Confessing in the Local Church
John HaHyung Lee | OCTOBER 26, 2018 | 7 MIN READ
I sat alone in the church for 15 minutes. The acquaintance who had invited me was nowhere to be found. Finally, he walked in with his fiancé. In jest, I told him he was a bad example of what a godly church member should be.
"Yeah, my fiancé and I had a huge fight,” he said. “I'll tell you about it later."
I felt the blood drain from my face. I barely knew him! Why was he being so vulnerable?
Upholding a Reputation
Growing up in a traditional Asian American church, I was taught the importance of reputation. I was told to avoid confessing struggles and sins in my small group. Because my dad was respected in church ministry, if I shared my sins with others, it would taint my parents’ image. So I struggled with lust, pride, and depression -- alone.
One of the most effective yet elusive methods of destroying a man is to turn him into a hypocrite. It's easy to see the vileness of a murderer, adulterer, or demon-worshipper. But hypocrisy is a silent killer. Many Christians claim to be willing to lose their lives but can't risk their own reputations. We're more preoccupied with others thinking we're like Christ than actually being like him.
Thankfully, God is not like us.
"[Jesus], existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death- even to death on a cross." Philippians 2:6-8
Jesus was the Christ. Yet, despite being the very definition of righteousness, he was not exalted by the people, but killed. They received Jesus's righteousness with rebellious indignation. And because of Christ's work in bearing the wrath of God on the cross, we can find grace for our pitifully wicked condition.
Reputation is a dam that blocks living water from flowing into our souls. But God is gracious to us in Christ, which means that we don't have to prove ourselves. His throne of judgment has turned into a throne of grace! We can boldly look at the holy, righteous God and run to him in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Grace helps us confess our sins to others, and Scripture instructs us to confess our sins to others.
"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed." James 5:16
Consistent Christian living consists of consistent confession
Despite knowing these things, confessing sin can be intimidating. Here is some counsel for confessing.
1. Confess to your fellow church members
God has designed the church to be a community that is committed to one another.
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching." Hebrews 10:24-25
Committed churchgoers have a mutual responsibility for one another's discipleship. When responsibility is made explicit through church membership, the church grows into deep covenant community.
If you're a member of a church, the church is stuck with you, warts and all! And you are committed to them as well. Your primary accountability is not with a parachurch group or a godly mentor but with the church body.
2. Be specific but not explicit
Confessions can be littered with vague Christian generalities that do not expose sin for what it is. After the Samaritan woman meets Jesus, she runs into the town exclaiming that "He told me everything I ever did." (John 4:39)
Be specific in your confessions. Do not just say that you gave into lust, but say that you viewed pornography the previous night and masturbated. Don't just say that you're struggling with envy, but share what lies you were thinking and believing. Don't just say that the marriage is rough, but share the specific difficulties and arguments.
Do not be explicit. Do not say things in a way that would entice sin for others. Confession is meant to expose the ugliness of sin, not to recklessly tempt others into sin. Use discernment and wisdom, and be willing to speak honestly about boundaries as well as sins.
3. Embrace the awkward
Confessing sin is uncomfortable. It should be because sin should not be comfortable. Even so, making the leap into confession can seem daunting. There is no shortcut or way to ease into confession. Just do it. Embrace the awkward.
Confessing sin is not just for your benefit, it is for the benefit of the recipients of the confession as well. I remember visiting a couple in the church who opened the door saying, "Come on in! We're having a fight right now." They spent a short time explaining the details of the fight, then “timed-in” and continued the argument. Later, they “timed-out” and asked me to share any potential sins being committed or insights that could be helpful. I was nineteen, but I was discipled into thinking maturely about marriage and reconciliation.
We can be obsessed with our reputations and hide our sins from one another. But the irony is that God sees us exactly as we are. He sees the comprehensive depravity of our sins that we rationalize.
Confession could cost your reputation. It could result in an awkward conversation. But freedom in the gracious, holy light of God is priceless.
John HaHyung Lee is a member at Third Avenue Baptist Church (http://thirdavenue.org) and formerly a pastoral assistant at Bethany Baptist Church in Bellflower, CA (http://bethanybaptist.church). He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. John tweets at http://twitter.com/johnhblee.