The question is a no-brainer. Many Christians have no problem spending hours in the confines of their rooms wetting their pillows with tears expressing sorrow over sin to God. They cut the figures of some really broken individuals, boldly naming their sinful acts and humbly pleading for mercy – until the audience grows to more than One.
How many of your sin struggles are known to more persons than just you and God?
When God tags along one or multiple of his children while on his sanctifying work, courage soon plummets. The once broken sinner can hardly muster any strength to confess anymore. The thought of the shame he would have to deal with restrains him. He resorts to playing safe, seeking prayer over an ‘issue’ and not over some specific sin struggle. And as often happens, he falls in the same sin again, proving he was never truly broken after all.
“How many of your sin struggles are known to more persons than just you and God?” I asked hundreds of students who sat listening to me preach on accountability a week ago. Every heart in that auditorium, mine included, must have answered “many, if not all.” Our closest relations can be trusted with a lot – with our lives’ deepest sorrows and joys, just not our most disappointing sins.
Shame versus Freedom
Sin is hard to confess precisely because it is shameful. Reputations are usually on the line whenever confession is involved. People might never think of you the same. Some of the respect you command will be lost when word is you fell into adultery, or fornication, or bribery. Once highly esteemed and thought of as the model Christian, you will become a disappointment fit only for derision.
Isn’t that too steep a price? Many believe it is, choosing to never make their sins known to anyone. They prefer their faces safe to their souls saved. They pray, cry, pledge for deliverance; all in hiding from fellow believers. But they get stunned that deliverance has in fact hidden from them. Their hearts are not broken enough to save, they are too idolatrous to deliver.
Would you prefer your face safe to your soul saved?
They’d rather people think well of them than God be pleased with them. Being reputable is treasured more than God. Sin is not hated enough to be shamed because God is not treasured enough to welcome any shame.
While repentance is a turning away from sin, at the heart of it is a treasuring of something new. The resolve to never commit the shameful act is nothing when not undergirded by a renewed treasuring of Christ. Often, overcoming the shame of confessing sin before men will prove that one deeply treasures Christ more than hours of praying for forgiveness ever will.
A single confession will do more to show the brokenness of a heart over sin than buckets of tears will. That’s why James, though not oblivious to how difficult and shameful it feels, encourages us to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another” – James 5:16. When we don’t, sin remains safely hidden from the knowledge of man and our perishing hearts from God’s mercies.
Be Children of Light
It is not that man’s knowledge of our sins or their forgiveness matters more than God’s. Our brokenness whenever we fall short of God’s holy law should be towards God alone. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,” David prayed after he had taken Uriah’s wife and killed him (Psalm 51:4).
Of course he had sinned against Uriah and against his wife. But David knew better than most of us do that the person most offended by sin is God. We are rarely penitent and we hardly strive to be pious because we don’t grasp like David did the reality of the loftiness and holiness of the One whom our every sinful act goes against.
The same way David repented in sack cloth and ashes over adultery and murder, he would have repented had he been confronted with a ‘simple’ cheating in exam. If God were always the object of our holiness, no sin would be trivial however inconsequential upon other people. Every sin would be great because every sin is an offense against a great God!
David’s claim to have sinned against God alone was therefore not a slighting of his offense against Uriah’s family. His grief over offending them was all too sufficiently catered for in his grief over offending God. His statement should therefore never be misconstrued as an encouragement to withhold from expressing sorrow to those we hurt when we sin and as such be abused.
Even though it is against God alone whom we sin, God will always wrought forgiveness through men – often the ones untouched by our sins.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” – 1 John 1:5-7.
The significance of John’s message is highlighted by the fact that the message is not John’s, but one “we have heard from him (Christ)”. He wants you to pay all your attention to this very important message upon which the eternity of your soul could well be hinging. The message is that “God is light”, from which John draws the implication that anyone who claims fellowship with God but walks in the darkness is a liar who does “not practice the truth.” That is a strong claim, because the fate of any such person is hell.
But how would we know that we are in the light? John’s answer is “we have fellowship with one another”. Fellowship with other believers is the inevitable fruit of and pointer to one being in the light! It is a natural for those who have believed; a mechanism through which “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin”. That means there will hardly be any sanctifying work in a believer’s life when he isn’t living in fellowship with other believers.
We cannot possibly grow Christ-like in solitude. Our sinfulness can only be brought to our attention as we sin against others and others against us. The sanctifying work of the blood of God’s Son happens as we pardon the sins of others and as we confess our sins to God and others, thereby being pardoned ourselves.
When God is truly treasured, and freedom from sin is genuinely desired, there is no amount of shame that comes with confessing our sins to other believers that won’t be a welcome cost to pay.