This morning, we continue in our series entitled “Our Journey with Jesus”. We’ve been talking about some things that we can practice in our day-to-day lives that will move us in the direction of being more like Jesus.
We’ve talked about letting go, welcoming, and friending. And, last week, we talked about the need to rest. Not to be lazy, not to avoid the work that God has given us to do, but to better prepare ourselves for that work. Because, if we choose to neglect rest, we will never be able to accomplish all that God intends for us to accomplish.
This morning, I’ll be talking about what I think is perhaps the most difficult of all the disciplines in this series – confessing. More specifically, confessing sin.
We’re familiar with what John wrote in I John 1:8-9, where he said, “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.”
I’m sure we would all agree that confession of our sins is a necessary part of our spiritual growth. You may have heard that the Greek word for confess is “homologeo”. “Homo”, which means “the same”, and “logeo”, which is related to “logos”, which means “word” or “that which is spoken”. So, “homologeo” means “to say the same thing about something”.
When we confess Jesus Christ, we are saying the same thing about him that God says about him — that he is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, who died on the cross to take away our sins.
And when we confess our sins, we are saying the same thing about our actions that God says. We are being honest and admitting what we have done. We acknowledge that we have done something wrong, we have done something that offends God.
And scripture is clear that we all need to confess our sins to God. In fact, as the apostle John said in the passage we read just a moment ago, we have to be willing to confess our sins or we won’t be forgiven. But the scriptures also talk about the importance of confessing our sins to one another. For example, in James 5:16, James said, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
And I think that’s where we tend to get a little bit uncomfortable. If I were to say to you this morning, “For the next several minutes, I want you to think about some ways that you have wronged God, and I’d like for you to go to him silently in prayer and confess those sins and ask for his forgiveness.” I doubt if any of you would have a problem with that.
But if I were to say, “For the next several minutes, I’d like for you to think about some ways that you have wronged someone in this room, someone whom you have hurt, and I want you to walk over to them and confess your sins and ask for their forgiveness.” I suspect that most of you would find that a very difficult thing to do. And it’s not because you wouldn’t be able to think of someone here that you have offended. The truth is that we often hurt one another. It’s not something that we mean to do, but we do it. We do things and say things that are hurtful.
But, confessing our sins to one another is an uncomfortable thing for us to do, because it’s hard for us to say, “I was wrong. I was wrong to do what I did. I was wrong to say what I said. I know that it wasn’t pleasing to God, and I know that it was hurtful to you, and it wasn’t a reflection of the follower of Jesus that I claim to be. So, I want you to know that I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?” Even with married couples, it can sometimes be difficult to say, “I’m sorry” because our pride gets in the way and no one wants to be the first one to give in.
In his book Pilgrim Heart, Darryl Tippens tells about a time when he and his wife were invited to a Yom Kippur service by a Jewish friend. Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday, which we perhaps know better as the Day of Atonement. Darryl said the service was beautiful, but very different. And one thing that was especially different had to do with confession.
During Yom Kippur, Jews are encouraged to consider their sins against others in the community; and, in fact, they are expected to go to members of the community and apologize for things that they have done wrong over the past year. And so, at one point in this service, the rabbi did something that caught Darryl offguard. He asked everyone in the congregation to turn to someone nearby and confess his or her wrongs and to ask forgiveness.
Darryl said, “I have been a Christian for many decades, but no minister or worship leader has ever been so bold as to ask me there, in front of God and everybody, to name my wrong-doing and to ask the forgiveness of someone in the next pew. We Christians preach the idea of confession, we read scriptures about confession, but we don’t generally expect Christians to practice it — at least not in such a public way.”
And so, he sat there feeling very uncomfortable. What was he supposed to do while everyone else was confessing their sins? He thought that maybe, since he was a Gentile and a visitor, that he would not be expected to participate in this exercise. After all, he wasn’t a member of this congregation. And, to his knowledge, he hadn’t offended anyone in that room.
But, as he sat there wondering what he should do, his wife turned to him, and with tears in her eyes, she asked him, “Would you forgive me for all the ways in which I have hurt you through the years?” There was a part of Darryl that wanted to protest and say, “No! I’m the one that needs to ask your forgiveness!” But he simply said, “Yes, I forgive you. And please forgive me, too. ”
Darryl goes on to write, “Why did I have to go to a Jewish synagogue for such a moving experience of confession and forgiveness?…That experience…got me to thinking. What if Christians began to see each day and certainly each First Day of the Week as their day of atonement? What if Yom Kippur is the right idea, but we just need it more often than once a year? What if Christians came to the assembly expecting to lay down their burdens, their griefs, and their grievances before each other? What if they refused to go forward with their worship and their countless religious activities until they had made amends with their brothers and sisters in the faith? Jesus taught us that if a brother or a sister has a complaint against us, we are to leave our gift at the altar and be reconciled before we continue to worship. Could it be that our congregations are unnecessarily burdened by pain because we have failed to confess our faults one to another?”
There’s a lot of truth in what he says, because a disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who must have a confessional heart, a heart that willing to face the truth, accept the truth, and tell the truth — especially the truth about ourselves. Which is why the apostle John said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Because, the truth is, we have sinned. And it’s not just that we used to be sinners. We are sinners.
