RALEIGH, N.C. (BP) — “I’m just sayin’.”
“I’m just being honest.”
“TBH” (To Be Honest)
“No offense, but … (cue offensive statement).”
“Hot Mess Express”
“Lord, Bless this Mess”
Have you heard these phrases spoken to you or a friend? Have you seen them written in posts online or printed on T-shirts and hats? People today seem to value being honest and authentic above all else.
You will often hear people praise a speaker or preacher for how “real” he is. And let me be clear right away: I am all for honesty and authenticity in Christ’s followers. Inasmuch as people in the past may have focused on looking right on the outside at the expense of being honest in confession and repentance, this emphasis on “being real” is a good thing.
After all, James said it this way: “Confess your sins to one another … that you may be healed” (James 5:16). John reminded us of God’s precious promise that “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). Even typing those words out makes me want to shout praise to our awesome Father!
I am concerned, however, for what I see as two unintended consequences. I see them in myself and others as well.
The first is a sort of race to the bottom, wherein we brag lightly — even proudly — about our more “acceptable” sins. The sort of “Fed the kids Cheetos for breakfast this morning #hotmessexpress” proclamations.
The second is possibly more insidious to a beautifully functioning body of Christ. We have allowed for “approved levels” of sin that are acceptable to share with your friends or small group, but beyond that level, no one is prepared to listen and help you work out what repentance and healing will look like. Sort of a “You can and should be real this way (e.g. talking about yelling at your kids), but not that real (e.g. admitting you are deeply jealous and it is ruining every important relationship you have).”
The truth is, there is such joy in repentance, but it is an uncomfortable, hard, even agonizing experience. And it takes time. David spoke of his bones that were being crushed. Paul seemed to cry out, practically in pain, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?!”. C. S. Lewis’s picture in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” when Aslan “un-dragons” Eustace has him commenting that “it hurt worse than anything else I’d ever felt.” As I write these words, I think, when was the last time I faced my own sin so clearly in confession that it was painful? When was the last time you did?
As women in ministry positions, I think Satan uses a particular deception to keep us from real confessions: the fear that our sin will somehow bring down our and/or our husbands’ ministries. We are afraid that if people know how we struggle, they might assume that Christianity is useless.
I would argue the exact opposite is actually true. If people don’t know that you struggle, they will either conclude you are a hypocrite, because they know all human beings are sinners, or that Jesus came to help the well get even better, rather than to heal the sick.
I think this fear, and others, leads us to try to out-do one another with what a “mess” we are, but never actually talk about the real sins we have, such as pride or bitterness or coveting, so we never know the real healing Jesus brings.
That is what I want to leave you to consider: Do you know the healing and peace confession brings? God brought a couple of people into my life the last few years who have helped me realize that I had fallen out of the habit of regular confession, and I needed it back. These friends talk about confession all the time, not as an exceptional happening like I had begun to treat it, but as a regular habit.
And so, I’ve begun to say every day, akin to Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me oh God, and know my heart; see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” There is no other way to live this Christian life fully. As John Owen said in the 1600s, we will be “killing sin, or it will be killing [us].”
Confess your sins to one another, friends. Not the fake real ones, but the really real ones. It’s worth it.