Before I begin, I want to apologize for not posting much lately. Between being out of town for a few days last week and trying to get back into the swing of things, the blog has fallen to the wayside. But, we’re back!
Now, I want to pick up on a topic that Courtney started almost two weeks ago on humility. It’s not my desire to repeat the content of what Court said. Instead, I wish to supplement it. So if you haven’t read her post, you should do so before proceeding with this one. What I want to do is take a little deeper look into what the Bible has to say about confessing sins, how that relates to pride, and why Courtney would call every single Christian to “make yourself, not just let yourself, be vulnerable.”
I think it’s pretty well agreed upon in Christian circles that we ought to confess our sins to God. Additionally, I think we can also agree that we ought to confess our sin to the specific person we have sinned against and pursue reconciliation. There are many passages that support these conclusions. Confessing to God – Psalm 32 (esp. v. 5), “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Psalm 51, where David confesses his great sinfulness in his affair with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confessing to those sinned against – Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” I wouldn’t dispute these at all. But I think there is another aspect of confession that we oftentimes ignore.
Near the end of the book of James is an interesting little conlclustion written to believers: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Now, in the context, it’s directly speaking of someone who is apparently sick because of an unconfessed sin. But, interestedly, James tells them to confess to one another without any mention of sinning against a particular person. In my reading, this seems to suggest that there is a third reason to confess our sins: so that others would pray for us and we could be healed/forgiven/released. Perhaps the physical pain could be the pain felt by the psalmist in Psalm 32. Perhaps it’s depression. Perhaps it’s an actual medical disease. I don’t really know. Nonetheless, James says we should confess our sins to each other.
This is the direction that Courtney was trying to point us in her post. It’s (relatively) easy to confess to God in a silent prayer. It’s a little harder to confess you sin to the person against whom you sinned. But to confess your sins (that they presumably know nothing about) to other Christians just so they can pray for you? That’s hard. That’s humiliating. Who really wants to tell others “I look lustfully at women all the time” or “I got so angry at someone that I wanted to hurt them” or “I’m really having trouble believing in the promises of God” or “I get really tired of being a Christian”? I certainly don’t. Yet, James calls us to do it. Why? I think it’s because our hidden sins are the ones that incapacitate us the most. We fool ourselves by thinking that our sins aren’t that big of a deal. And we do it by hiding them. Perhaps we “tell them to God,” but then we just go and do it again. Hence, we are living in our sin. Or perhaps more appropriately, we’re dying in our sin–killing ourself with our own sin that we refuse to let go of. Puritan John Owen says that the Christian must “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” If we hold onto our sin, we are letting it eat us away. At best, we’re neglecting the new life given to us through the Gospel. At worst, we’re fooling ourselves by saying that we’ve been saved in the first place. First John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin [or want others to think we don’t have sin], we decieve ourselves [and others] and the truth is not in us.” That’s scary.
So, why am I harping on about this when Courtney already said basically the same thing? Let’s turn to Jesus’ words on this:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness, and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” -Luke 18:9-14
Most of us are just like the Pharisee. “I go to church three times a week and give a tenth of all I get. I read my Bible every day. I’m glad I’m not like that rapist or mass murderer or arrogant preacher or bad parent or…” I think I’ve made my point. Yet the truth is that we’re sinners in great need of mercy. And that will never change in this life. We need something beyond ourselves and we always will. We need grace that will (slowly) kill the sin in us, even though our flesh will always want to continue sinning. And I think (along with Court, who has taught me much about this)a very real way for us to do this is to stop pretending that everything is peachy-keen. We need to grow up and realize we’re not as special or smart or spiritual as we’d like to think. And we need to tell other Christians about it, so that we will be humbled and they can pray that God will humble us, which will probably not feel very good. But only our pride will be hurt. And maybe our bodies. But God will be renewing our Spirit so that we will delight in him instead of ourselves. When we have pride in ourselves, we’re finding enjoyment in ourselves instead of God. The Bible calls that idolatry.
Ultimately, Courtney and I are talking about being vulnerable, about confessing our sins and weaknesses to one another because we’re so dang proud of ourselves, of our knowledge, of what we’re giving to God. In so doing, we make null and void the very Gospel that God offers. That Gospel says, “You have nothing to offer God. You are dead and filthy and worthy only of wrath from one infinitely more beautiful and righteous than you. Yet God killed his Son, unleashing his fury on him instead of you, punishing him who was innocent because you love your sin so much. But God raised his Son from the dead to prove that Christ’s righteousness and perfection were far better than yours. He did it to show you his love, because without Christ taking your place, the only thing to look forward to is death and misery. And since his Son took your place, you can take his place as a son of God! This comes not by working harder or praying more or looking more holy, but by loving and trusting for every single thing the God who saved you . If you try to rest in your own ‘holiness’ or retain some feeble notion that you can earn your way into the Father’s favor, then you are not trusting God. You’re trusting yourself instead. Your only hope is found in the Christ who died for you.” Are we ready for others to see the “deep, dark” side of us so that they can pray for us? Are we ready to be humiliated (or humbled, if that’s too strong of a term for you) so that Christ can be exalted? When we exalt ourselves or try to improve our image in front of others, we’re being just like the Pharisee from the parable. And he’s not the one who “went home justified.”
So, let it be known that I am truly terrible person. Usually when I say that, people try to convince me that I’m wrong. I promise you I’m right. If you don’t believe me, just let me know. I’ll tell you every reason why I’m despicable. And if you do see good things in me, it’s only because God’s grace has worked in me to make me more like Christ in some small way. Ultimately, any good I do is because I “am [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand that [I] should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). That’s the only reason I do any good. That’s the only reason I even feel like I can type this post right now. It’s not because I’m better that you. Trust me. But I am in Christ. I don’t know why, but I am. So pray for me, that God would humble me. Pray for Courtney, that he would do the same for her. And know that I am praying for you, that you would be humbled as well, so that Christ would be exalted in all of us.
I know this post is long, but I want to finish with a quote from a pastor named Michael Lawrence that I think is helpful:
When you meet up with [other believers], don’t just say vague things like, “I’m really struggling, so please pray with me.” Find a couple of people that you can say to, “I’m really struggling with ________” and then embarass yourself. Be specific. Drag the sin out into the light of day. Then allow that brother or sister to preach the Gospel to you. And hear the Gospel. And believe the Gospel. And know the freedom that the Gospel brings. The Gospel shines a light on our sin and it frees us from our sin.”
May we hear the Gospel, believe it, and know its freedom! I struggle every day to do so. Thanks for your patience with this lengthy post. And I invite any comments, suggestions, corrections, or just thoughts you may have.