A few weeks ago I had a friend ask me to go to lunch because they needed to talk to me about something. When we sat down, this friend proceeded to tell me that they had something to confess to me. This person told me that they had thought a few things about me in the past and had come to realize that they were judgmental and superficial. What was startling was this: these feelings and thoughts were never once uttered to another soul yet this person felt as though they needed to “get it out” and tell me this. I insisted that there was no need to confess this to me because they hadn’t actually “done” anything wrong. My friend objected and said, “Even though I haven’t gone around bashing you behind your back, I know these feelings are in me and would eventually come out, so I believe I need to confess that to you and ask for your forgiveness.”
This lunch has changed me in a profound way. I was humbled by the integrity that this person showed throughout the conversation. I was challenged by the way they viewed the discipline of confession. I was thankful that this person put what they were feeling on the table so that they could move past it and receive forgiveness. It has also helped me to see the value in the discipline of routine confession. Protestants are not the best at this practice because we have reacted to other denominations in a negative way. We see little value in a confessional booth or paying penance, so we throw the baby out with the bathwater. This does not, however, remove the fact that Scripture calls us to confess sin and darkness in our lives when it is discovered.
I believe this confession from my friend is exactly what 1 John 1:9 tells us to do as Christians. It says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Many times people think that this is implying that our forgiveness is dependent upon confession of our sins. The flaw in that thinking comes when you think about those sins that are not confessed. Are they left outside of God’s grace? I believe what the author of 1 John is saying is that there is forgiveness (from God) when we confess our sins, so we don’t have to worry about the reaction on God’s end to our sin. Let me say it another way: God already knows the sin exists in your life, so why fear His response to you confessing that sin?
The part of confession that I overlooked until this encounter with my friend was the second half of 1 John 1:9. Confession (and, of course, Jesus’ blood) purifies us from the unrighteousness within. This is the exact process my friend was describing to me in saying, “Even though I haven’t gone around bashing you behind your back, I know these feelings are in me and would eventually come out.” Getting them out in a healthy way, through confession, doesn’t allow that seed of sin to grow into something more serious.
The one thing that I often worry about when confessing sin and darkness in my own life is, “What will that person think of me when I tell them of the darkness inside of me?” I think the next verse in 1 John addresses that common fear head-on when it says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” 1 John 1:10 Essentially this means that we all have sinned and all have darkness within us. If the person receiving that confession cannot square with your darkness, that’s not your fault. Your job is not to worry about the response of the person you are confessing to, because they are not your ultimate Judge. On top of that, at least you have the integrity to recognize the sin in your own life and the boldness to get it out before it manifests itself in ways that are damaging to yourself and others. While I may not make a habit of visiting a confession booth anytime soon, I pray that I will have the courage and integrity to confess my sin and be purified from all unrighteousness the next time the Holy Spirit reveals brokenness within.