David said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” (Psalm 32:5). Why? Because “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). People living with unconfessed sin groan. They groan about this, they groan about that. But really, they are admitting that they have sins still unconfessed. Their strength is dried up. They are sluggish, unmotivated, always looking for ways to minimize their obedience, because the joy is gone.
Living with unconfessed sin saps a believer’s spiritual strength. But living moment by moment in confession and honesty and realism – “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” (Psalm 32:1-2, NLT).
In some churches, nobody admits anything. Confession would be foolhardy, because it would be used as evidence against, rather than for, a person. If not dead already, such a church eventually will be. But God welcomes all of us sinners to confess and get free forever. It’s like being born again again.
Biblical confession also includes a horizontal dimension – confession to one another, where we find powerful healing. Confession to God alone often does not lift us into the freedom we desire. With God alone, confession can be too easy. It is too easy to save face, and there is no healing, no release, in saving face, however earnest the confession to God might seem to be. Confession to God alone can be a way of not really facing ourselves and our sins. James 5:16 shows us where freedom can be found: “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, writes, “You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; he does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; he wants you alone. . . . You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before him. He wants to see you as you are, he wants to be gracious to you.”
Then, with James 5:16 in mind, Bonhoeffer also writes, “The last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evil. He gives his heart to God, and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in the fellowship of Jesus Christ and his brother. The expressed, the acknowledged sin has lost all its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder. Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother. He is no longer alone with his evil, for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God. It has been taken away from him. Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. Now he can be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. He can confess his sins and in this very act find fellowship for the first time. . . . If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother, he will never be alone again.”
To whom do you confess?