We got to know a family pretty well, who came to France for three years while he was working in Paris. They had three kids, came from a sister church in a different country, and didn’t speak a word of French. Since we’re an anglophone family, we invited them for Christmas dinner right after they arrived, even though our house was still in major construction at the time.
This shared holiday with the new arrivals launched a great friendship between us for the duration of their stay here and even until now. The following year, when we decided it was time to start a weekly Bible discussion at our house, they agreed to be part of it, and drove a half-hour every Friday night to join us until it was time to return to their country.
The brother (in church talk, that means the dude – the father of the family) impressed us all with his quick grasp of the French language, and how energetic he was in getting to know everyone. And as we got to know him better, we learned that he had become a Christian as a teenager, despite his parent’s disapproval. His family actually moved to a different village to get him away from the church.
But all he did was start studying the Bible with the people in his new village, and baptizing them. So the church had to send a full-time minister to their village to take care of the needs of this fledgling church of newly baptized members. Our guy was on fire.
When he agreed to do the Lord’s Supper (after living here for two years) – and do it in French – he could have totally preached some fiery, inspiring message that would just further our good opinion of him. He could have talked about how important it was to live a righteous life. He could have wowed us with his extensive knowledge of the Bible.
Instead, he spoke falteringly. He shared about the period of his life as a young Christian, after his days as a “teen evangelist” when his heart began to grow cold. He talked about how he grew friendly with the wife of another brother in the church – a woman who was not doing well spiritually, and who eventually fell away.
And then he told us how he committed adultery by sleeping with her.
There was not a sound in the room. Everyone listened attentively; no one said anything as this man spoke. I mean, it’s one thing to talk about what a wretched sinner you were before you became a Christian, but to talk about your struggles afterwards? And to struggle to such a shocking degree?
If you can picture the scene, what would have been the reaction of the people in your church had they been listening to this? This guy slept with the wife of another church member!
Would some have walked out? Would they have averted their eyes afterwards, and then shunned him until he felt forced to leave the church? Would they have gone up and hugged him?
What do you think would have been your reaction?
He concluded his testimony by sharing how broken he was after that, how God stripped away everything he had. With something close to tears, he shared about how the brother forgave him – the one whom he had sinned so painfully against. And how, after a couple of years, God restored him completely, even giving him a wife and children of his own. And then he brought the message around to the crucifixion, how Jesus had died for our sins – even for this sin – even when it was so obvious we don’t deserve it. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners to bring us to God.
My reaction? I cried. I was so proud of him for his willingness to be open. The members of our group that knew him really well were proud of him. People went up and gave him a hug afterwards. And we made sure to leave him a message later in the day, encouraging him, because it’s a darn vulnerable thing to pour your heart out so publicly.
There might have been people in church that day who were appalled – I don’t know. All I do know is that this guy had absolutely nothing to gain by talking about this in front of a church that had never heard the story, who could go on just thinking great things about him. He humbled himself publicly for God – for no other reason than pleasing God – in sharing who he truly was in front of a crowd.
He understood King David when he prayed this: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned . . .” (Psalm 51:3-4a – written after he committed adultery with Bathsheba).
A friend of mine starting going to a new church, and she shared about her conversation with another woman in fellowship. When she started asking her questions about herself and her life, the person responded, “I’m sorry. I don’t talk about myself in church. I’ve been burned before, and I’ve learned to not share anything personal here because people judge.”
I was a little shocked, because if we can’t share personal things in church, where else can we? Yes, we need to find a safe environment where we can bare our souls, even if it’s a small group within the church. Yes, we need to be wise and not start confessing our sins and “over-sharing” at the office, or with people that cannot be trusted. But in the church? There has to be someone who can listen without judging. And shouldn’t that describe all of us?
Most Christians, and even some non-Christians know the Scripture, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
But you don’t hear as much about the rest of the passage:
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (vs 19-21)
When you don’t want to be open about your life, it probably means you fear your deeds will be exposed. You might look bad; people might hold it against you; people might tell you that you’re not actually a Christian; you might get thrown out of the church. Sure, all these fears can give us pause . . . but we can’t have eternal life if we choose to remain in darkness.
One reason confessing our sins is good is because it helps others.
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the women’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” This story in John 4 with the Samaritan Woman (which I’ll tell you about sometime) is referring to a woman who had had five husbands and was living with a 6th man. She was not exactly a righteous, exemplary woman whom you’d want to put at the pulpit.
But the people of her town believed in Jesus because she was open about her life. Confession shows the mercy that God has towards us. In bravely revealing all of our brokenness, it shows that we are not afraid of retribution for all the hidden things we’ve done (that God knows about anyway)!
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)
There’s another reason we should be confessing our sins. It’s commanded. It’s commanded because it’s good for us. It brings tears. It brings humbling. It brings trust. It brings softness. It cleanses us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
It cleanses us and it heals us so that we’re able to walk in the light.
And we can be real and raw and honest without fear because Christ was willing to die for us while we were still sinners. It doesn’t matter what other people think – it only matters what God does. And there is nothing we can do that will shock him or disgust him or take away his love when he’s already seen the worst in us and chose to redeem us anyway.
When we remain silent, it means we fear that his love and sacrifice were not enough to compensate for how awful a sinner we are. Either that, or we care more about how we look than we do about God.
And the barometer for knowing where we stand between our reputation and our trust . . . is our willingness to confess.
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