Ezra mourned over the sinful practice lived by the priests, Levites, and other Israelites in which they married wives from pagan lands. When he confronted the people, they confessed their sins to the heads of households and began the process of putting them away and repenting of their actions. Ezra continued to mourn and fast over this widespread sin, and little by little the people of Israel began to cleanse themselves of this disobedient practice. The people offered a ram as a trespass offering.
While this may seem like a devastating response, in which women were unceremoniously removed from their homes and sent back to their native lands, it represents a principle that applies to our lives today. If we are to truly change course and serve God, we must cleanse ourselves of sin, sinful practices, and sinful relationships. Asking for forgiveness of our sins from God is simply the first step in receiving salvation–that is, to be sanctified or set apart from the sins that have brought guilt and separation from God. This is positional sanctification, where we are set apart from our sins and made holy in the eyes of God. To truly live in relationship with God, one must ask God for deliverance from the sinful practices of their normal existence and live a life of holiness through being sanctified or set apart from those practices. This is practical sanctification, where we are set apart from the practice of those sins and any other by which we may be tempted. Finally, we separate ourselves from relationships that draw us away from God. Identifying those and carrying out that separation can be difficult, even devastating, but nevertheless necessary if we are to live a lifestyle of sanctification. If God loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us to be saved, we must love Him enough to separate ourselves from the things that bring Him sorrow in our lives. Confession is incomplete without repentance.