One of my favorite stories in scripture is the recounting of Jesus meeting Zaccheus. I love this story. Seriously. I totally identify with that guy. For some of my formative years and adult life, I lived like I didn’t really care what God said about things, letting my sins sort of create my identity without giving them much thought. But then one day, when I was sitting in Bible study (ironic, right?) it was like I felt Him look right at me and say, “Girl, get outta that tree and get down here. We’ve got stuff to do. Enough of this already.” And off we went. Thank you, Jesus (literally)…!
“Jesus isn’t just a friend of sinners. Jesus is ONLY a friend of sinners.” Judah Smith, Jesus Is _________
This is super great news for me, sister friends! Because I am Zaccheus, I am the Prodigal son (or daughter as the case may be). I am the woman at the well. I am Saul, who became Paul. I AM a sinner.
And don’t get mad at me for saying this, but you are too.
So this idea of being a friend of sinners is a good entry into confession, because we’ve got a friend in Jesus. Thank God (literally).
As we learned in our Enjoying Jesus reading this week, the word confession comes from the Greek word homologeo, which very simply means to “admit that something is factual or true”. In other words, to confess something means to own up to doing something (or not doing something you were supposed to do, as the case may also be).
And adding to that, the word sin (as a verb – so , “to sin”) means to do something that causes someone to grieve.
So to “confess a sin” means we go before the person(s) aggrieved and admit we did something wrong. Ideally, we include remorse in doing it and add our intention in not doing that again. But plain and simple, confession of a sin is to literally say we did something wrong that caused grief to someone else.
The purpose of confession in terms of our spiritual life is to heal us and restore us in relationship to others and God. It’s considered a discipline because it is something that doesn’t come naturally to us as humans, so we practice it. We aren’t naturals at, “hey – I’m so glad I messed up and I cannot wait to admit it and talk about it. Woot!” So yes, it’s a discipline – something we are being led and taught to do by Jesus. But it’s also a gift, because in doing so, we receive grace and mercy in exchange for our sin.
“The usual notion of what Jesus did on the cross runs something like this: people were so bad and so mean and God was so angry with them and could not forgive them unless somebody big enough took the rap for the whole lot of them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross. Golgotha came as a result of God’s great desire to forgive, not his reluctance. Jesus knew that by his VICARIOUS SUFFERING he could actually absorb all the evil of humanity an so heal it, forgive it, and redeem it.” Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
According to John (the one Jesus loved…!) Jesus’ three final words before He died were: “It is finished.” John 19:30.
It is finished. Through taking on our sins (“vicarious suffering” – I can’t even, that has me SHOOK, as the kids say… 😉 ) He somehow supernaturally reconciled us to God.
It IS finished.
Now, that might cause you pause right there. The “It is Finished” bit. As in, “if it’s really finished and through His death He reconciled us to God once and for all, then what’s all this business about needing to confess?”
Because we are human and on the earthly plane, un-confessed sin causes us the burden of guilt. Think of Adam and Eve, right? After that first bite, what’s the first thing they felt? Guilt. And guilt causes ailments in us spiritually, emotionally, and even physically when it isn’t resolved. It literally makes us sick. Right here, right now.
Okay? So what needed to be done in the spiritual realm is done, right? But here. Right here in the middle of living an earthly life. Sin still makes us sick.
But what did Jesus say about that?
We need us a good doctor, amen?
Through confession – both to God and to one another – we, as Dallas Willard puts it, “lay down the burden of hiding and pretending which normally takes a dreadful amount of human energy” and allows us to heal.
Amen to that.
I so resonated with the story in our study this week about the man who was trapped for 27 days in rubble in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. Stuck in dark, cramped place, pressure bearing down, heart beating hard, anxiety closing in. I had a total panic attack just reading the story. But that’s because it reminded me a LOT of what it feels like when I’m burdened with the guilt of my unconfessed sins.
Hebrews 3:12-15 tells us that unconfessed or unacknowledged sin will deceive us into thinking we’re okay and so then it hardens our hearts against God and one another.
I’m convinced that is the devil’s favorite lie. I think his lie of choice to people like you and me is this: “It’s fine! You’re okay! It’s no big deal. No one will remember or notice anyway. Nobody knows but you and me. I got your back.”
Uh, I really don’t want the devil acting as my partner in crime, do you? So that’s when we turn to scripture to get him kicked up and out of the picture.
I need the healing light of GOD to shine into my soul. I need Him to search me because in my humanness, there may be times I don’t even realize what I’m doing is sinful.
Check out Proverbs 20:27. One of my favorite translations of this comes from the ERV, here it is: “Your spirit is like a lamp to the Lord. He is able to see into your deepest parts.”
In other words, confession is God’s way of lighting up the corners in the closet of our soul so anything hiding out in there can be swept up and out into the healing gaze of God. Not for us to feel condemnation and guilt, because that’s the opposite of the gifts confession offers, namely grace and mercy. (Remember grace is receiving something we didn’t earn and mercy is receiving grace when we deserve the exact opposite!) But instead, the purpose is for us to experience inner healing and reconciliation in close, deep, personal relationship with God.
When we practice confession, we release God’s supernatural power to heal us spiritually.
Confession allows us to be reconciled with God’s grace and mercy so that we are able to honestly say the six most beautiful words ever: It. Is. Well. With. My. Soul.
“What do we do? St. Alphonsus Liguori writes, ‘For a good confession three things are necessary: and examination of conscience, sorrow, and a determination to avoid sin.” Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline.
We examine our spirit; we acknowledge the things God brings up; we ask for forgiveness (repent), we try to right the wrong if possible, we pledge to do better next time (because that’s what regret is and it isn’t a bad thing, it’s good if we harness it because it allows us to do it better the next time), and we receive the healing that comes from it.
How does that look practically? Well, any number of ways, actually. You can bring your thoughts to your pastor, your priest, a spiritual director, therapist, or trusted wise counsel. Those are always great avenues because those folks are trained and gifted in helping you make sense of what’s happened and help you see any patterns to your behavior. They can also act as mediators if your confession has something to do with another person and emotions and feelings are running a bit too high for the two of you to work things out. Jesus is very clear that we don’t leave these things unsettled unless the other person clearly has no intentions on working it out with us.
You can also simply sit down with God and go through the steps we talked about above. Here’s a link to something called The Daily Examen. It’s a 500 year old prayer from St. Ignatius that opens up the conversation with God about your day and His presence in it! Ask Him to reveal places and thoughts that are running contrary to His will for you. Be open and honest and come to Him with a spirit of humility and he will greet you with love and tender mercy.
Nothing feels better at the end of the day than being able to say, “It IS well with my soul.”
Following along with us in our Come Closer journey this fall? Read Week Three, Days 1-5 for next week! We’ll be back next Friday for our discussion on the disciplines of study and meditation!
Check out our song this week, “Wonder”, by Hillsong United! This video is the acoustic version and I LOVE it! There’s also an interview about the song and lots of other good stuff! Sooooo good!
May God’s peace, love, and joy douse your soul this week!