If you haven’t been with us the last few weeks we are in a series called Life Apps and we are looking at 5 specific principles that God calls us to apply to our lives and the very first week we learned that it is not enough for us to come together to just learn about these principles. It’s not enough for us to just listen to God’s word and think about how we should apply these principles to our lives, we have to live them out because application is… everything. That’s right. It’s not enough to buy a Nordic Rider and just look at it and feel healthier, if it is going to bring any change to our lives, if it is going to make us fitter and stronger, we have to use it and the same is true with these apps. If they are going to strengthen our faith and help us experience the fullness of life we have to live them out. Just listening won’t bring change, just knowing that we should do something different in our lives won’t bring any change, change comes through application, change comes when we start living out the applications of God’s word.
So last week we looked at our first app, the app of forgiveness and we learned that it is not enough for us to just receive God’s forgiveness for ourselves, we have to be willing to turn and forgive others because forgiven people… forgive. It’s not easy I know. Many of you shared with me as you left worship last Sunday the challenge you were going to face because you heard God calling you to forgive someone specific and this kind of forgiveness is not easy because the pain some people have caused us is very deep, but it’s when we stop seeking revenge and stop holding on to the grudge that we begin to experience freedom and new life, and that is what God wants for us.
Today I think things really heat up because the application we are going to talk about is confession and this really makes us uncomfortable. For those of you who may have grown up in the Catholic Church, the word confession may bring to mind dark confessional booths where you shared you sins with a priest who then told you to do some form of penance, usually in the form of saying some prayers. If you grew up in the Protestant Church you probably learned that we don’t need to confess to a priest, we can just confess directly to God who will then forgives us. The problem with both of these views of confession is that they aren’t biblical and neither one is effective in bringing about genuine life change.
No matter how you grew up, here’s how I think we look at confession. At the end of the day or the end of the week we go to God or some representative of God and tell Him all the things that we have done wrong. We come to God and pull out our list of sins and confess to Him all the bad things we have done and the good things we have failed to do. We confess the words we said that we shouldn’t have said, and the attitudes and motives and thoughts we had that we shouldn’t have had. In some form or another – we give our list to God. After we have done this we usually begin to feel a little better because we feel like our guilt has been lifted, but the problem is that for many of us the next day or the next week comes and we go right back to the those same attitudes, words and actions. Our confession may have made us feel better but it has not fundamentally changed our lives.
Somewhere along the line we have embraced the idea that confession is all about relieving guilt. But real confession is not about feeling better it’s about living better. Real confession is supposed to lead to making real changes in life. So if just telling God all that we have done wrong is not what it means to confess, then what does it mean? What does confession that leads to life change look like? To answer this, let’s go back into the Old Testament and look at one of the very first teachings we have on confession in the Bible, Numbers 5:5-7.
There are two important things to notice here, the first is that when we sin against someone we are also sinning against God. Look at Numbers 5:6. So when we hurt someone or sin against them in any way we are breaking faith, or breaking our relationship and connection with God. So there is never just sinning against another person, sin in any form is a sin against God. The second thing to notice here is that simply telling God or a representative of God all that we have done wrong is not what God calls for. Confession here calls for action, but not just any action. Confession needs to turn into actions which help to restore relationships.
Let’s look at the specifics found here. First God calls us to make full restitution for the wrong we have done. We need to pay back in full for whatever hardship we have caused. But making restitution doesn’t go far enough in restoring the broken relationship so God says, don’t just pay back what you owe, pay back more than what you owe. Make full restitution and then add to it 20%. So if I were to steal $100 I would pay back $120. If I were to kill 10 of your chickens I would have to return to you 12. The additional 20% is to help restore and rebuild relationships. So what God is making clear to us is that confession is never just about words to God, it’s not about going through our list of things we have done wrong so that we feel better, confession is first admitting to God what we have done but then it is telling the one we have hurt that we are guilty and we are sorry, and then it’s working to restore that relationship.
Let me say that again. Confession is never just telling God our sin; it is never just between me and God. Confession is first telling our sin to God but then it’s coming clean to those we have hurt and sinned against and then it is making changes in our lives, changes in our words and actions so that broken relationships can be restored. Now I know what you might be thinking… this kind of confession where we actually tell people our problems and then work to make some real changes in life is messy and uncomfortable because it requires us to be honest and vulnerable with real people. We have to admit to real human beings that we have failed and that we have done things which have caused people pain. We have to admit to people we know that we have failed God and let him down and when we do this we run the risk of looking weak and troubled. This kind of confession is hard and scary and risky so most of the time we don’t do it and most of the time our lives don’t change. But let me tell you this, this kind of confession is what leads to genuine and lasting life change.
One of the greatest examples of what this kind of confession looks like is found in Luke 19 and the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector; in fact he was the chief tax collector which meant that he had many other tax collectors in the region who reported to him. Zacchaeus was also rich, which meant that Zacchaeus was also a sinner, not because he had a lot of money but because if you were a rich tax collector it meant that you were cheating people. Now the truth is that most tax collectors in Jesus’ day cheated people. They would collect more money than they needed to give to the Roman authority and keep the rest for themselves. As the chief tax collector Zacchaeus not only cheated people personally but he may have also been getting a cut from all the other tax collectors in the region. It’s like he was part of whole cheating network. The bottom line here is that Zacchaeus was a sinner who cheated people.
