Today we’re sharing an excerpt from Kelly Minter’s new study, Encountering God. Order your copy or view a free sample at lifeway.com/encounteringgod. Plus, we’re excited to announce the Encountering God online Bible study experience, starting January 13. Register and learn more today at lifewaywomen.com/encounteringgod.
“He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.”1
When my nephew Will was eight, he went through a little mischievous phase. I am his adoring aunt, so I classify this season as “experiential development.” (Incidentally, his parents classify it as something far less endearing.) He was getting into all sorts of things he wasn’t supposed to, much of which was mildly damaging to the house—meaning my sister-in-law Megen was about to give me legal guardianship. The final straw was when Will stained the new bathroom floor with ink from a pen he had been playing with. My brother David tried to get to the bottom of the great ink-pen-disassemblement.
“Will, I don’t understand what’s happening,” he said. “There was the window screen incident, the clogged sink drain, now the pen and the ink on the newly tiled bathroom floor. And there was something else you did recently that I can’t remember . . .”
Will pointed toward his chest of drawers. “You forgot about the dresser.”
“That’s right!” David exclaimed. “There was the drawing you etched into the top of your dresser that we can’t get out!”
When David told me this story, we could hardly contain ourselves. It was classic Will to offer up past offenses, even the ones David couldn’t remember. He has always been an avid confessor, which I’m convinced will serve him well in life. “You forgot about the dresser” is one of our favorite lines—a perennial reminder of what an honest and open life looks like.
Today we’ll focus on confession within the community of believers. Don’t be alarmed. Confession to others is a practice unique to the fellowship of believers, and it’s actually a gift we probably don’t talk about enough. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer framed confession as the blessing it is when he said, “. . . confession is not a law, it is an offer of divine help for the sinner.”2 Out of the deep and swirling waters of guilt and repetitive sin, I have grasped this hand of divine help more times than I can remember. And by God’s grace, I have been able to extend that hand to others who needed a person to whom they could confess. This is another gift of being part of the body of Christ.
Proverbs 28:13 says,
The one who conceals his sins
will not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them
will find mercy.
Opening up to others and sharing our burdens typically doesn’t come naturally to us. We like to deal with things on our own, privately, internally, thank you very much. Yet Paul said that we belong to one another as members of Christ’s family. This means we have the blessing of being able to share with a trusted believer or two what is tempting us, has overtaken us, is causing us unbearable guilt or shame. This can be unsettling, even terrifying, at first. But sharing with trusted people who genuinely love Jesus is one of the most liberating gifts we have as believers. And as James said, it leads to healing (See Jas. 5:13-16).
If we’re all sinners, no one should ever treat another sinner judgmentally or with disdain. After all, as Bonhoeffer beautifully said, we all live “under the cross.”3 That should make us safe people to whom anyone could confess his or her sins.
When Jesus sacrificed His life for us on the cross, He became the atoning sacrifice, or propitiation, for our sins. This phrasing carries the idea of Jesus removing our guilt as well as Him absorbing God’s anger toward sinners. The important concept here is that Jesus once and for all took upon Himself the consequences and punishment of our sin. We are all sinners, but through Christ we are also all forgiven. We need to remind each other of this as we walk through life together.
In closing today, I want you to be encouraged by one of my favorite passages in Galatians.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
One of the gifts my parents gave me that I’m most grateful for is a home where confession was encouraged. Confessing my sin and struggles to friends or saying “I’m sorry” when I’m wrong or bringing something in my heart to light because I don’t want to live in darkness have been life-saving practices. I simply don’t know where I’d be or the toll that harboring sin would have taken on me if I hadn’t been taught that confession is literally good for the soul. I have often said that no one person knows all my struggles or each of my sins, but every sin and every struggle is known by someone. I’m thankful for this.
Without a doubt, some of my richest experiences with other believers have taken place when we’ve been open about our burdens and spoken honestly about the sins, struggles, and doubts we’re dealing with. This isn’t about oversharing or harping on the past; it’s about reminding one another that we have an Advocate, that we’re forgiven, and that together we can walk in the light as He is in the light.
I’ll leave you with this insightful quote by Dallas Willard: “We must accept the fact that unconfessed sin is a special kind of burden or obstruction in the psychological as well as the physical realities of the believer’s life. The discipline of confession and absolution [forgiveness] removes that burden.”4 May your burden be removed by the work of Jesus and may it be shared by a friend who claims His Name. Amen.
Want to learn more about Encountering God? Watch the short video below or view a free sample and teaching video clips at lifeway.com/encounteringgod.
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1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, (London: SCM Press, 2015) 110.
2. Ibid., 117.
3. Bonhoeffer, as quoted by Stephen J. Nichols in Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013). 55.
4. Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 188.