Friday, October 7, 2022

Confessing Sins You've Never Committed

Suggested Reading: Nehemiah 1:1-11

My father grew up in a very abusive situation. He, his eight brothers and sisters, and his mother, were constantly under the threat of a physical beating from my grandfather. Abuse is what he learned. A temper is what he was trained to display. But my dad never wanted to treat his children the way his father treated him. So when I was growing up we had a few holes in the walls. They were testaments to both my father's anger and his ironclad will not to repeat the mistakes of his own father by ever laying a finger on us in anger. As the years went by, there were fewer holes in the walls and less outbreaks of anger as he got better and better at behaving the way he wanted to instead of the way he was taught. Though he was far from perfect and didn't always succeed, my father tried to keep in mind the mistakes of his own father and his own desire to never repeat those mistakes.

In the story of Nehemiah, we find Nehemiah praying, seeking God's help in restoring Jerusalem to prosperity. Nehemiah prayed, "let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses" (Nehemiah 1:6-7, NIV). Now, Nehemiah had not been the one to bow down to an idol and incur the wrath of God. Nehemiah had not been the one to ignore God's commands and kill his prophets. Nehemiah had not been the one to worship false gods and teach others to do the same. But Nehemiah had been raised by people who had. Nehemiah had been taught the habits and lifestyles of the people who had done all those things. And Nehemiah was aware of the connection between his forbearers and the penalties for their sin and he was committed to never repeat the mistakes of the past.  

Many of us have been taught horrible and sinful things by the people who came before us and, unfortunately, many of us are teaching the same things to those who are coming after us. But if we are to have hope that the future will improve, if we are to secure the blessing of God for our families and ourselves, we must own up to the mistakes of the past and the habits and lessons we have been taught, even if we are not the ones who actually committed those mistakes. We must be painfully aware of those past sins so that we will never repeat them.

What bad habits have you been taught? What sinful attitudes have you learned from those who came before you? If you are ever to move beyond them, you must first acknowledge them before God as Nehemiah did. If not, you are destined to repeat them. 


  1. Thank you, Chris, for your insights.. I, too, have endeavored to not repeat the sins of my parents, and I thank God for His grace and mercy. With the woke movement infiltrating our churches, what are your thoughts about the church confessing our forebear’s sins of slavery?

    1. Christopher St.Clair IIOctober 24, 2022 at 6:38 AM

      I think Nehemiah, as well as other figures in scripture, provide evidence that confessing our forbearer's sins is a good practice, no matter what those sins are.

      How we then respond to those sins and make them right is a much more complex matter and should be guided by the nature of the sin and what we actually have or haven't benefited from our ancestors' sins. Just as it is wrong to oppress an entire race based on the color of their skin or their geographical place of origin, it is equally wrong to condemn an entire race for the actions of some people who belong to that race and paint the entire race with the condemnation some of its members rightfully deserve. I do think the process should be guided by a desire to make things right, even if the cost is painful, and a desire to restore relationships. But I also think there is a difference between taking responsibility to set things right and, in essence, being penalized and punished for actions over which an individual had no control.

      Scripture is also fairly clear that we should not punish individuals for the sins of their ancestors. Taking it upon ourselves to right the wrongs of our ancestors is another matter and one I do think we should take more seriously than we do. 1


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