One day Jesus came to the town where Zacchaeus lived and he saw Zacchaeus sitting up in a tree. Now this was not a normal practice for tax collectors, they didn’t usually sit up in trees, but there was reason Zacchaeus was up there that day, it was because he was… short. Many of us know this thanks to the old Sunday School song, (Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he…) Anyway, when Jesus saw him up a tree that day he knew that somewhere in Zacchaeus’ heart he wanted something more than just going through life cheating people so he told Zacchaeus that he was goimg to his house that day for lunch.
Now we don’t know what was said or done during that lunch but it was a real come to Jesus meeting because after lunch this is what Zacchaeus said, Luke 19:8. Zacchaeus was so convicted of his sin that he confessed it all and the way he does it shows us what real confession is all about. First of all, we see that he doesn’t just confess to God and he doesn’t just confess his sin to Jesus in the privacy of his home, he does that, but then Zacchaeus goes out on the street corner and in front of the people he has cheated he tells them what he has done. He comes clean. But it doesn’t stop there because his confession isn’t just words, he seeks to restore relationships, so Zacchaeus doesn’t just repay the people he cheated and he doesn’t just pay them back in full plus the 20% called for in the law, he gives them 4 times what he took from them. He is serious about living a new life, and if that doesn’t show us the genuine change in this man, he also agrees to give half of what he has to the poor. He has changed his life and because he has done it publically you know that people are going to hold him accountable. Because he has made these life changes, his life is better, and we know that because Jesus blesses him. Look at Luke 19:9
This is what genuine confession looks like, first we get real with God and tell him what we have done and that we are sorry but then we turn and tell those we have hurt and then we work to make things right by making some real changes in our lives. If Zacchaeus had only confessed to Jesus, nothing would have changed, but by coming clean to the crowds and getting it all out in the open, things had to change. When we actually confess to others, we are forced to deal with the reality of our own actions and our need to change. Now you might be surprised to learn that the only time in the New Testament where we are specifically commanded to confess our sin – it is not to God, it is to one another. Look at James 5:16.
James begins to show us why it is so important for us to confess to one another. When he tells us to pray for one another he is telling us that we need the support and help of others if we are going to overcome our sin and make any kind of positive change in our lives. As long as sin remains secret, it will survive and thrive, but when we bring it out into the open, when we expose it to the light of day and confess it to others – it can be overcome.
This is the power and effectiveness we see in support groups like AA. Once people can admit to others the problems in their lives and the sin that they struggle with they can begin to overcome their problems because when we confess to others and not just to God two powerful things happen. The first is that once the truth is out on the table – once our problems are out of the dark – they can be dealt with honestly. When we confess to one another there is simply no hiding anymore. The second thing that happens is that if we share our struggles with people we know and trust then they can help us and they can hold us accountable to making genuine and lasting changes. Again, this is the power of groups like AA. They have a community of people who are committed to being there to help one another overcome their addictions.
In many ways the church should function like a giant SA meeting, Sinners Anonymous, where we come together and say things like this, Hi, my name is Andy and I’m a sinner. And instead of finding judgment and condemnation when I say that, I would experience understanding and support and find people who would help me and hold me accountable in love. If the church could function this way, we would experience more significant changes in life. Now I want to be clear that in many ways across the church this is happening, maybe not on a large scale but on a small scale. There are friends and small groups and mentoring relationships developing all over the church where people can be honest about their sin and the things they struggle with and when they do this they are finding love and support which can help them make some lasting changes. I just wish this took place more often and I really wish this was how people outside of the church saw us.
Too often people see the church and church people as critical and judgmental, and the sad truth is that we have been at times. Because of this, the last thing many people want to do in is come to church and be honest with others, and yet what God wants and calls for is for us to do exactly that. God calls for this kind of honest confession among His people because he knows that it is this kind of honest confession that leads to freedom and life and that’s really what God wants for us – freedom from sin and the fullness of life. As long as confession is just giving God our list, it is too easy to live in darkness and shame and go back to that list again and again and never make any lasting changes – but once we confess to someone else, once we share that list with someone else, the light comes on and we are confronted with the truth of who we are and we begin to see the real changes we need to make and usually they are changes we want to make. And then we find someone who help us make those changes.
So real confession isn’t just talking to God, it is talking to one another because it is the support, love and prayers of the people around us that will help break the cycle of sin and help us make lasting changes. Now I said when I started today that this app really turns the heat up, because this type of honesty is scary, but we need to take the teaching of James seriously and we need to start on a path of confessing our sin to one another. For many of us today the first step might be to just identify someone we could confess to. For some the step may be to strengthen relationships of trust so we can be that honest, for some of us the relationships might already be there so we just need to be bold and start confessing to one another. Wherever you are, just don’t be content to confess to God, work for genuine change and real freedom by confessing to one another and working to restore relationships.
Life Apps ~ Confession
- How has just confessing your sin to God been effective? In what areas has it brought about real and lasting changes, and in what areas has it not brought about change?
- What things in your life need to be confessed to God today?
- Is there any restitution that you need to make for past sins? What would adding 20% (or more) look like?
- Who in your life today could you confess your sin to? Who could confess to you?
- Who could you develop a relationship with so that in time you could be honest with them about your sin and struggles? Pray for the courage to develop that kind of relationship.