This is, I hope, to be the first of several beneficial posts on spiritual disciplines over the course of the summer. This past semester I had to write my philosophy of youth ministry that included the four basic points that I wanted my youth ministry to be fostered around. One of these four points was the teaching of spiritual disciplines because I find that the understanding of spiritual disciplines helps one develop into a whole person.
Before I start on our discipline of the day, I will answer two questions promptly. The first of which asked to explain what “spiritual discipline” even meant. The best I have collected is that spiritual disciplines are practices that are used to help an individual grow their spiritual life. The second question one may ask is, what do I mean by “whole person”? By whole person I mean a person that is attempting to experience every facet of humanity that God has given us. It does not mean that a whole person will become perfectly rounded, just that he or she is trying to become round. Those who tend more towards solitude will work harder at fellowship and, although they will not equal the two out in life, will become more round by being able to do somewhat of both. So the goal of this series is to talk about some of these ways that we can come closer to being whole persons and to give a deeper look into what that actually means.
So I wanted to start off with a bang. Today I want to look into confession. Confession’s place in the Christian’s life cannot be understated but might be, in practice, one of the most overlooked disciplines in the evangelical church. By this I do not mean that the evangelical church has completely neglected confession, but it does not have the same place in church to church and, in the whir of American evangelical churches, gets lost.
There are typically two types of confession that theologians will talk about: the more psalms-like inward confession of the heart and public confession. For the most part this post will be discussing the latter. The former type of confession is one that has been easily conveyed as a part of things like the sinner’s prayer and is almost the go-to definition when someone talks about confession. But I want to look more specifically about the benefits of public confession.
The most common passage for the confession of sins probably comes from 1 John 1:9 which states, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So the first and most obvious reason for any confession is that confession is a part of the forgiveness process. So what are the benefits of public confession?
The first couple are very practical— the renunciation of sin and accountability. Renunciation of sin may sound like a no-brainer but, in order to repent, it is very important that one knows what they are repenting of. It is not unlike asking a small child what they are sorry for when their parents make them ask for forgiveness; if the child knows not what they are repenting of, the lesson of forgiveness is almost lost for they will not know why they should be sorry. Much like today, there are things that some believers can convince themselves are not sins and, even when approached by one, two, or the whole church, they do not repent, then you have a bigger problem. But if they recognize and renounce that sin to others then those others are invited to help the confessing member in the struggle of sanctification. Now this is not the confessor passing responsibility of integrity to those keeping him or her accountable, it is simply the uniting of brethren in support and encouragement of the confessor.
Before I get to the last benefit, I want to pause to also give advice about public confession. There is a certain level of appropriateness that needs to be recognized when confessing. Confession can be rendered useless by either too selective or too public of confession. It can be too selective by confessing only to those who cannot really speak into one’s life or is not regularly around to speak at all. It can be too public by confessing to everyone, even people who never knew anything about the sin or the confessor to begin with and in most ways do not deserve to know. This does not promote accountability or build intimate relationships in the whole, but in the cases that I have witnessed has only promoted gossip and awkward tension. But that is not what confession is meant for.
James 5:16 states, “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.” Healing is what confession is supposed to lead toward. After the renunciation of sin and accountability is in place, confession is the first step in rebuilding trust with those around you. Trust cannot be reestablished if the sinner does not ever confess what they have done, even if others know they have done it or not. If there is no renunciation than one cannot be sure the sinner is sorry or even knows they are sinning. If there is no accountability than one cannot be sure the sinner is taking serious his or her sanctification.
Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” Discipline, no matter what level, is a learning moment. Confession is a key submission to that learning. Without confession, or with false confession, we are resisting learning the most that God wants to teach us in those moments.
So I pray that you will all be led to confess and confess wisely as to build the body and to purge sin. May you not seek pity for yourself, lest you turn yourself from criminal into victim, but may you seek forgiveness and restoration from your heavenly father and your Christian brothers and sisters.