There are some “if … then” passages in the Bible, and it is vital how you interpret and apply them! Here’s one I read this morning:

“If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18, New Living Translation). 

Some people interpret this legalistically. In other words, they think, God will not have any communion with me if I don’t first confess my sins to him. Some Christians even set up their prayer times by being absolutely certain to put confession before supplication. When we do this, we can easily make things like adoration, confession, and thanksgiving holy bribes to soften up God before we ask him for what we want.

Psalm 66:8 is talking about the condition of our hearts, not some legalistic thing we must “do” to blackmail or even to lure God into listening to us. God is concerned primarily about our hearts. God listened to David because David came to him with an open, contrite, humble heart that allowed David to honestly confess his sins to his Father.

The same heart condition was in play in another “if … then” passage when Jesus talked about the necessity of forgiving others in order for God to forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). In other words, Jesus was saying, if your heart is so hardened that you cannot forgive others, then your heart is not yet ready to reconcile with your loving Father who is waiting patiently to forgive you and receive you back into his arms. It’s about your heart being open, not about God putting a legalistic barrier in place.

When our pride gets in the way of being able to confess, repent, and forgive others, God puts us in a place where we can be broken and humbled. That’s what God lovingly did with David (see Psalm 51), and he still does this today with us. It’s up to us how we respond to him in these circumstances.

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Michael Mack has been involved in small group ministry as a pastor, writer, trainer, and speaker for more than 25 years. He founded SmallGroups.com in 1995 and started Small Group Leadership in 2012. He became the 12th editor of Christian Standard magazine in 2017 and continues to speak in churches about small groups, discipleship, and leadership. He lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky (just outside Louisville), with his wife Heidi. They have four young adult children. Michael enjoys mountain and road biking with a group of friends. See the "About Michael Mack" page under About Us for more about him.

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