Confession. We need it. And we hate it.
We hate to do it because it forces us to admit things about ourselves we don't want to admit. But we all have hidden things in our lives that sit in the dark and gnaw on our souls - things that scratch at locked doors of our conscience, aching to get out... things like weaknesses, shameful appetites, betrayals, besetting sins - they almost demand that we put them into words and share them. But to do so feels often like a form of death in itself.
And this isn't a religious impulse. It's a human one. We all feel the need.
All you have to do is look at the crazy popularity of a site like postsecret. I have to admit that I like postsecret. I find it intriguing and, at times, disturbing. I have sympathy for some confessions and repulsion at others. And there have been some wonderful stories that have emerged of people actually making real, personal, human connections with others through the site when someone recognizes their card or someone is encouraged to call the suicide hotline by not feeling so alone.
But I wonder, for most of the people who send in their cards, if there is any real good that comes from anonymous confession. In my experience, anonymous confession may provide a kind of temporary cathartic release, but it doesn't last. And it sure doesn't kill the thing-I-am-confessing's hold on me. I think that the popularity of sites like postsecret show us that we have a need to truly be known, in all of our ugliness. We have a need to be honest about our impulses and actions, even if they are ugly. We have a need for forgiveness and absolution, even if we don't have the courage to actually seek it.
And that's why I am a fan of confession. Real confession. The kind of confession talked about in the Bible. The kind that is costly and difficult but is also cleansing and freeing. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that confession should be part of our regular routine as believers. The Apostle John said:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 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. (1 John 1:7-9 ESV)
John is writing to believers and encouraging them to develop regular habits of confession in their lives. He is encouraging us, saying, "Hey, I know you sin. A lot. More than you like to admit. And, at times, you will be tempted to hide it because you feel like mature Christians shouldn't sin this much or have this much need or struggle this often. Resist the urge to fake it and pretend you are without sin. That is the way of death. Forgiveness and cleansing are only a confession away. Praise God by admitting your need. Free yourself through humility."
So, if regular confession is supposed to be part of our regular rhythms as followers of Jesus, what should that look like? What should we confess and who should we confess it to?
Here are some brief thoughts:
1. Confess daily to God. In fact, confess moment by moment. I would encourage you to develop conversational confession with God. Talk to him before you are tempted, but think you will be tempted. Talk to him in the temptation. Confess your weakness, your need, your desires that don't line up with his word. And confess when you sin. Not when after you beat yourself up or wait enough time so that you finally feel worthy to come back into his presence (as if you ever could make yourself worthy - that's the whole point. That's why we need grace). Confess while you feel most inadequate - there is forgiveness and cleansing power in confession.
2. Confess to someone whenever you sin against them (or at their expense). Yes, your sin is first and foremost a sin against God. Yes, David said to God," Against you and you only have I sinned" (after he committed adultery and murder). No, none of that means you don't actually have to confess your sin to the person against whom you have sinned. When you sin against someone, you take something from them that wasn't yours to take (security, comfort, possessions, fidelity) and it is essential to your soul and to your relationship that you confess and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
3. Confess regularly to a close community of true friends who love you, pray for you, and are committed to calling out the best in you. You need to be careful with this one. You don't want to be "Head-wound Harry," running around just pouring out your shame on everyone you meet. But you also don't want to become isolated and unknown in your spiritual need. that is the path to pride, hiding, discouragement and ongoing defeat. You need to pray for, seek out, and nurture a close community of friends (or at least one friend) who knows how to stay confidential, knows your history, and is eager to see you grow in the future. This is very different from accountability partners who often act as "sin police" in our lives, just hunting for and asking about failures. A friend loves you, has patience with you, and is unwilling to give up on you.
Remember, our faith rests in a message of grace - unearned, unending, unlimited love and a never ending invitation to joyful intimacy. Let's never settle for faking it. We are invited to the table of grace. Let's dig in.