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January 31, 2012

The Surprising Delight of Confession

There’s something freeing when we call sin what it is in our lives.

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A few years ago amid swirling rumors of Tiger Woods’ infidelities, newsman Brit Hume waded in with a bold claim about Christianity: “The extent to which [Tiger] can recover seems to me depends on his faith. . . . I don’t think [Buddhism] offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’”

Many were up in arms about Hume’s direct on-air promotion of Christianity—but what struck me most was the aspect of Christian faith that Hume drew attention to. It wasn’t God’s love or how we’re made in God’s image or even about God’s wonderful plan for your life. It was the desperate need we sinners have for forgiveness and redemption.

It’s a message that’s become rare in the American church. Of the multitude of post cards I receive in the mail marketing various nearby churches (and trust me, I get tons), I’ve never received one that says, “Come to our church where we invite you to look long and hard at the deep, dark, and shameful parts of your life and declare ‘I’m wrong and sinful!’”

Squaring off with our deepest secrets and crippling feelings of guilt is exactly the opposite of the pat-on-the-back, you’re-so-great message that American culture has taught us to expect. Yet as Hume dared to claim publicly, there’s something freeing and very appealing in the Christian message that calls sin sin and provides an avenue of forgiveness and absolution.

“One of the greatest longings of our generation,” writes Gordon T. Smith, “is for someone to explain how we can be forgiven of the guilt we feel.” There is, indeed, a surprising delight in confession.

For millions of Catholics world-wide, confession is a sacramental practice in which a penitent Christian recounts for her priest the sins she’s recently committed. He may provide some counsel; he will likely recommend some act of penance (saying certain prayers, for example); he will declare that person forgiven in Jesus’ name.

Protestants rejected this form of confession back in the Reformation—and for many of us, the closest we’ve come to a confessional booth is seeing one in the movies. Protestants insist there need be no middleman—a believer can confess directly to God. Yet unfortunately many of us end up neglecting the practice of confession altogether. We prefer to lightly gloss over or ignore our sins, knowing they’re “covered” by God’s grace.

Yet Scripture urges us to confess (see James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9). We’re called not just to confess our sins at the moment of conversion, but to do so throughout our life as believers.

If it’s not in a booth behind a curtain with a priest, then what can confession look like for us? It may be kneeling in prayer at one’s bedside or scrawling in one’s journal; it may be sitting at a coffee shop with a friend (and lots of tissues) or answering accountability questions with a small group; it may be reciting a liturgical confession with your congregation; it may even mean making a public statement in front of a large group of believers. However we do it, confession is an important part of growth for every Christian—without it, we can grow prideful and self-reliant, becoming spiritually stuck and floundering in our faith.

What role does confession play in your spiritual walk? How has it been liberating for you? Why do you think we so often tend to avoid confessing our sins to God or to others?

Related Tags: confession, prayer, sin

Comments

I am a Catholic and I don't get to confession nearly as often as I would like, let alone should.
At the same time, I cannot imagine being Christian without it. The priests I have gone to over the years have been amazing healers. Their understanding and compassion have been a witness to how great God's love is and how He is always ready and waiting to forgive. But we must admit we have wronged the God who is all love and ASK for His mercy. That is the key... knowing that we are imperfect and asking for his great love.

Protestants are welcome to confess their sins to a Catholic priest. They won't be given absolution (not the same thing as forgiveness, which is given by God in the moment of repentance) but they can still fulfill the BIBLICAL obligation to 'confess your sins to one another' -and get some good counseling into the bargain. Absolute discretion is guaranteed -a problem many Protestants have with confessing to a lay person. Speaking as a Catholic who confessed directly to God for 20 years and finally came back to the sacrament of confession, I am a HUGE fan and promoter of sacramental confession! There is NOTHING like it for getting closer to God - NOTHING!

My experience with confession, forgiveness and restoration has been times of deep repentance, turning away from the sin and turning to God Who truly cleans my heart and restores me to Him. I am so thankful that i serve the God of all the universe that holds everything in place and yet sees my heart at the same time. He cares so deeply that He exposes sin, moves hearts to a repentant state and then forgives as they cry out to Him. Then, the time of refreshing comes!

This article is amazing, simple and to the point. Thank you for reminding me that it is important as a Christian to turn to God every day. One thing about the Catholics is that, if truly followed, their act of confession teaches one accountability as well.

At the end of the day, the question is can I bare my heart to God and acknowledge that I am a sinner and I need His forgiveness everyday?

I'm not Catholic, and my confession is between my God and me - which I do often! And when I have sinned, the Lord convicts me and the conviction plus guilt of it burdens me until I do confess it, and if I have wronged someone, He nudges me about it until I do it ... then the Lord is faithful and just to forgive me my sins. And when He forgives me, He also removes the shame and guilt that came with the sin. Sometimes our confession can be just between God and ourselves, sometimes God prompts me to confess my sins to another brother or sister in Christ. The point is confession and repenting of our sins frees us from its enslavement. Seeking God's forgiveness brings emancipation and it is indeed a 'surprising delight'!! :)

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