The Potency of a Gracious Weapon: Practicing Confession
Guest Writer: Joe Beery
To shamelessly borrow an idea from Kathy Keller, if someone told me that there was a pill I could take that would enrich my friendships and arm me against temptation, I doubt I would hesitate to sign-up. Like many in my generation, I have found it difficult to make friends as I’ve moved out of the academic melting pot of high school and university, and I’ve also seen the staggering grip that sin has on our world. Even in the church, I’ve often found it difficult to move past awkward handshakes and a commentary on the weather with the people I think are genuinely interesting. In light of this discovery, I set out to find any common threads in the rich, deep friendships that I’ve made in my life. The answer? An earnest and frequent practice of mutually confessing our sins.
The Reformation and Confession
Confident that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way, I decided to ask around. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, I learned that confession was just as rare amongst the people I asked as in my own circles. I fear that, especially as Protestants, we threw the baby out with the bath water during the Reformation—we rejected exclusive confession to the Catholic Priests, but failed to embrace our counter argument: that we must, then, confess our sins to fellow believers in our community. When we confess our sins to one another, we forge trust. By taking off the carefully crafted masks that we show to the world, and having other people reciprocate, we are free to plumb the depths of nearly any topic because we genuinely know one another. Then, we can mutually delight in a broader range of topics. Literary genius C.S. Lewis wrote that friendship is the product of one person turning to another as they both enjoy some object or display and saying, “You too!? I thought I was the only one.” When we open our hearts to confess our sins to one another, we find the same sense of companionship in that moment of confession and in the subsequent conversations that our relationships are no longer marred by a sense of fake, or the unknown.
Confession is a Weapon!
The profound power of confession goes beyond grounding deep friendships. God reveals to us throughout the Scriptures that confession is a weapon we wield against sin, and the by-product is the refining of our hearts. Ephesians 5:11–14 (ESV) says,
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ’Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”
When we allow our sins to remain in darkness, they fester like a wound—the infection spreads from what we thought was a discrete area of our lives out into the rest of us. However, when we confess our sins, “exposing them to light,” then, “Christ shines on us,” and our hearts are brought into conformity with the will and purposes of God. Solomon warns that “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Proverbs 28:13).
Oh! If we could understand the incredible power of confession! John says in his letter, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (i John 1:9). James exhorts us to “therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16 ). And the Psalmist, amidst war with his sin nature, writes, “I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ’I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.” (Psalm 32:5). When we feel as though we are at the mercy of our temptations, God tells us that we have been not a shield, but a weapon that the Holy Spirit, through the blood of Jesus Christ, empowers us to wield ferociously: by confessing our sins to one another, we are “cleansed of all unrighteousness,” and our prayers become the efficacious prayers of the righteous lauded in James.
Are you willing?
Brother or sister, if you are willing to lay aside your pride and lean into the biblical practice of confessing your sins to other believers, you take a necessary step on the road toward glorification. Confession is more than mere ritual—it is the process by which you discover and uproot the “sin that so easily ensnares you.” (Heb. 12:1). You must spend time reflecting on the desires of your heart and the motivations of your actions to confess your sin and drown it in Christ’s blood. This point is important: you must confess the sins of your heart, for they are your sins. Unlike some other practices that can carried by a group, confession requires you to invert your internal walls of privacy—a solo act.
To survive as the bride of Christ in the aftermath of Genesis 3, a world war torn by sin and temptation, we must lay claim to every weapon in our arsenal. The need to mortify sin and remain steadfast in our relationships with other believers is a primary concern in the Church, yet we have all but abandoned a spiritual discipline that directly leads to success in these areas. If we take the Bible seriously, and if we really care about holiness and our relationships, then we must seriously pursue the practice of confessing our sins. We must, quickly, seek out believers and build relationships upon the bedrock of confession to firm up our own souls, lest we abandon one of our greatest advantages out of synthetic, selfish pride.