Confession is something I used to do only in private. While I publicly confessed “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” when I was baptized and occasionally confessed to another person a sin I’d committed against them, I otherwise considered confession to be a purely personal matter. Oh, I confessed my sins to God; I was well aware of how sinful I was, and I very much wanted to be forgiven. I prayed frequently, naming my sins and begging for forgiveness. I would recite 1 John 1:9 to myself over and over: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” And I tried—without much success—to believe it.
However, I missed that confession is not just a commandment, not just one of the “steps to salvation”—it is a means of God’s grace. The word confess, which means to assent or agree, is the English translation of the Greek compound word homologeō (homos, “the same,” and logos, “word”). When we practice confession, we use our words to agree with God’s words. God always speaks the truth, so in confession we must also speak the truth.
And we speak the truth not just to God but also to one another. Hebrews 4:14 teaches us that Christ is our “great high priest” forever, which means that through Jesus we can approach God, confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness. But confession is not just something we do by ourselves; it’s something we do together. In this way confession is a powerful practice: we both speak words of truth and also listen to words of truth.
Every one of us has sinned, so authentic confession must include an admission of our sins. Some self-help messages might encourage us to believe that we should think of ourselves as perfect just the way we are, but that simply isn’t true. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). It’s important to understand that God loves and accepts us just the way we are; in fact, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).
God knows the truth about us, including the sins we commit.
The practice of confession is coming clean, aligning ourselves with God, facing up to our sins, admitting to ourselves and to a trusted listener what God already knows. Stemming from real sorrow for sin and a desire to put things right, confession is powerful: we name our sins, speaking aloud the specific ways we’ve done what we should not have done and failed to do what we should have done. The one who hears our confession is then able to speak the truth of God’s forgiveness back to us.
For so long I hid some of my sins from everyone but God, afraid of what people would think of me if they knew the truth. Highly aware of my sinfulness and shortcomings, I felt that carrying a load of guilt and shame was only right. After all, I reasoned, if God was going to rescue me from the fires of hell, surely I should suffer from the memory of my sins.
But that burden didn’t help me to become closer to God; it just hindered me from loving and serving God with a light heart. I was full of shame—ashamed that I’d sinned in the first place and ashamed that I couldn’t seem to trust that God had forgiven me.
Finally, I mustered just enough courage to confess one of my secret sins to a friend, a mature believer I’d come to trust. When she didn’t flinch, I confessed another. Soon a torrent poured forth as I made a clean breast of things, confessing all my secret sins. Limp with grief and anguish, I waited for her reaction. I’ll never forget how I felt when she said, “We will take this together to the cross and leave it with Jesus.” She prayed for me; then she assured me that God had forgiven me completely. What a relief!
The practice of confession includes more than just admission of sin.
Since we are agreeing with God about truth, we also confess good things we know to be true. We confess that God is the creator and ruler of all things. We confess that Jesus, the Son of God, was born to a virgin, lived as a man, died for us, was raised from the dead, and lives forever with God. We confess that the Holy Spirit guides and directs us. We confess our dependence on God and our confidence in him. Some churches do this routinely by reciting the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. In confession we both speak the truth and hear the truth.
But some truths are hard to comprehend. As I continually surveyed the people around me, noting all their strengths, it was obvious to me that they were blessed and beloved; understanding that about myself was not easy at all. For me, then, confession of not only the truth of my sinfulness but also the truth of my belovedness was especially helpful. I don’t mean making a statement such as “I’m perfect in every way.” That’s a false statement, and since confession is agreeing with God, a confession must be a statement of truth. For instance, this dictum from Henri Nouwen may be a helpful confession: “I am not what I do, I am not what I have, I am not what others think of me. I am the beloved child of a loving creator.”
Or this phrase from James Bryan Smith: “I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights.”
No doubt about it: I found this kind of confession to be far harder to make than the confession of sins. Years of relentlessly comparing myself to others had trained me to see myself as unworthy and unlovable. I would gladly have told you that you are God’s beloved, but I struggled to believe it for myself.
The idea of saying out loud “I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights” felt ridiculous to me. But a wise teacher required me to say those words, as awkward as it felt. I obeyed, although I didn’t really believe what I was saying; in fact, the act of saying the words felt dishonest, even vaguely blasphemous. Then she had me repeat the words, challenging me to believe what I was saying. She was right: I needed not only to hear the truth of God’s love for me but also to say it with my own mouth. Just as the sincere confession of sin needs a response of absolution, so does the confession of the truth of being loved by God need a response of affirmation, so my teacher affirmed that my confession was in fact a statement of truth.
In confessing to one another we take an important step into the kind of compassionate community God intends for us to experience. The isolation of comparison is broken when we “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) to one another, growing together in the kind of other-centered love modeled for us by the Trinity.
Taken from Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison by Richella J. Parham. Copyright © 2019 by Richella J. Parham. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com