Summary: True confession is marked by 1. Honesty 2. Sorrow 3. Change
The second thing we need to address is that: True confession is marked by sorrow. Real confession means that we regret what we have done. It is not that we are sorry we got caught, or that we regret the way things have turned out; we recognize that we have sinned against God, and offended and grieved him. Real sorrow fills our hearts. We understand that we have sinned against the one who has loved us most and has done the most for us. The Bible says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). There can be no real repentance without genuine sorrow. We have to understand how we have grieved the heart of God and hurt other people. Ultimately, even though we have sinned against others, our real sin is against God, our Creator. When David sinned, he said, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:3-4).
Sin brings sorrow because it alienates us from God, from other people, and it leaves us broken within. We have rebelled against the God who loved us and broken our relationship with him. We have harmed other people and damaged our relationship with them. We have sinned against ourselves and it has left us broken inside. We need to confess in order to relieve the burden. Our tears wash away the guilt and shame of our behavior.
You remember the story of the prodigal son who rebelled against his father. The Bible says, “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:17-20). The point of the story is that when we come with sorrow for our sin, instead of a scolding, we experience the embrace of God.
The third point is: True confession is marked by change. Once we become honest with ourselves, others and God, once we have repented with godly sorrow, a change takes place in our hearts. We have a new freedom to live for God. We are no longer bound by our guilt and shame. We have a new determination to live for God with faithfulness and obedience. We don’t want to run away from God; we want to run to him. A new honesty and transparency takes over in our lives. We are no longer pretending; we are honest before God and others.
It is interesting that the early Methodists practiced public confession in their small groups called Bands. In the rules for the Societies it states, “The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, ‘Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed’ (James 5:16). To this end, we intend. . . to speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.” It is unfortunate that we have lost that part of our history.