The goal of confession, and the goal of a testimony, is one—namely, that God would be glorified either through the freeing of his children from sin or through the display of his mercy. A believer is never to be the main act in his struggle with sin; God is. When victorious we are to say, “… the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:46), and when we’ve fallen short we are to confess, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:4)
It is the name of the Lord that suffers scorn when his people sin (Romans 2:24), and his name that receives praise when he saves.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. … For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9, 11)
Boasting in a Glory Not Our Own
“My glory I will not give to another,” we hear, only to claim that glory for ourselves upon overcoming sin. Fondly we say “Ni Yesu tu” (It’s only Jesus), rightly alluding to David’s words, “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,” (Psalm 124:1) but too quickly we forget and plant ourselves firmly at the center of our victories.
Sexual sin just so happens to be the one sin that invites the most guilt to believers. “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body,” Paul says, “but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) No wonder the seriously damning feeling one gets when they have fallen for “the lips of a forbidden woman (that) drip honey,” and for “her speech (that) is smoother than oil” (Proverbs 5:3). Having sinned against that which is the temple of the Holy Spirit within (1 Corinthians 6:19), they realize in the end that “she (the forbidden woman) is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.” (Proverbs 5:4)
Lucky is the man who overcomes—but not so lucky after all should one triumph enslave him to yet another master that is not Christ. Sexual sin wreaks havoc both with guilt when it subdues a man and pride when it doesn’t. Either way the enemy of his soul rejoices, for no sin is ever too small in his wretched hands. The ‘small’ ones; the less obvious ones, are in fact deadlier. Their subtleness easily obscures one from ever seeing a need to repent.
When a man remembers only by head and not by heart that “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side” then sin would have had its way with him, he becomes the hero of his testimony. By assuming a glory that is not due him, he cares little about others—for no other glory apart from God’s can serve good to people.
For example, a self-glorifying testimony will not care what another member of the fellowship who is bound by sexual sin may walk away feeling like after the sharing. It will be mindless that someone could actually walk away feeling worse condemned than they were when they walked in. “How come I keep falling when Joseph didn’t?” they wonder, because Joseph made his testimony all about himself and little about God. He glorified the measures he employed to stay pure than he did the grace that sanctifies and empowers for victory.
Personal testimonies are meant for the building up of the Body of Christ, not for self-coronation as nobler faithful. In our victories, we are to boast in our weaknesses all the more (2 Corinthians 12:9 a). That way it is the power of Christ resting upon us (9 b) that men will draw strength to fight sin from and not anything of our own.
If I honored God by waiting until saying “I do” before exchanging a token of love with my wife, how do I share this wonderful testimony in a way that is mindful of the many that may not have? How do I point them to Christ and to his grace that does not restrict the joys of marriage to those who walked in purity alone, but also blesses the ones who fell but turned from their sin and now are pursuing holiness?
If I boast in my past triumphs in a way that does not paint God as the glorious one, I may be leading others to feel haunted by their past failures and thereby denying them an experience with the grace that frees.
But Do Not Glorify Your Weakness
A line so thin exists only a power outside of ourselves can help us navigate. While with a testimony of victory we risk self-righteousness, a confession of sin poses a risk of cheapening God’s grace. In a society that intolerantly seeks tolerance, truth is often silenced. The banner is ever held up high. “No one should judge the other,” it reads. The refrain rings louder in the Church.
Our fellowships are perhaps safer now from scathing rebuke. But they are more vulnerable to scathing sin. If we’ve achieved little judging, we’ve done so at the price of more damnation. Every confession of yet another fall is pampered with the chorus “No one is perfect.” But God is; and he is not molding his children into anything less (Matthew 5:48).
His grace is not poured out for us to sin under better circumstances; it is poured out to turn us away from sin (Romans 2:4). Our most vulnerable confessions therefore, that are not followed up by a determined effort to live righteously, are a cheapening of God’s grace. We are only being vulnerable because believers are now gentler with sin, not necessarily with the sinner.
Paul says we boast in our weaknesses, not glorify them. The former magnifies the power of Christ while the latter diminishes the glory of God. The temptation to glorify weakness is never more intense than when one feels a need to identify with his hearers. Often when I have preached I’ve found myself inclined to share about my sinful struggles, past or present.
That has always led to some wonderful acts of deliverance simply because my struggling listeners found me relatable and perhaps received my message better. But the approach has sometimes yielded results to the counter effect too. I have a feeling some of my listeners have walked away from my sermons feeling okay about their situations when they should actually be disturbed enough to fight their sins with greater zeal. “If he ever dealt with that and he can still serve God, why should I be worriedly concerned about my struggle?” they may say.
In identifying with them I did not win their affections to Christ. I made them all the more complacent in their sin. Any fellowship should be seriously concerned when its members feel more knitted together by their sinful struggles than by their righteous pursuits.
If my wife and I, for instance, fell into sexual sin before we got married and I felt prompted to make that confession before a gathering of believers, my aim should not only be to help someone in the room who may be struggling with a similar guilt, but also to encourage anyone who hasn’t fallen to remain pure. I should take care that I do not speak of my shortcomings with casualness, lest my listeners treat the grace I mean to communicate with similar casualness.
Whether you’re testifying to an incredible victory, or you are confessing the most shameful sin, let your greatest aim be that God will be glorified both in your life and in others’ lives.