We know that GOD says that confessing our sins is important, both to Him and to one another.
Consider this question: What is the single most frequent “confession” you have heard from other Christians?
If your experience matches mine, it would go something like this:
“I just haven’t been the kind of person that I need to be lately. We’re supposed to live like Jesus and I just haven’t been the example to those around me that I should have been.”
Friends, this is not true, biblical confession.
This is what I call the colossal cop out.
Who among us has always been the “kind of person” they needed to be, even recently?
Who among us does look like a mirror image of Jesus?
Thus, simply stating these surface-level facts aren’t telling anyone anything they didn’t already know.
And more importantly, this isn’t accomplishing GOD’s intended purpose.
Churches’ poor job of facilitating confession significantly contributes to minimalistic, superficial confessions like this.
And that’s truly unfortunate, but regardless of our ineffective facilitation methods, GOD’s commands remain and we must obey.
(You could, of course, actively work on improving the method of handling confession in your congregation, which would be great, but few will actually do this.)
The confession that GOD wants from us is specific in nature. True confession is an admission of the specific sins we’ve committed.
For example, consider these two cases from Scripture…
Beware Your Sins Will Find You Out
Have you ever heard the verse quoted (typically in a prooftexting usage), “Beware, your sins will find you out?”
Do you know where that comes from?
As the Israelites were planning to cross the Jordan River into Canaan, a few tribes came to Moses with a request.
1 The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. 2 So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, 3 “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon— 4 the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel—are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. 5 If we have found favor in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.”
(Num. 32:1-5 NIV)
It seems as if either:
- Moses misunderstood their request; or…
- These tribes quickly compromised on their original request.
Moses launched into a bit of a tirade against what he perceived as a rebellious attitude which generated this request.
Afterward, the people said:
16 Then they came up to him and said, “We would like to build pens here for our livestock and cities for our women and children. 17 But we will arm ourselves for battle and go ahead of the Israelites until we have brought them to their place. Meanwhile our women and children will live in fortified cities, for protection from the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the Israelites has received their inheritance. 19 We will not receive any inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan, because our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.”
20 Then Moses said to them, “If you will do this—if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle 21 and if all of you who are armed cross over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him— 22 then when the land is subdued before the Lord, you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the Lord.
23 “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. 24 Build cities for your women and children, and pens for your flocks, but do what you have promised.”
(Num. 32:16-24 NIV)
So, in reality, the Israelite tribes requested land east of the Jordan, reached an agreement with Moses based upon a promise to fight alongside their brethren who would receive their inheritance west of the Jordan in Canaan.
Moses agreed, but warned them that if they didn’t obey, their sin would be evident.
While perhaps the truth applies on a general basis as well, Moses was referring to this specific sin of breaking their vow to their brethren, who would quite obviously notice it by simply noticing their lack of presence or effort.
Pray to the Lord for Me
Second, recall the incident with Simon the Sorcerer from the New Testament.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
(Acts 8:4-24 NIV)
Here, Simon committed a specific sin of having an impure thought which led him to attempt to bribe Peter and John for the ability to miraculously pass on the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands.
Peter rebuked him for the impure thought (interestingly, it is the thought and not the outward action that is rebuked), and Simon repents immediately.
(Interestingly and sadly, early post-NT Christian writers, including Irenaeus, tell us that Simon later became the forefather of the Gnostics.)
So, Christian friends, let’s stop playing this game of wimpy confessions, and let’s instead open up and be specific as GOD intends us to be, for only then can we reap the benefits of confessing our sins.
It is only when we admit to GOD and other Christians exactly how we’ve sinned that we can derive the benefits of confession.