But there are so many pressures on us from society that tempt us to soften the truth, to spin the facts, or merely to stay superficial. For one thing, we live in a very competitive world. And so, we’re taught from an early age not to show weakness.
I read a quote online this past week from a man claiming to be Mr. Mafiaso, which probably is a good indication that he’s not a guy who’s very open and honest with people. But he said, “[I was] thinking about the importance of never showing your weaknesses, and how important it is to never, ever expose them to anyone, not even someone close to you…Anyone can use your weaknesses against you, not just your enemies. Your colleagues, business associates, friends, girlfriends, and even family may know some small facet of your life that they can use against you when the time is right. And those who are closest to you are always the ones who inflict the most damage, because you never expect your weakness to be used against you by someone you trust.”
Doesn’t that sound like the kind of advice you would expect to hear from someone in the world? Put up a front. Don’t let anybody see the chinks in your armor. Don’t let anybody see who you really are. And especially, don’t ever let them know about your weaknesses.
The problem, though, is that we tend to bring that same kind of thinking into the church. We don’t want anyone here to see our weaknesses. We want to give the appearance that we have it all together, and that we don’t struggle with anything. And so, as a result, Christians tend not to confess sins to one another, because we’re all expected to look better than we really are.
And, in fact, it may well be that the church is the place where we are least likely to be honest about our shortcomings. We’re afraid of what people might think about us. The very assumption that we are a righteous people, and the expectation that we are supposed to be a righteous people makes it difficult for us to be open and honest and confess our sins, because we feel like we have an image to keep up.
But Jesus had some very harsh words for those who put up a front and tried to impress people with their righteousness. And, of course, I’m talking about the Pharisees. It’s interesting that Jesus was just as severe with those religious leaders who were trying to appear to be righteous, as he was tender and encouraging to those who were honest about their lives, even if they didn’t have it all together on the outside. Because Jesus made it clear that he doesn’t expect his followers to be perfect, but he does expect us to be honest.
In his book Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman says, “Every week I get a chance to sit down with the people who are new to our church…Typically we have two separate kinds of people…There are some who have been around the church and God for a good part of their lives. They know the rules. They know what to say and how to say it. They know what words to include and what parts of their stories to leave out. They’ve learned to wear a mask.
“Then there are those who are new to Christ and the church. They haven’t learned the rules. And when they tell their story they will include a marriage that fell apart because of their unfaithfulness…It’s not uncommon for their stories to begin “I’ve been sober for …” and sometimes it’s been years. Sometimes it’s been days…I’ve heard ex-cons talk about their crime. I’ve heard men talk about pornography and women tell about credit card debt. Parents will talk about how much they are struggling with their kids. Many times, a couple will say that their marriage is just barely hanging on. They’ll tell about eating disorders, gambling problems, and drug addictions. They just don’t know any better. And I hope nobody tells them that they’re supposed to act like they’ve got it all together. You don’t often get to see people without a mask. And it’s such a beautiful thing.”
But that’s what Jesus wants in a follower — someone who isn’t pretending on the outside to have it all together. And perhaps, the worst thing that happens when we’re not honest and we hide our sins and our shortcomings, is that it presents to those non-Christians who are on the outside an image of a church that is filled with Christians who are smug, arrogant and hypocritical.
In fact, probably the word that is most commonly associated with Christians in our society is the word “hypocrite”. And we would like to say that their judgment of us is unfair, but unless we are willing to be open and honest about who are and what we’ve done, perhaps the assessment is more fair that we’d like to admit. And, to the extent that we are more interested in maintaining our image than we are in confessing our sins, we will remain a stumbling block to those who might otherwise consider following Jesus.
I heard years ago about something that happened at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. From what I understand, every year, at the end of the school year, Reed College celebrates Renn Faire, which is short for Renaissance Faire. And Renn Faire is basically a time for the students to cut loose — carouse, drink, get high, and do whatever they want to do.
About 15 years ago, there was a small group of Christians who met to talk about what they should do during Renn Faire. And, after a lot of discussion, one of them made a proposal. He said, “We ought to build a confession booth in the middle of campus and paint a sign on it that says, ‘Confess your sins.’” He was partly joking, but partly serious, because he knew that a lot of students would be sinning that weekend, and so they could be like John the Baptist and call people to confess their sins and repent.
This group of Christians talked about it and they were about to agree to do just that when one of them, Tony, spoke up and he said, “I think we need to do this. But we need to make one change — We won’t ask them to confess to us. We will confess our sins to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus.”
And so, that’s what they did. As Renn Faire got started, students began to drift into their confession booth. The first one in was a fellow named Jake. And Tony said to him, “Welcome to the confession booth. This is where confessions are heard. But, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to go first.
“Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened… Jesus did not mix His spirituality with politics, but I grew up doing that. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know Him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across.
“Please forgive us for the role we played in slavery and racism in the United States and around the world. Forgive us for wars waged in God’s name. Will you forgive us for the ways we communicate judgment, arrogance and hatred every single day? Would you forgive me because I claim to be a follower of Jesus, but my life looks nothing like his? Jesus stood for love, generosity and care for others. Mine doesn’t. I am selfish, distracted and dismissive. Will you please forgive me?”
