When you read Psalm 51 you realize that many of our beliefs about confession are untrue. Consider three of the most common assumptions about confession:
- “Confession requires groveling and beating myself up!” – Not true. The bible teaches us that truth-telling is the essence of confession, not groveling.
- “I must turn from my sin before I can turn to God!” – This may surprise you, but the bible does not promote the idea that we must clean up our act first before we confess. On the contrary, the bible teaches us that moving toward God and confessing is always the first step in our restoration process.
- “The main task of a righteous person (Good Christian) is to avoid sin!” – Again this may surprise you, but the bible does not tell us that our main task is to manage our sin. Scripture tells us our main task is to recognize sin. We aren’t expected to grow in our capacity to manage our sin (which is impossible), but in our capacity to recognize sin, confess it, and move on towards God’s healing.
Confession is not about groveling and beating ourselves up, but about simply turning to our compassionate God, telling the truth about our sin, and experiencing restoration and transformation. As theologian Fredrick Beuchner writes, “To confess your sins to God is not to tell Him anything that He doesn’t know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess, they become the bridge.”
Here’s how this has looked in my own life as I’ve dealt with my most shameful sins. The fact is, the worse my sin the harder it always been for me to confess. At first, I spend more energy trying to cover up, keep secrets, and act like everything is fine. Over time however, the weight of my secret always becomes a heavier burden than the guilt of the actual sin. It all eventually leads to a showdown moment when I finally came unglued before God, tears streaming down my face, sobbing, puffy eyes, snot running down my nose – but finally letting the truth pour out of my lips to God. I finally confess, “God, you got me! I admit my flesh wants to grab ‘just a little more’ of what I think is permissible over and above what I know is best. I admit I’ve made excuses, saying things like ‘hey it’s not that bad’ or ‘most people wouldn’t think it’s such a bad thing,’ but right now I see my sin for what it is – ugly. I hate it, I hate how drawn I am to satisfy my mood over and above what is loving, right and good.” In that moment, all that is left for me to say is, “God, have mercy on me a sinner!” As Beuchner said, until I confess the truth my sin remains “the abyss” between myself and God, but my confession becomes “the bridge.”