I have a confession to make. I am a screwup. It pains me to admit this to myself and to you, but it happens to be true. Let me explain.
I try to live the Christian life – to obey, to be faithful, to have the mind of Christ, to love as Christ has loved me, to walk in the light and goodness as God is in the light. But, I have a lousy batting average. I strike out a lot. I tend to miss the mark. I do the things I don’t want to do, and I don’t do things I want to do. For instance, I want to be more gracious in life, but I find myself falling prey to being more judgmental of others, being harder on them than I might be on myself. I want to be more humble as God would have me be, but ego and pride rear their ugly heads way too often as I play comparison games. I can get so careless with my words, they will wound instead of heal. When it comes to loving, I’m so inactive at truly loving someone as Christ has loved me. I find I avoid difficult people sometimes. It’s hard to love people you don’t like. And when I get home (this is the worst place), I’m inattentive to my wife, and I don’t listen very well.
I’m downright rebellious when it comes right down to it. I rebel against God’s commands. I know I shouldn’t watch this or read that, or say that or do that. I know it’s wrong, but I’m enjoying it! There is an iniquity within me that Scripture talks about. I’m twisted up inside, contorted. I just can’t get things right! Like a piece of warped lumber.
“All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Scripture tells us. We’re wired that way. We tend to be selfish and turned inward wanting to be our own gods with our world revolving around us. We’re all in that place, Scripture says.
A few years ago, John Ortburg wrote a book called, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted.” In it he tells a story illustrating this.
Some years ago, we traded in my old Volkswagen Super Beetle for our first piece of new furniture: a mauve sofa.
The man at the furniture store warned us not to get it when he found out we had small children. “You don’t want a mauve sofa” he advised. “Get something the color of dirt.” But with the naive optimism of young parenthood we said, “We know how to handle our children. Give us the mauve sofa.”
From that moment on everyone knew the number one rule in the house. DON’T SIT ON THE MAUVE SOFA. DON’T TOUCH THE MAUVE SOFA. DON’T PLAY AROUND THE MAUVE SOFA. DON’T EAT ON, BREATHE ON, LOOK AT, OR THINK ABOUT THE MAUVE SOFA. It was like the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. “On every other chair in the house you may freely sit, but upon this sofa, the mauve sofa, you may not sit, for in the day you sit thereupon, you shall surely die.”
Then came the Fall.
One day there appeared on the mauve sofa a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain.
So my wife, who had chosen the mauve sofa and adored it, lined up our three children in front of it: Laura, age four, Mallory, two and a half, and Johnny, six months.
“Do you see that, children?” she asked. “That’s a stain. A red stain. A red jelly stain. The man at the sofa store says it is not coming out. Not forever. Do you know how long forever is, children? That’s how long we’re going to stand here until one of you tells me who put the stain on the mauve sofa.”
Mallory was the first to break. With trembling lips and tear-filled eyes she said “Laura did it.” Laura passionately denied it. Then there was silence, for the longest time. No one said a word. I knew the children wouldn’t, for they had never seen mom so upset. I knew they wouldn’t because they knew that if they did, they would spend eternity in the timeout chair. I knew they wouldn’t because I was the one who put the red jelly stain on the sofa, and I wasn’t saying anything!
The truth is, of course, we have all stained the sofa.
I am a screwup, a sinner. I have a feeling you are too. Over the years, I’ve discovered the church is full of people just like me. We sometimes forget sin is serious. We downplay it in our minds and with our lips because our culture does. In this world in which we live and love, the sense of right and wrong gets mixed up, and we forget or neglect God’s point of view on things. Then we become calloused and don’t even know the difference between right and wrong. We forget the holiness of God who takes sinfulness seriously. Remember Isaiah 6 where the prophet Isaiah had an encounter with God? We have lost the sense of awe of the holiness of God. Isaiah said, “Woe is me for I am in the presence of God, and I am a man of unclean lips.”
So what do we do when we strike out? Here are some things people have been trying for years, but don’t work out very well.
• We may cover it up like King David tried to do when he became too big for his britches and had an adulterous affair with Bathsheba. In Psalm 32 he talks about how it didn’t work out very well for him. “I was miserable. I felt dried up inside.”
• Some tend to ignore it. They pretend it didn’t happen or it doesn’t matter. They live in a lie.
• Others will use self-justification, as if the end justifies the means. I had to do that. There was no other way.
• We have memory distortions of the facts. When they kick in, we convince ourselves that what we did wasn’t wrong.
• Some rationalize their actions. Everybody’s doing this anyway. What’s the big deal?
• We may blame others. She made me do it. Or, my parents screwed me up.
• Others minimize what they’ve done. That was then; this is now. We live in the modern days. We can’t let those old ways of thinking hold us back. It’s not a big deal. Loosen up!
• We may compare ourselves to others. I’m doing okay compared to so-and-so. I haven’t done anything that majorly bad. After all, God is gracious. I’m sure He’ll look past this.
These are unhealthy ways to operate. When I cope with my sin in one of these ways, I am lying to myself. I am actually hurting myself and probably a lot of other people around me. The more I ignore my sin, the more prone I am to do one of these things until I’m numb to the fact that it’s wrong, and I am absolutely captive to this coping mechanism.
When we don’t deal with sin, rotten things can happen. One of those things is depression. I’m not talking about a chemical imbalance in the brain, but guilt turned inward. Psychologists say it can sometimes cause depression as we hide something, driving us further from God.
These activities can also lead to addictions like pornography, which can be difficult to quit. The activity begins slowly, but soon you are hooked on it.
