I've been asked to define confession. I suspect it is because those asking the question seek to narrow the definition as much as possible, whilst they look for loopholes. Let's face it, humans are not predisposed to confession. If anything, we're predisposed to lying so that we can avoid confession. Adam and Eve did it. Two year old toddlers do it. It is our human nature.
But confession has been called a "sacrament." This means it is often viewed as an outwardly visible sign of an inner grace. I think that is rather an odd way to look at it. But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. I'm becoming more and more convinced that it is the grace inside of us - from the Holy Spirit - that makes us willing and able to confess well.
I've been quoted in the past as encouraging people to pursue a "black belt in confession." But I'm beginning to understand that the choice to develop confession as a core competency is probably not a choice we can make on our own. Rather the Holy Spirit operating within us must enable us to choose it.
To confess is to agree with God, acknowledging that His definitions of right and wrong are accurate. It means agreeing with God that I am wrong to have done those things (that He defines as wrong) or to even have desired to do them. It also means affirming my intention of abandoning those things that I am confessing in order to follow God more faithfully.
Now repentance is different than confession. Repentance should include confession, but confession doesn't necessarily include repentance. What's the difference? Repentance includes the action I take to turn from my sin and the temptations that entice me to sin. For example, if I watched something on TV or looked at it on the Internet and then confessed it --- there would be no repentance unless I took tangible actions to avoid watching or looking at it again.
And you thought confession was simply admitting that you were wrong! No, your confession still isn't complete - even with repentance. James 5:16 tells us to, "Confess your sins to one another ..." When James wrote this, he was writing to mature believers, saints. So the mandate here is for mature Christ followers to confess their sins to one another.
My obligations in confession are not complete until I've confessed to God and to another human being. It seems that God knows the worst that there is to be known about me. But God wants another human being (besides me) to know the worst that there is to be known about me. Moreover, God wants that informed individual - who will have the dirt on me - to be a mature Christ follower as well.
So there is this sacrament - this outward sign of inner grace given to me by the Holy Spirit. It is the sacrament of confession. When I have it, I am able to accomplish at least three things:
- Agree with God that what I do (or even want to do) is wrong, and admit that it is what I've done or want to do.
- Take tangible action to turn from the wrong doing in question, including actions to protect myself from the temptation to do the wrong.
- Make this dirt about me known to someone who is at least as spiritually mature as I am - who would be willing to pray for me in this area and hold me accountable in this area.
Are you confessed up and prayed up? Is the Holy Spirit trying to lead you in this area? And if He is, how well are you following His leading?