Examine your prayers of confession for a moment. Do you have an overwhelming sense of the vileness and danger of sin, as John Owen puts it "as represented in the blood and cross of Christ", always abiding with you? Is your motive a godly grief over sins that the Savior has spilt His blood to pardon - sins that He has already buried in the ocean of His mercy?
Or do you repent because you fear what God will do to you if you don't? Fear what the consequences of your sins will be? Do you repent out of some sense of necessity, as if the work of repentance must be done continually in order to maintain your state of salvation? Or merely out of a desire to ease your bothered conscience, with little or no concern for Christ and the way your sins have slighted and grieved Him? I think Tim Keller puts it best:
"Repentance out of mere fear is really sorrow for the consequences of sin, sorrow over the danger of sin — it bends the will away from sin, but the heart still clings. But repentance out of conviction over mercy is really sorrow over sin, sorrow over the grievousness of sin — it melts the heart away from sin. It makes the sin itself disgusting to us, so it loses its attractive power over us. We say, ‘this disgusting thing is an affront to the one who died for me. I'm continuing to stab him with it!"
You see what is being said here? If our repentance is not done for the simple fact that we have seen what our Savior has done in His rich mercy, and are continually and humbly beholding our sins in the horror and offensiveness of the cross, we have not really repented! "The heart still clings" to sin if we are merely sorry for our sin for any other reason.
So let us fix our eyes upon Jesus Christ - and leave them there. Let us be in continual awareness of our sin and His grace as displayed on Calvary. For how can there be any drop of arrogance, any self-centered prayer, any love for another, when we truly and rightly behold the beautiful Savior who died there for us?
And let us also behold this same Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. For He did not stay on the cross. He rose again. And "ever lives above, for me to intercede"! His perfect righteousness covers my every sin - yes, even those polluted prayers. His blood speaks a better word.
May this be our prayer today: (taken from the Valley of Vision)
O God of Grace,
Thou hast imputed my sin to my substitute,
and hast imputed His righteousness to my soul,
clothing me with a bridegroom's robe,
decking me with jewels of holiness.
But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;
my best prayers are stained with sin;
my penitential tears are so many impurity;
my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin;
my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed;
I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment.
for Thou dost always justify the ungodly.
I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal.
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and Thou art always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day's work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.