It can put wedges in relationships. We hide in our secret little world and aren’t transparent with others. Instead, we build walls around us so people can’t get close, and it leads to loneliness. Dietrich Bonhoeffer one time wrote, “He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone.”
It gets in the way of our prayer life with God. Unconfessed sin gets in the way of God hearing our prayer.
These consequences are awful, but the apostle John has a healthy alternative for folks who screw up and don’t live in the light. John was a disciple of Jesus. If anyone would know about living the Christian life and messing up, he would. In this letter near the end of the Bible, we find him addressing a church that he sees needs to go deeper – deeper in their knowledge of the truth of Jesus, deeper as ethical people living God’s way, and deeper in their relationship with God. Some teachers had come into their community and were messing up their minds with some false teaching in these three areas. So John is trying to deepen and strengthen their faith life.
In regard to the handling of sin in one’s life, John says, “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” You are living a lie. It’s unhealthy. You are lying to yourself and everyone around you. A little reality therapy is happening in these words. He is responding to popular opinion of the day – We’re Christians. We all sin. We’re above the need for confessing our sin.
I’ve run into this kind of thinking even during these days. A guy came in to see me a while back. He was fairly new in the faith, and he said, “I’m kind of bothered by things you talk about in church worship services. You talk a lot about sin. I don’t sin!”
I replied, “Let’s examine that.” I took him to the Ten Commandments and asked him some personal questions. By the end, he knew he definitely sins. Then I said, “Some people say That is the Old Testament. What about Jesus? These are Jesus times. So let’s talk about Jesus.” We went into the Sermon on the Mount and found even more conviction. Then I shared the news of forgiveness.
To deny these things is to call God a liar and his word isn’t in us.
We are frauds. We call God a liar when we deny the authority of His word in our lives, which is another great sin.
But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we confess – if we admit, acknowledge, agree with God’s view of us, take responsibility for it, own up, and say I’m sorry, –
God is faithful and just . . .
First of all, God is faithful. He is a good God who always keeps His promises and doesn’t turn away from us.
God is just. He showed His just-ness at the cross as He punished sin through His Son Jesus Christ, who took the wrath of God for us.
God promises to forgive our sins. He will let us off the hook. We don’t have to pay back the debt. I like this definition of forgiveness: give up one’s right to get even. God gave up His right to get even through His Son Jesus Christ at the cross.
He will cleanse us. We will experience a deep cleansing within us, in our hearts. Like the praise song says,
“White as snow; white as snow;
though my sins were as scarlet,
Lord I know, I know,
I’m clean and forgiven.”
We join with David as he says, “Create in me a clean heart.”
“My little children . . .” which reminds us he is writing to fellow believers whom he loves.
“I’m writing these things to you in hopes that you don’t sin . . .”
So you will walk obediently in the light of Christ, and love God and one another. Let your light shine for Jesus.
But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus, the righteous One.
Don’t forget about Him. He who knew no sin became sin.
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, . . .
He lived the perfect righteous life. By dying on the cross, His blood has paid for our sins.
. . . and not only for my sins and your sins, but for the sins of the whole world.
God wants everyone to have His forgiveness.
The truth is confession is a gift from God. It is not something God has us do simply because He needs it. God is not clutching tightly to His mercy as if we have to pry it from His fingers, like little children in a game they play with their dad. No, we need to confess in order to be healed and be changed. It is a practice that helps us become new and clean and transformed and free.
In practicing confession, we are liberated from guilt. We are given the right to leave the past behind, and we have peace with God. We will be less likely to sin in the same way when we confess than if we don’t confess. Sin will look and feel less attractive to us as we put it to words and say it out loud now that it is in the light.
Confession keeps us mindful of what we’re doing with our lives. It reminds us there is a right and wrong. Confession sensitizes us to the fact that God has a perspective on things. It builds humility into us as we again and again face the reality that we don’t have it all together, not even close. It is not necessary for us to live with guilt and regrets, for healing grace is available.
The gift of confession has been given to you and to me to act upon and work within our lives. Scripture says, “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). No more hiding, no more rationalizations, no more ignoring the problem. Instead, confess.
Confess on Sunday in worship. Someone asked why we continue to have confession each week in our church? “A lot of churches don’t,” he said.
“Because your pastor is a screwup. He needs it,” I responded. We confess our sins daily – it’s our daily drowning of the old person in us, our “daily baptism” as Martin Luther calls it. As we step into confession time during our prayers, we place ourselves into the care of the Holy Spirit and ask for His help. As we do self-examination of the last twenty-four hours or so, we see the thoughts and the words and the deeds which are displeasing to our Father. Things that need to be changed, that have hurt others.
Perhaps the examination is simply a matter of going through the Ten Commandments or studying the fruit of the Spirit. Where have I fallen short in love, joy, patience, kindness, and self-control? Help me, oh God. Forgive me. The prayer needs to be specific and concrete – I lied to someone because I wanted to look better than I really am.
At the heart of it, confession just means taking responsibility for what I’ve done. It’s not easy to do. We have all kinds of excuses to skip out of confession, for feeling responsible for ourselves, but we need to take responsibility for our wrongs. Confession is a time to make a new promise about our intentions in the future. We resolve that, with God’s help, we will change our ways. We don’t want to be this way or do this anymore, so we say, These things I resolve to stop! Help me! He will help you through His Holy Spirit’s power.
Finally, claim His grace each day. After you’ve confessed, think about the cross, and claim this verse as you thankfully receive His forgiveness. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1).
What do you do with your sin? The best thing I can think of is to confess it. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer