Friday, May 17, 2013

I Have Sinned

Angry tiger
In the past year, a remarkable change has happened in my life.  I've told you about my short temper. Outbursts of anger, so condemned in Scripture (Galatians 5:21), used to be a daily part of my life.  For the most part, I didn't think too much about it.  After all, it was other people's actions that were making me angry. The guy who cut me off in traffic, the child who would not obey, the husband who left socks on the floor again were really the ones to blame.  The result was that the anger persisted, poisoning my relationships and stunting my growth in Christ.  I needed to confess.

The simplest definition of confession is acceptance.  When we confess Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), we accept that He is the son of God (Philippians 2:11).  When we confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9) or to our brothers and sisters in Christ (James5:16), we are acknowledging that we have them.  Although confession of sins has taken many different forms over the years, the Bible is clear on what its purpose is: to bring our relationship with God back into a right place. One of the best examples of this is the contrast between Saul and David.  When Saul sinned in the matter of the Amalekites, he tried to make excuses, and God removed his family from kingship (1Samuel 15).  When David sinned with Bathsheba, he admitted his sin and was forgiven (2 Samuel 12).

As a Christian, my sins are also forgiven by Christ's blood, so I'm not talking about confessing each sin in order to stay saved.  This is not fear-based or shame-based confession. Confessing my sin is not the same as wallowing in shame.  In fact, the Psalmist lets us know that failing to confess is more likely to lead to feelings of degradation.  "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer" (Psalm 32:3-4).

Instead, the sorrow associated with confession is a godly sorrow, the kind that lead to repentance. The Corinthian church experienced this kind of grief. Although Paul was saddened that he had to send such a harsh letter to them, he rejoiced in their response. "I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).  This is the kind of sorrow expressed by David when he lamented about his sin in Psalm 51, where he fully expected a clean heart and a right spirit as a result.  The result of confession is not shame, but a clean heart.  Confession can even bring a person who has strayed out of the light back into it (1 John 1:7-9)

As a spiritual discipline, confession is probably the most introspective, but we don't have to be focused on self in order to acknowledge our sins.  Focusing on Jesus, being intent on the word of God will help us to be honest and see how we are NOT like him.  Once we acknowledge that, the Spirit is free to change us into His image (James 1:23-25, 2 Corinthians 3:18).  In other words, as we are practicing our other spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and meditation, the natural result should be a recognition of our sins which we can confess to God. 

Recognizing our sins is not the same as confessing them, though.  Here's an idea. The next time your sin is made clear to you through the Word, say a confession prayer.  Don't be vague!  "I have an issue with anger" doesn't have nearly the same force as "I have sinned in my anger."  Use the word sin; be specific about it.  It might hurt, but you can pray with joy knowing that God has already forgiven you, and that confession will help you repent and be even closer to Him.

Writing for this blog, I have been digging into the Word as never before.  I began to see that my anger was not pleasing to God, and I had deep sorrow for it.  At first, trying to fix it myself, I was crushed with my inability to change. When I chose instead to confess my sins to God (and in this case to my congregation to request prayers), my frustration turned to joy.  My godly sorrow indeed produced repentance without regret and a clean heart.  I certainly can't say that I've never lost my temper since then.  But I do recognize it as sin, and I am more aware of my tendency to fall into temptation. And yes, I have had fewer outbursts.  None of these things would be possible without confession.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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