Confession isn’t very hard for me – with God, at least. Conceptually and theologically I buy it – I am a sinner saved by grace. Yet I routinely fail to trust my heavenly Father. Sometimes, no actually often, I dismiss His directives for my life and seek to make my life work “my way.” I understand that sin is not simply wrong actions but wrong motives of the heart.
But I also believe in the Gospel. As Paul said in one of his letters to Timothy, “Christ Jesus died to save sinners, among whom I am the foremost of all.” The Cross is the centerpiece of my faith. God did demonstrate His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
I am a sinner. I defy God. I need His mercy, and I find it in His sacrificial death and resurrection.
So confession isn’t that hard, most of the time. Once I see it, I believe Him and I can own my sin and be sorry.
BUT, lest you think I am a great man of faith, there is another part of confession that terrifies me and calls all of the above into question.
I can’t stand to be “caught” in my sin against someone close to me. It’s the face to face, human exposure of my sin that scares the heck out of me. When “caught” or “seen” or “confronted,” a little man inside of me jumps up and wants to leave the room – like “Elvis has left the building.” It feels like imminent death or something worse. Confession in that circumstance requires a trust, a faith of a different order of magnitude.
I find comfort in the Genesis 3 story. When Adam and Eve violated their trust relationship with God and “ate the forbidden fruit,” their first reaction was to hide, to cover up, not from God, but from one another. They felt the shame of their sin immediately in their most human of relationships. They really didn’t “feel” the threat of broken relationship with God until He asked them, “Where are you?” Then they hid from Him, too.
With that as a backdrop, I can begin to make some sense of my fear when I am caught in my person-to-person sin. If it was more threatening for Adam and Eve, I can see why it would threaten me.
So what do I do when I am caught? Here is my thought process (though it will sound much more linear and sequential than I experience it). Sometimes it happens quickly. Sometimes it takes a while. And those who know me best would tell you that sometimes it doesn’t materialize…
- Sometimes it begins with a nagging internal voice that tells me that I feel ashamed or afraid – that I am emotionally or spiritually experiencing some kind of disruption. There is something going on in my insides that has spiritual meaning.
- Somehow the Holy Spirit creates some categorical awareness that it is indeed my sin that is exposed. Often I want to blame someone else for my part as well as theirs. But it does require God’s supernatural intervention to soften my heart enough to even begin to consider my part in the situation.
- I wish I could then go and apologize or at least confess my sin to my beloved friend. But most often I have to go through a reminder that my identity is in Christ. Most often that requires that I recast my sin against my human friend as a failure to trust God by failing to love “one another just as I (Jesus) have loved you.” My sin is first against God. And He has forgiven me. I am wiped clean in my moment of confession and have been restored to my right standing with Him.
- That new strength gives me the courage to move forward and make my human confession. Sometimes that looks like a weak, mealy mouthed “I’m sorry.” Sometimes it has more strength (that comes from that new identity) and might even ask the questions:
- Will you tell me how that hurt you?
- Do I do that often?
- Will you forgive me?
I fear those moments. Sometimes I get angry at myself because I am still so selfish, mad at God because He hasn’t changed me yet or mad at them because their very existence in my life exposes my dark heart. But it also exposes my Savior. It reminds me how much I need to be forgiven. It reminds me how great the Father’s love is. It reminds me that I am His.
And somehow, some way, those moments of confession to another person deepen my gratitude and trust in Jesus.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.