Stop Confessing Your Sins to God

Confession is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. At least when we don't keep it locked up.

During my nine years addicted to pornography, I confessed my sin to God more than once. These prayers weren't offered out of fear for lost salvation--that prayer had come years earlier. They were offered out of duty and with a desire for deliverance.

I was taught that Christians needed to confess every sin to God, especially before communion (read 1 Corinthians 11:28 out of context). In so doing, they would right their relationship with him and break free of the sin. But the strange thing was, no matter how many times I confessed to God, I could never break free.

There were two other confessions I made during those nine years that proved more effective. But they weren't to God.

The first one was to my parents about six years in. I had developed a nasty habit of cheating through my junior year and as the guilt compounded with other things, I decided to lay everything out for them. My dad firewalled my computer and for a few months, I was free. It was more progress than I had yet experienced, but even that didn't stick. Something was missing.

The second confession was to the woman I would eventually call my wife about two months after we started dating. As painful as it was to confess to my parents, that was nothing compared to confessing to the person I wanted to marry. My addiction affected her differently because it threatened the intimacy of our relationship. While my mom and dad were certainly hurt by what I did, they weren't the target of my sin. But after confessing to the person it directly affected, the addiction ended.

No one will argue with the value of interpersonal confession, but it's often treated as something we do whenever we have to. With Psalm 51:4 in our back pocket, we tell ourselves that we've sinned against God and God alone and bench our confession to others. But it can't be ignored that it's much easier to confess our sins to a God whose reaction we can't see than a loved one whose reaction we fear. And this makes me wonder if the real reason we regularly confess our sins to God is to get out of confessing them to the people we hurt.

Most Christians would say that confessing to God is not only biblical, it's a daily expectation. As we read in 1 John: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." So the logic goes that every time we sin, we confess it, and he forgives us. Except that John wrote this letter so that we would know that we were in the faith, not how to keep it. Because that is not how our faith works.

Before Christ, God's people had a priest intercede for them daily. Every sin, not matter how small, required a sacrifice. But as we know from Hebrews, Jesus himself was given as a sacrifice once and for all. And just as there is no longer a need to sacrifice daily, there is no longer a need to intercede daily because Christ intercedes for us ceaselessly. We'd remember that if we kept reading in 1 John: 
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the father--Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
With such an advocate and mediator as well as an interceding Spirit, we don't need to beg for God's forgiveness every single day. In fact, doing this might indicate that we don't really believe in the efficacy of Christ's work. Besides, John never said to whom we confess these sins.

But James does: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." The notion of a personal confession to a personal Jesus seems to be a more modern contrivance because even in John the Baptist's day, people publicly confessed their sins before being baptized (a practice we find again later in Acts). This suggests that confession was never meant to be about confidential catharsis as much as public accountability.

Sin thrives in secrecy and that includes the prayer closet. If the church is our relationship to God, then confessing our sins means confessing them to each other--especially to those we hurt. Every sin we commit will affect someone because sin is pervasive and powerful. But confession is even more powerful, so long as it reaches those that our sin affects and doesn't stay locked in our prayer closets.

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