Confession is a lost art. I’m not sure what comes to your mind when you hear the word confession, but I’m assuming it has a negative connotation. Usually in our culture today not many people confess much of anything. Some confess love for another person or a religion, but few think of confessing any kind of guilt or wrongdoing. Children might confess to doing something they weren’t supposed to after they are caught. Adults might take the time to confess to the Lord before communion if it comes to mind. Other than that confession is an overlooked or forgotten discipline.
So what is confession? The Bible tells us to confess means to “throw down”, “cast down”, or declare our guilt. Confession is about recognizing how we have failed to live up to God’s standards and ask for forgiveness for those shortcomings. It’s about identifying specifically where we have fallen short. There are a number of benefits to practicing confession on a regular basis. Every time we recognize our sin and confess it we become more aware of what prevents us from becoming more like Jesus. One cannot grow more like Jesus until one sees where in their lives they are not like Him in the first place. The more we recognize our sins the more we realize the seriousness of them as well. The affects of sin are more than eternal death. Consequences are a part of our daily lives whether it is spiritual, physical, mental or otherwise.
If we don’t confess our sins to others or to God we are incapable of seeing them as every day occurrences. When confessing is not a part of our daily lives we quickly become accustomed to making excuses for our failings or we become callous to them. If we don’t take time to see where we fall short, we won’t believe we actually do. When confession doesn’t involve another brother or sister we can also brainwash ourselves into thinking our sins aren’t anything compared to those around us or that we’re the only ones who struggle! This is a lonely life indeed.
Sin can even have a physical effect on us as well. We learn in Psalms the affect sin has on David, until he confesses to the Lord and is freed from the distress. Psalm 32:1-5, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
I remember in 1st grade there was a 20 minute reading time every day. I chose to read this one book and claimed it only took me 20 minutes. My teacher informed me that it took a fellow peer three days to finish that particular book. I insisted that I had completed the reading. She then asked me if I struggled with any of the vocabulary because it was a little advanced for my age. Having not read the book I wasn’t sure myself, but turned to a page and pointed to a random word and claimed that it was one I did not know. After clarifying what the word meant, my teacher excused me to go back to my seat. That night I could not sleep. I felt so sick to my stomach! I woke my mom up and told her how I lied. She explained to me how sinning is like having a blackboard on our hearts. When we sin the action is written on our blackboards until we confess them. They will always be on our hearts until we confess. That night I called my teacher, told her how I lied, and asked for her forgiveness. When I got off the phone my mom said the lie, that sin, was erased off my blackboard and I was clean again. This is the discipline of confession, making sure the blackboard of your heart is wiped clean by the Lord.
If we don’t confess our sin on a regular basis we also experience a spiritual consequence as well. Romans 8 says those who live according to their sinful natures are hostile to God and are incapable of submitting to Him. If we don’t recognize our sin and confess it we are controlled by our sinful nature and that means death. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” The Message version puts it this way, “If I had been cozy with evil, the Lord would never have listened.” If we don’t confess our sins our prayer lives are stunted. If we don’t see our sins, we prevent ourselves from fellowshipping with God. I John 1:5-9: “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living sin spiritual darkness; we are not practicing truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.”
James 5:16 also reveals there are consequences to unconfessed sin, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” We must be healed because our sin has made us sick in the first place. Unconfessed sin keeps us in spiritual darkness, separates us from fellowship with God, who is light, and multiples like cancer cells. We must confess and bring our cancer cells to light so we can be healed!
Notice James tells us to involve our brothers and sisters too. Confession is more than telling the Lord how you have wronged Him, but also a fellow believer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together, “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light.” (116)
Confessing with another person who loves Jesus isn’t meant to be scary. When someone is able to confess to another lover of Jesus we experience God’s love and forgiveness in the flesh, and the listener is reminded that they are not alone. Confessing sin to a brother or sister in Christ brings our sin to light, gives us accountability, humbles us, and we are reminded that we are all human and in need of forgiveness and redemption. Confession to others is not judgment, it’s freedom to be just as you are, broken and forgiven.