How Can Confession Actually Change Things?

Recently we’ve been talking about the spiritual discipline of confession. (Speaking of confession, I love this song!) We’ve looked at the Scriptural call to confess our sins—to God and to one another. We’ve considered what confession is, including self-examination, acknowledgement of our sin, accepting God’s forgiveness, and changed lives.

At one point I suggested that the practice of confession suggests that my sin may not simply be personal:

            Maybe that means that our cultural conception of sin as being simply personal, something between me and my God, needs to be reconsidered. Even if my sin doesn’t seem to have an impact on another person, how is the body harmed when I am not fully experiencing the work of the Spirit in transforming me into the image of Jesus? My sin may be against God, but by allowing my community into those places they are better positioned to help me grow in my discipleship.

This observation points to another idea, one that I’ll develop more in the coming weeks, but that I’d like to introduce now: Our practices don’t just reflect our understanding of the world; they shape it.

Let’s trace confession as an example of this idea based on my recent posts:

  1. Our culture suggests that sin is personal and private, between an individual and God.
  2. In Scripture God tells us to confess our sins, both to Him and to other believers.
  3. The idea of confessing to other believers may raise questions about the private nature of sin but didn’t necessarily change my beliefs. My initial thought was that such transparency might give me accountability partners to help me avoid particular behaviors.
  4. I chose to obey God, confessing something I’ve been struggling with to a trusted friend.
  5. This obedience led to a fresh experience and new work of the Spirit in my life.
  6. The Spirit’s work in the wake of my confession helped me to see that by not confessing my sin, I was ultimately not only harming my own relationship with God but also inhibiting the ways in which God would use me to serve and bless others. That is to say, others were harmed by my lack of obedience in what I had perceived of as being a “personal” sin.

This is just one small example of how a practice can contribute to our understanding and other behaviors. But if it’s true that our behaviors can ultimately contribute to our beliefs and then to changed actions, how might the practice of confession mold our beliefs? How might it shape us? I’m sure there are others, but off the top five things come to mind:

  1. In a culture that respects individualism confession underscores that as members of Christ’s body we are fundamentally interdependent.
  2. In a culture that values autonomy and independence confession reminds us that we are not the ultimate authority.
  3. In a culture that prizes relativism confession points to a source of absolute truth.
  4. In a culture that promotes continual self-improvement confession reveals our need for the transformative work of the Spirit.
  5. In a culture where we find ourselves constantly judged for our words and actions—even those from decades ago—confession allows us to experience forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

How might our lives be changed if we really believed in our hearts and not just with our heads that we are interdependent, that we are not the ultimate authority of right and wrong, and that the Spirit is the one who changes us? What might our communities look like if having experienced God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, we were empowered by the Spirit to do the same for others?

Is it possible that stepping out in obedience and engaging in a Scripturally established spiritual discipline could not only change our perspective, but also the way that we engage with the world? What else might change? I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences!

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