This summer our church is in a new sermon series called One Another where we're looking at God's commands for how the people of God are to treat the people of God. This past Sunday, we explored one of the rawest, most exposing commands: Confess to one another (James 5:16). I believe many left truly believing that this command is a grace, not a burden (We ran out of Disciple Band cards; our stock will be replenished this Sunday and out on the info kiosk free for the taking). Yes, this will take courage, it will take trust, and love must undergird it all.
However, what would it look like if we refused to obey this? What if the habit of our church is to refuse to open up and confess our sins to one another? I believe four things will happen among our flock...
1) We’ll function more like a museum and less like a hospital.
In a museum, you’ll find on display majestic works of art and masterpieces... the best of the best while in a hospital, you’ll find people sick with disease or viruses, tending broken bones or detoxing from poor choices. The church was to be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. When all we discuss is our good works and how we serve and help and love, we put on display ourselves like a museum. Yet, when we confess our sins to one another, we act like a hospital, quick to come to the aid of another and commit to them to walk them into healing and restoration.
2) Isolated shame will become our culture
For Spirit-filled believers, along with our sin always comes a good dose of shame; things that we wish to hide because of how depraved and disgusting they are. Did you know shame is something we weren’t ever to know or experience in the first place? That came with the Fall of creation. But the gospel of Jesus is that we no longer have to walk in shame, shame no longer has dominion over us. We no longer have to hide, to keep things in the dark, simply because the light has come. If we don’t ever confess our sins to one another, we’ll never be able to know the relief to hear someone else say, “Oh, I struggle with that too…” or "You know God has forgiven that in Christ, right?"
We’ll stay alone and ashamed…
3) Hearts will harden
I once heard this described by one of my college professors speaking at a convocation. I'm guessing that most of us reading this can run our hand through the flame of a candle and even hold it in the heat for a decent period. Why? Because our skin has become calloused over years of nicks, bruises, scrapes, cuts, burns, and wounds. Yet, if a kid attempted to wave their hand through the candle flame the child would be inches from the flame and still feel the intense heat and retract their hand because their skin is soft and sensitive. Failing to actively confess sins outwardly quickly leads to passively accepting them inwardly. This makes our hearts calloused to the heat of sin. Confession of sin is meant to keep our hearts soft and sensitive to the heat of sin. If we refuse, our hearts harden, which leads to...
4) We’ll stay in cycles of sin-habits
Not all, but most of our sin is habitual because we fail to confess our sins to one another. When our hearts harden and sin no longer burns, we can run our hand through it over and over again with no heart response; we become numb to the conviction we're supposed to feel. This keeps us in the all-too-common cycle of sin: sin, coldly confess to God, say we repent, try harder, repeat. Confession to one another is designed by God to be part of what can interrupt that cycle and start you down a new path.
God designed the church to be a hospital for sinners, where Calvary's victory is our culture, with soft, tender hearts of flesh experiencing freedom from cycles of sinful habits, and confession of our sins to one another is a means of grace on the pathway to those good gifts.
I read a story about a six-year-old boy who was attending the Ash Wednesday service at his church. Every year they have an opportunity to write their sins on a piece of paper, fold it up and pin it to the wooden cross, a way to symbolically confess their sins and remind themselves of Christ’s forgiveness. The young boy and his family went through the line to get to the table with the paper and pens. When they got there they all grabbed a sheet of paper and started writing their confessions, including the boy. The rest of his family wrote their confessions, intentionally leaving their names blank, and then carefully folded the sheets so no one could see the sins they had written down. They then walked to the cross and pinned their "sins" on the cross. This 6-year-old wrote, "God, I'm sorry because I lie." But then he signed his name plainly, and he refused to fold it. He walked to the front and pinned it to the cross. His parents asked, "Why did you put your name on it? Don't you want to fold it up so no one can see?" Then he said, "I wrote my name on it because I want everyone to see it. Because if they know it was me, maybe they can help me stop.”
"Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed." (James 5:16)