Was mine a coerced confession?

Matthew Paul Turner writes in Churched, a book I recently reviewed, about growing up as a fundamentalist and his church’s approach to evangelism. The basic tenet of any fire and brimstone sermon is that you should confess your sins and turn to Jesus, who will save you from otherwise eternal damnation.

Indeed, confession is a natural response of those who have truly encountered the unrelenting love of a holy God. But not the type of confession hardened cops will extract from an innocent man. For it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:4).

So what is confession? Two things it is isn’t:

  • A religious practice. It isn’t anonymously confessing your sins to a human priest and earning forgiveness by penance, such as repeating a prayer—sort of like Bart Simpson writing “I will not …” over and over on the chalkboard.
  • A therapeutic exercise. Confession isn’t meant to help us feel good about feeling bad. To “feel forgiven” isn’t the aim of confession.

In true confession we talk to our high priest Jesus about our sins, how we’ve failed to reach his standard of holiness. It marks the beginning of a life of following Jesus, and it is an ongoing acknowledgment of our sin.

There are some who believe something called antinomianism, which is a disregard for the law of God and a lack of concern for violating it. These are people who regularly ignore their sin and focus only on God’s grace. Whether they consciously buy into such a dangerous belief, there are many people who go to church and don’t practice confession, who don’t regularly sit before God and say, “Papa, I’ve messed up.”

Have you ever known someone who simply refuses to acknowledge their sin? They wrong you and though they may seem somewhat penitent, they never confess how they’ve wronged you and ask for forgiveness. They go on pretending nothing is wrong. As with these rifts in human relationships, it is similar in how we relate to God.

Confession is simply agreeing with God about how I’ve messed up. As I grow closer to Jesus, I become more sharply aware of my own sinfulness. This doesn’t drive me to sorrow, at least not in the sense of being burdened with guilt. No, this sorrow leads me to confession and repentance. It’s a turning to Jesus to be forgiven and washed clean.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. —1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession for me is also a reminder that I have been made for more. Sin is taking less than what God wants for me. God promises to give me the desires of my heart, and confession aligns my heart to the desires of God. God doesn’t merely pardon me from sin and cleanse me from unrighteousness. He has regenerated me, made me a new creature, and is working to create within me desires that match his will.

I pray the same for you, echoing Paul’s prayer 2,000 years later:

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. —Colossians 1:9-10 NLT

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