When I hear someone talk about “confessing sin,” the first thought that comes to mind is someone – who has committed some major indiscretion – responding publicly at the end of a sermon. There is a time and place for that type of confession. However, what is even more important is the ordinary, day-to-day, informal confession of sin to one another. Sadly, I’m afraid this is almost non-existent in the lives of many Christians. And the fact that many are not confessing sin to one another should concern us in the church.
Why This Should Concern Us
The fact that we’re not confessing sin to one another is not evidence we’re not sinning; it is evidence we’re keeping our sin a secret. Chances are there are Christians in your congregation who regularly look at pornography, abuse pain medications, or are engaged in sexually immoral relationships. Or perhaps they’re struggling with more “socially acceptable” sins like greed, gossip, or pride. Either way, their sin is destroying them spiritually and emotionally.
They may be fully aware they have a problem, but they’re not saying a word. But then again, maybe you are the one secretly struggling with sin, terrified to confess it to anyone. Every Sunday people ask, “How are you?” You smile and say, “Doing good.” But inside you’re saying, “I’m not doing good at all. I’m a mess, but I’d be devastated if anyone knew that!”
This is not healthy. More importantly, it is not Christ’s plan that Christians struggle secretly and silently with their sin, terrified to confess it to anyone. I would go so far as to say, a congregation in which there’s little to no confession of sin is a congregation in which there’s little to no understanding of the gospel or what it means to be a church family.
No Justification without Confession
The church is a group of people who are in the state of “being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18). We are not being saved because we are good people. We are being saved because we realize our need for forgiveness and are clinging desperately to the cross of Christ.
Our ongoing need for cleansing is something we must continually bring to the forefront of our minds through confession. If we don’t confess our sins, we become self-righteous. And the self-righteous will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 5:3; Luke 18:9-14). The apostle John wrote:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:8-2:1).
But I’m sure someone is saying, “But that doesn’t say I have to confess my sin to another person. Why can’t I just confess my sin privately to God. Why can’t I just say, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 8:13)”?
You can and you should confess your sin privately to God. But you need to ask yourself this question, “Do I want to confess my sins privately to God because I want others to think I’m better than I really am?” We often say, “No one needs to know about my sin except me and God,” because we want to keep others in the dark about who we really are.
If we’re not careful, this can easily contribute to a cycle of hypocrisy and self-righteousness in ourselves and in our congregations.
Emboldening Others to Confess Sin
When a Christian friend confesses sin to me, they are usually wondering, Will I still be loved and respected? Will he think less of me? Ironically, I always love and respect them even more. I admire their courage and their humility. Their confession makes me want to be like them.
Confessing your sin to someone else isn’t just about you. It’s also about them. Your confession gives them the courage to expose their true self.
When a congregation has Christians who are regularly confessing their sin to one another, it creates an environment of courage, grace, and healing. People know they don’t have to struggle in secret. People understand they will still be loved even when others know who they truly are.
Again, I’m not talking about going in front of the whole congregation necessarily. I’m talking about you building relationships with a handful of Christians with whom you can be real. And when you confess your sins to them, you give them permission to do the same. Someone has to be courageous enough to go first.
United in the Battle Against the Flesh
Don’t get the impression we should create an environment where we all simply sympathize with each other’s sins. Sometimes another person’s confession comforts us because we can walk away saying, “Good, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with that.”
We need sympathetic ears, but we also need brothers and sisters in Christ who will join us in a holy hatred for our sin. We need Christians who will not just say, “Thanks for sharing that. We’re all struggling with things like that.” We need brethren who will join us in the fight against our flesh so we don’t just admit our sin, we STOP it.
When we confess our sin, we need to think of it like going to a doctor, saying, “Cut out my cancer. Destroy it. I don’t want this in me.”
We need to realize our need to be taught, encouraged, and admonished. If a young man says, “I’m struggling with pornography.” He doesn’t just need to hear, “Aw, I’m sorry.” He needs to be given advice on how to get rid of the problem. He needs real love. He needs accountability.
The Bottom Line
We need to seek out Christian friends to whom we can confess our sins, who will sympathize with our struggle, and who will join us in holy hatred for our sins.
As a Christian you must take the initiative to form intimate relationships with other Christians and regularly “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another” (James 5:16). This is God’s plan for His people.
I love you and God loves you,
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