Our Familiarity with “Confession”
Confession is a word that shows up in many places. Just recently I was standing in line at a store to check out and noticed the magazines were filled with stories of confession. Heading after heading said things like, “So and so confesses to secret love; so and so confesses to secret abuse; so and so confesses to fantasy life; etc.”
But confession is not just found on the magazine racks. I once heard about two separate companies who, for a price, will assist you in confession. One company will allow you to talk to one of their telephone personnel and confess whatever you want to confess. Another company will actually go and confess or apologize to someone on your behalf.
In addition to magazines and phone companies, you can also find several websites that are set up to provide a confessional online. Added to the list are T.V. shows, movies, and books that have the theme of confession running through.
I think it is safe to say that “confession” is a word we often hear.
The Bible & Confession
As Christians, if we want to understand confession, we must turn to God’s Word, the Bible. There we find clearly what God has to say to us. In both the Old and New Testaments, God gives us the truth about confession. We are told not to hide our sin, but to confess it (Proverbs 28:13). David struggled through this as he dealt with his sin (Psalms 32 and 51). We are told to confess our sin to God (I John 1:9), as well as to one another (James 5:16).
Those are just a few of the truths from God about confession. They remind us that confession is not something we see in the world, but it is part of the Christian life. And underlying all of those reminders of confession, whether from the culture or Scripture, is a sense of shame and guilt. People realize they have failed, and they sense a need to clear it up.
And that forces us to ask some questions:
- What does true confession look like?
- How would you know if the person you are counseling or discipling is doing more than just getting the issue off their chest and feeling better about things?
- How does true biblical confession work? What do you say? Who do you say it to? Is it done privately or publicly or both?
- Is there anything a person does that shows they have genuinely confessed?
Confession: A Broken Heart Before a Merciful God
In the book of Ezra, we find God’s people, who have been in captivity and are broken over their sin, now returning to their homeland to rebuild the temple. God has been abundantly merciful to them and worked His sovereign purposes to restore them. He has provided, through some incredible and unthinkable people like a pagan king, all that they needed to return to both their land and their God.
As I was recently teaching through the book of Ezra, I was reminded of what takes place when God, in His abundant mercy, restores His sinning people. One of those things that takes place is confession. As you study Ezra 9-10, you discover 5 wonderful truths about confession. The first 3 have to do with the “private” side of confession, and the last 2 deal with what takes place “publicly” in confession.
These truths have provided a framework for me to help those I’m pastoring and counseling. They have guided me to make sure confession is being done in a biblical way. In this blog I can only briefly list these things. I hope you will take the time to look up the text beside each point, and I pray they will be helpful in guiding you through the issue of confession as you further develop them and guide those you are counseling.
The 3 Private Elements of Confession: This Is Between You and God
- We ADMIT Our Sin: Ezra 9:3-7, 10-12; cf. Ezra 10:2 “We have been unfaithful.”
The mark of false confession is to downplay sin, to excuse it, and blame it on others. The mark of true confession is to fully own and accept that we, regardless of our circumstances or the influence of others, are responsible for our sin. So, make sure that those we counsel are not offering any excuses for their sin or are just simply acknowledging they have done wrong. If so, guide them to fully accept and admit they are responsible for what they have done.
- We Are APPALLED by Our Sin: Ezra 9:4-6 cf. 10:1 “Wept bitterly.”
When it says that Ezra was “appalled” by sin, it means he was horrified, shocked, astonished. He was moving beyond just being upset or disappointed with himself. He is so grieved he is pulling his hair out. That doesn’t mean we should do this when we grieve over our sin, but it does show us that true confession should reflect some serious struggles over the sin that we are admitting to God. Though the culture we live in encourages people to not be too hard on themselves, we must remind them that this is a part of confession, and it prepares them for the next element.
- We Are AWARE of God’s Grace That Is Greater Than Our Sin: Ezra 9:8-15; cf. Ezra 10:2 “Yet now there is hope…in spite of this.”
In these verses the focus shifts from the faithlessness of God’s people to the faithfulness of God. Because they are admitting their sin, and are appalled at what they have done, they are in a place to see and experience God’s grace and to encounter the overwhelming mercy and kindness of God! This step in confession reminds us though we have sinned we should be looking to God, rather than ourselves, and celebrating His mercy and undeserved grace to us. So, at this point you should ask those you counsel if they are occupied with their sin or God’s grace.
The 2 Public Elements of Confession: This Takes Place with You and Others
- We Take ACTION to Forsake Our Sin: Ezra 10:1-17; cf. v. 4 “Be courageous and act.” At this point the evidence of the private side of confession becomes public. This 4th element reflects how deep and true the first three things are in a person’s confession. If they have applied the first three things, then they will make a plan to deal with their sin. If you read this section of Scripture, you will see that what the Israelites were called to do, put away their wives and children, was an extremely difficult thing. And when it comes to putting a plan of action into place, it can be very hard for those we are counseling. So, at this point make sure they have a specific plan of action to forsake their sin, and don’t downplay how difficult it may be to make change.
- We Establish ACCOUNTABILITY to Help Us Deal with Our Sin: Ezra 10:18-44. One of the interesting things about that long list of names in these verses is that it put them in a place of public accountability. By having their names written down, others are aware that they said they would make this change. What is accountability? It is the way that we carry out the “one another” passages of the New Testament. There are at least 59 of these things that we are to do in our relationship with each other. Our brothers and sisters in Christ become one of God’s means of grace in our lives. We need them to help us make changes. From James 5:16 and Hebrews 10:23-25, which cover two of the “one another” things we do, I’ve discovered some important things we need when it comes to accountability. I need to “meet together” with a fellow believer, honestly “confess” my sin to them, find the “encouragement” they can offer me through the Word as they walk with me to the throne of grace “in prayer.” So, as you conclude with this 5th element of confession you should ask your counselee who would best help them carry out this type of accountability.
Join the Conversation
So, what have you discovered from God’s Word about confession?
Do you know of any helpful resources that would help us as biblical counselors further develop the elements necessary for guiding our own souls, and those we counsel, through biblical confession?