The Victorious Life
John Coblentz

Dealing Thoroughly With Sin

Pages 1 - 9

[The Victorious Life, John Coblentz, Christian Light Publications] How often are Christians living in bondage in particular areas of their lives because they have never had the willingness to name their sins honestly?

That's what this section is about -- confession. We will look at a definition of confession, some pointers for making proper confession, and finally at some cautions and clarifications about confession.

What is confession?

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).

"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another" (James 5:16).

The Greek word translated confess is made up of two word parts. One means "to say," the other means "same." A strict rendering of the word parts would be "samesay ." A more understandable translation would be "to say the same thing" or "to agree."

Confession, then, is a verbal agreement with truth. Though it is commonly used in relation to the truth about wrongdoing, it may be used in relation to any truth. Jesus Christ is Lord. That is truth. The confession of that truth is part of becoming saved (Romans 10:9).

In the same way, to confess our sins is to say the truth about them. No more, no less, just the honest truth. If I am holding a grudge, I confess that by saying, "I am holding a grudge." To say, "I have had a bad attitude" is evading a direct confession. Too many people fail to find cleansing and deliverance from sin because they protect it under the cover of a general, unspecific confession. They want to salve their conscience, but they don't really intend to renounce the sin and be done with it.

"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).

How do I make a proper confession?

The Bible names a great many sins. There are sins of action, sins of speech, sins of thought and mind, and sins of heart and attitude. There are sins of commission and sins of omission, sins of the flesh and sins of the spirit, willful sins and sins done in ignorance. There are open sins we can easily point to and hidden imperfections in our character which we see only as through a fog.

How do we deal with these sins? Are we required to name everything wrong in our lives? The following pointers from the Scripture will help us to see what God expects of us in confessing our sins.

1. Walk in close fellowship with God.

"God is light and in him is no darkness at all, if we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:5-9).

Let's follow the train of thought that leads up to the instruction to confess: God is light. There is not the least shadow of iniquity in God. Man, however, is altogether different. All have sinned. Even after we are born again and no longer walk in sin, we do at times "miss the mark" (the literal meaning of sin). If we walk in the Light these sins are revealed. To deny our sins in such a revealing Light is to lie.

So when you sin, confess it. Agree with truth. Refuse to deny anything revealed to you in the light of fellowship with God.

2. Name the sin clearly and specifically.

If in the light of God we see that a comment we made was unkind, that unkind comment needs to be named for what it is.

Our wrong words and actions, however, are often but the expression of a deeper problem in the heart.

Suppose, for example, Jack is not elected to a certain church committee. He comments irritably to Sam, "What good do elections do? You people just vote for your friends anyhow, instead of considering qualifications."

Later, Jack feels guilty and wants to make things right. What is his sin? If he confesses that he spoke unkindly, he has named a sin for sure, but if he names that sin only, he has dealt with a symptom, not the root problem.

If Jack walks in the Light if he opens his heart honestly to God, he will see that underneath his unkind comment was a wrong attitude. Was it selfish ambition? Was it pride? if he wants to deal thoroughly with his sin, he needs to agree with "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Until he deals with the underlying attitude, it will continue to find expression -- perhaps in more unkind comments, in uncooperative behavior, in gossip and grudges.

Here, then, is a simple rule for such confessions: Name the ROOT, then the FRUIT.

3. Confess the sin to the correct individual.

"Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight" (Psalm 51:4).

"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed" (James 5:16).

All sin is against Cod. In David's adultery with Bathsheba, he sinned against Bathsheba, against Uriah her husband, against his own family, and against the nation of Israel. But all of this paled as David sat before the Majesty on high and realized that by this deed, he had brought "great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme" (II Samuel 12:14). Psalm 51 is David's confession to Jehovah.

When we sin, therefore, we must first clear the record with God. He is the supreme Lawgiver, and He is the supreme Forgiver.

Many sins are against others also. A sin against one's partner needs to be confessed to that partner. A sin against one's family needs to be confessed to the family. Private sins are dealt with in private, public sins in public. If Jack, in the former illustration, makes his unkind comment to Sam, to Sam he needs to confess it. If he makes it loudly so tat the whole group hears, it is proper for him to make his confession in the same audience.

James encourages even more: "Confess your faults one to another." The context here would seem to indicate that there is benefit in confessing to fellow Christians one's faults (literally, "sideslips" here, including offenses, failures, or sins).

After Jack has cleared his conscience with Sam, in other words, he may benefit by confessing to fellow Christians his problem of pride. He need not go into the details of his tiff with Sam (unless that has become common knowledge), but there is value in opening his fault -- his sidestep into pride -- to other believers.

Such confessions "one to another" urge others on in the way of holiness, demonstrate the abandonment of self, encourage a tenderness one toward another, and enable fellow Christians to "pray one for another" specifically and effectively.

4. Seek a clear conscience.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).

The goal of confession is to clear the conscience. The benefit of being specific and thorough in naming our sins is receiving thorough forgiveness for those specific sins.

