Summary: True confession is marked by 1. Honesty 2. Sorrow 3. Change
A woman was very unhappy in her marriage and went to court in order to get a divorce. At the hearing, the judge asked: “Do you have any grounds ” “Yes, we have two acres,” she said. “That’s not what I was asking,” the judge said with an edge to his voice. “I mean do you have a grudge ” The woman responded, “No, we couldn’t afford a garage; we have to park the car in front of the house.” Now the judge was really getting upset. “Does your husband beat you up ” he asked. She replied. “No, I always get up before he does.” At this point the judge was totally exasperated. Finally he said, “Just tell me why you want a divorce ” “Because,” she whined, “we just don’t seem to be able to communicate.”
The woman and the judge were obviously not communicating. Sometimes we don’t communicate with God, our divine Judge, very well either. We are not answering the questions God is asking. We are not giving him the information he needs to hear. What God wants to hear is an honest answer to a simple question.
This morning we will be talking about the spiritual discipline of confession. Several images come to our minds when we mention confession. Some see someone with a serious sin which is causing them a great deal of guilt and shame. “Those are the kind of people who need to confess,” we say to ourselves. We see people in confessional booths telling all the things they have done wrong to a priest. We think of someone weeping at the altar of a church. But we seldom think of confession as a normal part of a Christian’s life.
What is confession, and why does the Bible talk about it so much? The first thing I want to address today is: True confession is marked by honesty. God can forgive any sin, but he will not forgive us until there is honest confession. Confession is the doorway to God. Our sin does not keep us from God unless we are dishonest about it. If we try to hide it, make excuses for it, justify it or make light of it, God will not forgive our sin. At the root of our unwillingness to confess our sin is pride. We want to justify our sin and say that it was right after all. We become honest when we admit we were wrong.
In our culture, if you try to talk about confession, you might hear someone say: “Confess what?” In a culture that doesn’t believe anything should be called a sin, it is difficult to talk about the discipline of confession. I was reading the words of Jesus last week, where he said: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:20-23). I thought as I meditated on those words that we do not see these things as sins; these are the things we celebrate. We revel in these things. We love lewdness. TV shows like Are You Hot? are more than enough evidence of that. Greed is a way of life. Malice and slander toward others is a game we play. Sexual immorality has become a right. We have lost our moral bearings, are spiritually adrift, and are unaware of it. We have lost the meaning of sin, therefore confession has no meaning. A renewed sense of right and wrong, of sin and righteousness is necessary to save our culture.
The Greek word for confession is homologeo. It comes from the combination of two Greek words: Homo, meaning “same,” and logeo, meaning “to say.” The idea is that to confess is to say the “same thing.” We say the same thing that God does about our sin. We agree with God that we have sinned, and are in need of forgiveness and change. We don’t say something different than God does about our behavior, we agree that he is right and we confess our sin to him. We seek his forgiveness and the power to be different. This is important, because the Bible tells us, “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). We think of guilt and shame as a bad thing, but look what the loss of shame has cost us. An old African proverb says, “Where there is no shame, there is no honor.” The loss of appropriate guilt and sense of rightness caused psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger to write a book asking the question, Whatever Became of Sin? In the book he writes: “If the concept of personal responsibility and answerability for ourselves and for others were to return to common acceptance, hope would return to the world with it.” He defines sin as, “a transgression of the law of God; disobedience of the divine will; moral failure. . . Sin has a defiant, or disloyal quality; someone is defiled or offended or hurt.” This is what the Bible has always claimed. The book of Proverbs states: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Concealed sin has a destructive force in our lives. We become dysfunctional and invite chaos into our existence.