
Ezra is a scribe who is in the middle of building a new temple when he hears that the people of Israel had intermarried with the wicked people around them (Ezra 9:1-2). He responds to this extreme sin with great sorrow by rending his clothes, plucking hair from his head and beard, and then sitting in astonished silence. Following this time of silence however he turns to the Lord in prayer (9:5).
This prayer includes a remembrance of Gods goodness to Israel (9:6-9), detailed confession of their breaking God’s law (9:10-14), and submission to His will (9:15)
We see Ezra turn from the sorrow of confession (I arose up from my heaviness 9:5) and turn to God in humble prayer. In my opinion this is what makes the difference between confession and repentance.
That doesn’t mean we can’t try to bring repentance in our own strength. But without God’s help it becomes an endless cycle of sinning, confessing that sin, and then failing again.
It may take longer for us to fail sometimes…but the failure still comes.
This is why the sorrow of confession must lead to hands being helplessly stretched out to God
There is definitely a place for confession and sorrow for sin life. But if there is no transformation of the heart as we turn to God then we are bound to find ourselves in the same situation very soon.