As you might expect, Jake was a bit taken aback by what he heard. He teared up and he said, “It’s all right, man. I forgive you.” Over the course of the weekend, there were dozens of students who stepped into that booth. These Christians confessed their sins to each one of them. And, without exception, every one of those students offered them the gift of forgiveness.
But, then, something else also happened. After hearing these Christians confess their sins, most of the students then opened up and began to talk about their pain: addictions, abuse, regrets, shame. And they had a chance to talk about Jesus.
You see, the interesting thing that happens when we drop our mask is not that others think less of us, which is what we are so afraid of. If anything, it causes people to think more of us. We tend to have respect for those who are willing to be open and honest. And, just like what happened on that college campus, our willingness to be open makes it easier for others to be open as well.
So, let me close by giving you six reasons why confessing is an important discipline for us to practice as Christians.
1. As I’ve already suggested, confession is essential to forgiveness.
In Psalm 32, David talked about the need to be honest with God regarding the sin that he committed with Bathsheba. He said, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5)
Which is a living example of what John said — “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9.
Solomon said basically the same thing back in the Proverbs – “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
Confession of our sins is essential, because if we aren’t willing to confess our sins, then God will not forgive us.
2. Confession unburdens the soul.
You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Confession is good for the soul.” There’s a lot of truth in that. And, in fact, that saying has its roots in Psalm 32, where David was talking about his sin. He said, “For 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 dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4).
In Psalm 38, he said, “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.” (Psalm 38:4). And my guess is you all know exactly what David is talking about. When we’ve done something wrong, and we refuse to admit it and just try to keep it hidden, it becomes a burden that just gets heavier and heavier.
Gordon MacDonald has said, “We cannot expect to live healthily in the future when the baggage of the past keeps banging away at the trap door of our minds demanding attention.”
Confessing our sins frees us from that sense of guilt, it frees us from that burden, and it’s like a huge weight is removed from our shoulders.
3. Confession breaks the grip of pride.
One of the most difficult things that we all struggle with is pride. Pride has been referred to as the essence of all of our sins. In I John 2:16, John summed up the temptations of the world with three phrases – “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” And we all struggle with that pride.
It’s part of our human nature to want to be well thought of by everyone around us. That’s why we wear our masks. That’s why we don’t want anyone to know what we’re really like. Because we care about what people think about us. Our pride gets in the way.
But confession tears down the pride in our lives. Confession says, “I’m more interested in the truth of who I am than I am in the image of who you think I am.” And in the battle against pride that we all fight, confessing our sins helps us to win that battle.
4. Confession helps us to prevent future sins.
As I suggested earlier, it’s much harder to confess our sins to one another than it is to confess our sins to God. One of the reasons is that we have come face to face with that brother or sister from time to time. And so, we have to trust that brother or sister to have our best interest at heart and not use that knowledge to hurt us.
But, the positive side of sharing with a brother or sister is that it creates a sense of accountability. We now have someone who knows about our struggle, and so they can be there to help us when we need it in the future. That’s one of the core elements of Alcoholics Anonymous. Every member of that group has another member they can call on when tempted. And once we are open and honest with other Christians, we have that same resource at our disposal.
5. Confessing our sins to one another encourages the weak not to give up.
When you think you’re the only one struggling, it’s easy to get discouraged. When we’re together in this assembly, we’re always doing religious things. And it’s easy to get it in your head that everyone is just like this all week long, and you know that you’re not. And so, if you come to church and you think that everybody else has it all together and nobody else is struggling with what you’re struggling with, then you can get discouraged.
But as you begin to share some of your own struggles, it frees others to share their struggles, and you begin to realize that their life is just as big a mess as yours is, and they battle against Satan’s temptations every day just like you do. And you realize that other Christians lose some of those battles from time to time, just like you do. When you realize that we’re all in this together, it’s much easier to hang in there.
6. Confessing our sins to each other brings us closer together.
Let me repeat something I said a few weeks ago that I think is profound (which will tell you that it came from someone else) — We impress people with our strengths but we connect with people through our weaknesses. It’s when we’re transparent, it’s when we’re vulnerable, it’s when we drop the macho image and we say, “Here’s what I’m going through.” “Here’s what makes me afraid.” “Here’s what I’m struggling in my marriage.” “Here’s the temptation that I can’t seem to overcome.” “Here’s what I can’t stop worrying about.”
You can’t help but be closer to someone who has shared a piece of their lives, who has opened up those hidden spaces of their heart. And so, as we are more and more honest with one another, we begin to draw closer together as a church.
As we close this lesson, I suppose what I ought to do is to ask all of you to go to someone here and confess your sins, but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, even though there might be great value in it. So, I’ll simply suggest that when worship is over, if there is someone here that you need to talk to, someone that you have offended and you need to make it right, I encourage you to pull them off to the side and confess your sins.
And I would like to think that this will become a natural part of who we are as a church. Because a follower of Jesus Christ is someone who is willing to confess. Because, more than anything else, we want to be truthful about their lives.