Read: Luke 15
Maybe you have a story from your childhood that goes something like this:
You and your mom were at the grocery store, and as you walked down the toy aisle, you hung back a little bit to browse. Seeing a toy that looked particularly fun, you may have considered asking her to buy it for you – for a moment. However, you knew for sure the answer would be no, and instead of just leaving the toy there, you slipped it in your pocket. At this point, your story goes one of two ways – either the act of stealing begins to eat at you, and you quickly confess (and face the consequences), or you do not immediately confess, and somehow rationalize the action as “not wrong” in your mind. What’s interesting about not confessing is that the act of hiding the sin also carries consequences - it becomes a weight that you carry around. A secret shame, a lie you must keep, a hidden piece of you.
I’ve been told that one of the core questions we are always trying to discern an answer to is “Am I acceptable?” Confession and forgiveness touch this question in a very direct way. When we hide our sin, from God or others, we are telling ourselves a lie – that we are no longer “acceptable”, because of what we did.
There are a couple of reasons I believe we tell ourselves this. The first is that we believe “who we are” is the same as “what we do.” So, if what I do is unacceptable, that must mean that I am unacceptable. Hopefully, we’ve been over the Gospel Ladder enough times at Daybreak for you to realize the error in this thinking – but if not, be sure to corner Pastor Ric or Pastor Shawn this Sunday and ask them about it. I’m sure they’ll be happy to explain it to you!
The second reason is that we often imagine a God who is something less than eager to forgive us, heal us, and restore us every single time we confess. We’ve been feeling this way ever since Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden. It’s an attitude that persists to this day.
In contrast however, in Luke 15 we read three parables that describe a God who is desperate to find his lost children. Far from disappointed, or annoyed, or angry, or reluctant to forgive, we see a God who is quite the opposite – eagerly pursuing and rejoicing when what was lost is found.
What do you honestly imagine God feels toward you when you confess your sin to him – especially sins you may have to confess on a regular basis? Write some words on a piece of paper.
Now, write some words that describe the father in the story of the prodigal son. How do these words differ from the words you wrote above? Why do you think that is?
Read: Psalm 51:1-17; Psalm 32
In today’s reading, we get a front seat view to David’s very honest and raw act of confession. In these verses, David draws for us a stark contrast between confessing our sin to God, versus holding our sin back and hiding it. On the one hand, David says that there is joy, blessing, and forgiveness in confession. On the other hand, he admits to a “wasting away” – both physical and spiritual - when he chooses not confess his sins.
Because of this, David is quick to confess his sins to God. He does not hold back or hide. It is interesting to contrast his open attitude towards the admission of wrongdoing with the way the world around us views vulnerability. Most people view vulnerability as a weakness – we cannot expose our failings to others. No one wants to be vulnerable. It feels too revealing. It invites shame. Or at least, that’s what it seems like to us.
The Bible tells us a different story. In vulnerability and confession, we find joy and wholeness, and shame is at its strongest when we choose to hide. In these chapters, David answers a question that we may have wondered about - why do I need to confess my sins to God, if he already knows what I did?
Confession is not about telling God something he doesn’t know yet – instead, it is about voluntarily exposing our sin to God, and admitting that we need forgiveness, help, and healing. Choosing to be vulnerable about these areas of our lives, is not the same as admitting that God knows what we did. It involves honesty and specifically opening up dark and broken places in our souls to allow God’s healing hand to redeem and restore. Simply saying, “God knows what I did” completely bypasses our admission of guilt, and therefore robs us of the opportunity for healing and restoration.
Confession forces us to sit in our brokenness, and allow God to begin the process of healing. As David says in Psalm 51:6, “Behold, you desire truth in the innermost being, and in secret you will make wisdom known to me.”
Re-read either Psalm 51:1-17 or Psalm 32 again, this time paying attention to a verse that may stand out to you. Why do you think God brought this verse to your attention?
Read: James 5:16; John 20:22-23
I recently went down an internet rabbit hole when I came across a term that was new to me: “Instagram vs. Reality.” Have you heard of this? In short, it’s a term that describes the reality that is hidden behind the “picture perfect” images people publish on social media. Instead of posting pictures showing their true selves, celebrities and “influencers” are often caught airbrushing and filtering their photos to appear thinner, more muscular, blemish-free, and in general more attractive.
Don’t we all do this in some way? Maybe not on social media, but we are often quick to cover up the parts of ourselves that we think are less acceptable, and emphasize the parts of ourselves that we are proud of. However, the Bible encourages us to confess our sins out loud, in person to one another (James 5:16) – it’s the very opposite of what the world is trying to get us to do. Instead of covering up and “airbrushing” away, we are told to drag it out into the open, acknowledge it, and receive forgiveness. The benefits of doing so are many, but here are two:
We experience the Gospel when we receive forgiveness rather than rejection. In John 20:22-23, Jesus tells his disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” When we receive the Holy Spirit, we are given the authority of God to forgive the sins of another person, even if that sin was not against us personally. When receiving someone’s confession, we have the opportunity to speak words of love and forgiveness rather than judgment and condemnation over a person. This is the very heart of the Gospel – that God gave his own son so that we could be forgiven.
Confession creates space for a community of vulnerability and forgiveness. When you are honest and vulnerable about your own weaknesses and failings, you are making space for me to have that same type of vulnerability. When we can admit our sins to one another, we create a culture of honesty and “realness” that is very attractive to a world that is sick of having to appear perfect at all times. Receiving forgiveness and acceptance when you admit your sin is something that Christ offers, and therefore is something we should offer as well.
Write one or two reasons you are holding back from confessing your sins to another Christian.
This week’s spiritual practice is simple – practice confession, and experience forgiveness and mercy. Three practices are outlined below. Choose one or more.
1. Confession to God.
Set aside some time in a place where you can be undisturbed, and sit quietly before God. Thirty minutes to an hour is appropriate. To begin, read 1 John 1:8-10. Then, as you sit, reflect over the past week one day at a time, and with God’s help specifically confess each instance of sin that you can think of. Write each sin on a piece of paper. When you are done, read Luke 15:21-24 and destroy the piece of paper.
2. Confession to Others.
There may be something weighing on you that you need to confess to another person. If you can, take some time to directly confess to them how you wronged them. Remember that forgiveness from God comes immediately, even if people are sometimes slow to forgive. If you are not ready to confess to the person you wronged directly, find another Christian brother or sister to whom you can confess that sin.*
3. Whole Life Confession.
This practice involves a confession of all sin in one’s life to a trusted brother or sister in Christ. It generally involves a preparation period where you reflect back on your life and list out sins that come to mind, followed by a time of confession where you verbally confess these sins to a trusted Christian, and then receive words of forgiveness. While there isn’t space here to fully discuss the practice, you can find it outlined in Richard Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline,” Chapter 10: The Discipline of Confession. The section is titled “Diary of a Confession.” You can also find resources online.*
*When choosing another person to confess to, care should be taken in choosing the person. This is discussed in Celebration of Discipline, Chapter 10, by Richard Foster. In addition, Daybreak’s Care ministry directed by Pastor Ron is practiced in receiving confessions.