The Bible has a lot to say about confession so it must be important. Even a light perusal through the pages of scripture would reveal that confession was expected to be a central tenet in the lives of God’s people in biblical times. In fact, according to Proverbs 28:13, whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Simply put, confession is the act of freely and specifically admitting a sinful action. And, in what may come as a surprise to many, the goal for this act was redemptive, not punitive. Confession led to mercy (Proverbs 28:13), forgiveness (I John 1:9), healing (James 5:16), repentance (Acts 19:17-19) and even salvation from judgment (Psalm 32:1-6). Conclusion: not only do we not do ourselves any favors by keeping our sins silent; we actually keep ourselves from experiencing very good things. Heck, if confession just accomplished one of these things, it’d be a pretty good day. So if this is the case, then why is confession the neglected, red-headed step-daughter of the spiritual disciplines today?
Well, the reason is pretty obvious: confession is uncomfortable. When the Bible talks about confession, it doesn’t just mean confessing your sins to God (I mean, He knows already). The Bible also means that you should confess them to other believers. But let’s be honest, there is nothing fun about telling someone something that proves what a hot mess you are. And even though we ALL fall into that category and stand in need of God’s grace (Romans 3:23), there is something about specifically detailing your own failures that gives you the sense that the spotlight of morality shines ever more brightly on you, singling you out from others in the room who you think don’t struggle like you do. Do you know what this is? It’s shame.
You could find a lot of definitions for shame, but I love how it‘s defined by Czech-born author Milan Kundera: “The basis of shame is not some personal mistake of ours, but the ignominy, the humiliation we feel that we must be what we are without any choice in the matter, and that this humiliation is seen by everyone.” Good quote, right? (Confession: I’m not some avid reader, I just heard the quote while watching an episode of Criminal Minds). But wow, doesn’t it capture the essence of shame, namely that people feel irreparably broken and think everyone can see it?
Further complicating the matter, contemporary culture, encouraged by shame, has adopted a “mind your own business” mentality as a coping mechanism for shame. Privacy gives people permission to keep what they want others to see separate from what they would rather keep unknown and unaddressed. Now don’t get me wrong; privacy isn’t always bad. Some things need to be kept private – like my parents’ sex life. I would love to believe that my parents have only had sex twice, once when my brother was conceived and once when I was conceived. But I know (through personal trauma) that this isn’t the case and frankly don’t ever want to think about it again. In this case, privacy is a gift straight from God. But the kind of privacy that allows us to walk in continual error and pretend like the resulting shame isn’t assailing our souls daily? That gift isn’t from God. It’s straight from hell. However, this mentality isn’t foreign to the redeemed. Among believers, we’ve taken our personal relationships with Jesus Christ and turned them into private relationships with Jesus Christ where, apart from being held accountable for our faults, we dull the sting of shame by keeping our sins unknown, perhaps even redefining right and wrong in an attempt to alleviate the shame altogether. Shame has convinced us to let sleeping dogs lie. But what shame won’t tell you is that, one day, those dogs will wake up hungry and rabid and it will be time to pay the piper.
Shame has immense power. But, confession steals that power and gives it back to redemption where it belongs. See, when you confess your sin(s), you affirm in your confession the most important anthropological component of the Gospel: humanity is messed up and needs Jesus. But why is it such a big deal to admit this? Does God get some sick pleasure from compelling us to spill our innermost darkness? No. Rather, it is through that honest admission that we indicate our readiness for something better. To put it another way: if you think nothing is wrong, then you won’t change it. Change begins with honest admission of the issue that needs to be changed in the first place. So, when you affirm this personally in confession, you invite the healing power of grace and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit into your life. Grace heals our hearts and reminds us that, because of Christ, our sins – past, present and future – are forgiven and forgotten by God. And if God has forgotten them, then why should you remember them? When God looks at you, O Christian, He doesn’t see the bucket of bad choices and sinful actions that you see when you look in the mirror; He sees the perfection of Jesus Christ with which you have been clothed (Galatians 3:26-27). And what of sin and shame? They got nailed to the cross, never to live again. But what of the fact that you still sin and still feel shame? The Holy Spirit transforms your mind and actions continually, helping you become the person that God sees when He looks at you. God has “hemmed you in behind and before and laid His hand upon you” (Psalm 139:5).
Do you get it yet? It is confession that renders broken the power of sin and shame. It is confession that indicates your readiness for a redeemed heart and transformed life. It is confession that opens the door to the life for which you have been created.