In clearing up interpersonal offenses, it is especially important to keep in focus the goal of clearing the conscience. Sometimes people confess their sins with a goal to bettering the relationship -- making Dad more considerate, for example, or making Jane more agreeable. The confession is made and Dad still gets angry. Jane still argues. "It didn't do any good," we conclude.

This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the purpose of confession. True, sometimes relationships do improve when people confess their sins, but that must not be one's goal or expectation. The goal of confession is to clear the conscience. If wrong has been done, that wrong must be named wrong in a clear confession.

What freedom it brings when we know there is no one who can point a finger and say, "You did this against me and you never made it right!"

The freedom of a clear conscience is not only the inner release from guilt, however, but the freedom to testify to the truth on any subject. Those who have a clear conscience can speak freely to others about love, about honesty, about purity, about forgiveness, about anything in the Bible.

Remember Jack? Suppose he does NOT clear his conscience with Sam. What testimony can Jack give on the subject of kindness in our speech (Ephesians 4:31, 32), or on the subject of preferring others in honor (Romans 12:10)? By making a thorough confession, however, Jack can not only speak freely on these subjects, but give personal testimony to their truth.

5. Confess in genuine sorrow.

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise" (Psalm 51:17).

"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation" (II Corinthians 7:10).

We have seen that the proper method of confession is clarity in naming sin to the correct individuals. The proper attitude of confession, now, is brokenness.

Probably the number one hindrance to proper confession is pride. Pride keeps us from being specific. Pride causes us to give reasons why we did wrong. Pride causes us to measure our wrong against the other person's wrong. (The other person's is invariably worse.) Pride tries to make us a victim of circumstances. Pride may even cause us to point out good things that resulted from our wrongdoing. Those who are willing to agree with the truth of their sin will be broken. Brokenness gives us freedom from all the pitfalls of pride. Brokenness gives us the freedom to deal with sin without delving into the sins of others. Brokenness gives us the freedom to be honest.

6. Confess with the resolve to forsake sin.

"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).

Mere confession of sin is not enough. Some people confess their sins with short-term objectives only -- to find relief from guilt, to impress others with their holiness, to get relief from conflict, or to avoid certain consequences. Some people, in fact, become experts at naming their wrongs at just the right time to get out of trouble. But they have no real intention of forsaking sin.

True confession is an agreement with truth -- not only the truth about sin, but the truth about righteousness as well. Those who agree with the truth about their sin will likewise agree with the truth about God's ways, and will be desiring to walk in those ways.

Is it possible to be overbalanced in confessing one's sins?

Any truth misunderstood can be dangerous. Every truth needs the balance of other truth. So having stressed the importance of confession, let's look now at a few balancing pointers.

1. Openness needs the balance of discretion.

"A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in fill afterwards" (Proverbs 29:11).

"A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness" (Proverbs 12:23).

Openness needs the balance of discretion. God wants us to be honest about sin. He encourages us to confess our faults one to another. But He certainly doesn't intend that we walk around with our hearts turned inside out. To speak too often and too extensively about one's personal needs can make us overbearing and may actually be a covert way of seeking attention from others. Prudence would tell us:

  1. It is unnecessary to share the same problem with numerous people.

  2. Christians should be especially cautious about confessing personal needs and problems one-to-one between members of the opposite sex.

  3. In group settings, some sins can be named specifically (such as adultery) but should not be described in detail.

  4. It is unkind and unnecessary to confess negative feelings against others if those people have no idea the feelings were there.
2. We must distinguish between the condition of guilt and guilt feelings.

"For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God" (I John 3:20,21).

When we do wrong, we are guilty of that wrong. That is our condition, no matter how we feel. Confession is the acknowledgement of that condition of guilt -- we are called to agree with truth no matter how we feel about what we have done.

Just as we may not feel guilty when we really are guilty, so we may feel guilty when we really are not. Under the weight of guilt feelings, some people feel compelled to confess the same sin over and over. They have unfortunately confused the condition of guilt with guilt feelings.

3. We must distinguish between the voice of God's Holy Spirit and the voice of a misguided conscience.

"And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (John 14:16, 17).

God's Spirit is holy He stands foursquare against sin. But He deals with the believer according to truth in love. Whether His work is instruction, encouragement, correction, or conviction, He operates as an indwelling Comforter, not as a Tormentor. (The Greek word is parakiete, meaning "advocate" or "one who stands in behalf of another.")

There are people who sincerely want to do right but constantly live under the torment of having done some little thing wrong. They feel compelled to confess they lied, for example, when they said the time was three o'clock, and really it was 3:02. They worry so about such "lying" that they are afraid to make any positive statement, lest it be inaccurate. Such sensitivity is from a misguided conscience, not from the Holy Spirit of God. Wouldn't we consider a parent to be cruel who walked around with a heavy stick over the head of his child, whacking him every time he made such a trivial mistake? Be assured the Holy Spirit is no such tormentor either. Wiser than the wisest parent, He instructs us when we need direction, comforts us when we are distressed, and chastens us when we are wrong, but always as the indwelling Spirit of truth.

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Copyright © 1992 Christian Light Publications

Second Printing, 1996

ISBN: 0-87813-550-2