When it comes to sin, the church has made a tragic, even fatal, habit of treating malignant tumors with band aids. We play with nuclear bombs like they are snap pops. Nowhere is this evidenced more than in our unwillingness to drag the darkness of our sin into the liberating light of the gospel. When we refuse to confess our sin, we are saying that sin is not really as serious and the forgiveness of the cross is not really as free as the Bible says. In other words, where confession is lacking, self-righteousness is still reigning.
Confession is a grace from God. We do not deserve it. We do not deserve to have eyes to see our sin for the treasonous and condemnable offense against God that it is and to repent. Yet God has gifted us confession in the fight against sin. To be clear, confession is not the remedy for our sin. It does, however, remind us of the remedy—the gospel. It is in a sense a pipe through which the remedy of the gospel flows into our hearts. In confession we remember both the reality of sin—that it is deserving of the infinite, unrelenting wrath of God—and the hope of the gospel—that in Christ, God has exhausted His wrath against our sin and has clothed us forever in the righteousness of His Son.
But we are a self-righteous people. We masquerade behind the façade of religious morality because we are utterly terrified of being found out for the frauds and fakes we really are. We know that if we walk in the light of confession, the perceptions of righteousness we have toiled so incessantly to build and maintain will in a moment be undone. And as we are content to leave our sin alone in the darkness we harm God (and the gospel), others and even ourselves.
If we reduce sin to an insignificant and haphazard misstep, we are in effect saying God cannot be so infinitely and perfectly holy to be offended by my sin. It would be like saying the sun cannot be so unimaginably hot to incinerate tissue paper.
We harm God by either (and sometimes both) belittling His holiness or diminishing His grace. We belittle His holiness when we diagnose cosmic treason as a minor infraction. If we reduce sin to an insignificant and haphazard misstep, we are in effect saying God cannot be so infinitely and perfectly holy to be offended by my sin. It would be like saying the sun cannot be so unimaginably hot to incinerate tissue paper. Only a pathetic sun could spare tissue paper, and only a pathetic God could simply excuse sin.
We harm the gospel of God’s grace by our unbelief that the same God whose holiness rages in wrathful fury against our sin has emptied the cup of His wrath against our sin by putting forth His own Son, the only Innocent One, to drink it in our place. We deny the validity of the gospel when we wrongly believe that in Christ there is not sufficient grace to cover our sin. We make light of the power of the blood of the perfect, eternal Son of God shed on Calvary and say, “Christ died in vain.”
We deny the validity of the gospel when we wrongly believe that in Christ there is not sufficient grace to cover our sin.
We harm others by refusing to acknowledge the harm our sin has done them. To ignore the harm our sin does to others is dehumanizing. Those offended by our sin are denied the dignity of personhood by the silence of our prideful non-confession. We trample others underfoot and count their loss as collateral damage in our march to preserve and maintain our self-centered existence.
We harm ourselves by our contentedness to live a phantom existence. When we fail to recognize the reality of our sin, we fail to recognize the reality of our existence—we are sinners. We create a false reality in which we live either free from bondage to sin or free from the consequences of sin. But that reality is not the true reality. To be clear, in Christ, we are freed from bondage to sin and the consequence of sin in the ultimate sense. But the ultimate sense is a future reality. In the present, we live in the tension of the already-not yet where we are simultaneously free from sin and still enslaved to sin, of having the ultimate consequence of our sin (eternal death) endured by Another but still responsible for the tragic consequences of our sin in this life. Any escape of the “not yet” element of our existence is a mirage. It is a phantom existence.
But where the silence of our prideful non-confession harms God, the gospel, others and ourselves, God has granted us the grace of confession to carve a better, truer, more Christ-exalting way forward.
In true confession, we grieve only the harm done our Benefactor who has lavished on us grace upon grace that we, by our sin, have continually scorned and rejected.
In confession, we remember the holiness of God. We have sinned against the Most High and Holy God. To approach Him in the humility of confession is a reminder that our treason and rebellion is against Him. So true confession rightly recognizes the holiness of God and the affront our sin is against His holiness. And because we have offended Him by our sin, He must be the one to extend forgiveness which He does undeservedly in Christ. And as those who are in Christ, we fear not the harm done to ourselves in confession because we know, in our sinful state, no more harm can be done. Apart from Christ we are weak, ungodly, dead. As such, in true confession, we grieve only the harm done our Benefactor who has lavished on us grace upon grace that we, by our sin, have continually scorned and rejected.
Therefore, in confession, we openly admit our helplessness and cast ourselves on God’s gracious provision for our sin which He made in Christ. We proclaim the surpassing sufficiency of Christ’s work on our behalf. We remember that we cannot save ourselves and magnify God’s grace in saving us. We remember afresh that we merit no forgiveness and marvel anew at the wonder that forgiveness flows so free from Calvary.
Also, in confession, we dignify the people offended by our sin. We recognize them as persons who are pained the sting of our offense against them. We approach them in humble love rather than arrogant indifference. And as we confess to fellow brothers (or sisters) in Christ, they can remind us of the gospel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says of confession to others, “Since the confession of sin is made in the presence [of others], the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned.” We are disposed to think that it will do more harm than good to confess our sin to others. We think that what remains concealed in the darkness can do no harm. But our attempts to save our relationships with others by not confessing sin will actually end up destroying them. And by seemingly destroying our relationships by confessing your sin, in Christ, we will actually end up saving them. Will it be hard? Absolutely. Will it be painful? Yes. But God breaks to bind. He wounds to heal. He knocks down to build up. And it may take months or even years, but out of the ashes there will rise a monument to God’s grace.
But God breaks to bind. He wounds to heal. He knocks down to build up.
Finally, in confession, we walk in the reality of our true existence in Christ. We need not settle for a phantom existence, for we have a true existence in fellowship with Jesus in which sin loses its power. Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes, “[In confession] the sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evil. He gives his heart to God, and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in the fellowship of Jesus… The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin… He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin and handed it over to God.”
Confession is a tutor in the gospel, reminding us of the glorious reality that in spite of our being fully exposed and known as a sinful rebel against God, in Christ, we are fully embraced and loved as a righteous child of God. And by the faithful work of the Spirit, as our lives increasingly reflect and proclaim this reality, we will swim ever deeper in the infinite sea of God’s grace whose tide will rush into our hearts and expel all other affections and leave Christ alone.