True Confession: When “I’m Sorry, I Messed Up” Isn’t Enough

How often have you heard or said, “Yeah, I know I messed up. I’m sorry.  I don’t know how it happened. I’ve got issues.”

This language is typical in our day, when as a culture we have abdicated responsibility, absorbed psychology as a means of explaining sin issues, and abandoned God’s perspective on guilt and forgiveness. Sadly, this kind of thinking is just as rampant in the church as in the world.

Confession, which is an integral part of the Christian life, has become less of a transaction of offense confessed and offense forgiven.  It has instead become, or it at least it appears often, as an excuse-laiden, cross-less, appeal for acceptance.  But is this new?  Not really.  In Exodus 32, we find in Aaron the age old problem of a false confession.

Exodus 32:22-24

After the golden calf is destroyed, Moses turns his attention to Aaron and the people. Like a lawyer before the judge, Moses questions the accused. In v. 21, “What did this people do to you that you have brought such a great sin upon them?” Aaron’s answer echoes that of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Verse 22.  Aaron blames Israel for their evil. Which is true.  But it seems that he uses their wickedness as a shield from his own law-breaking.

Verse 23.  Then he recites the demands of the Israelites.  Further adding to their guilt.  Now, notice for a moment who is saying this—it isn’t a commoner in Israel; it is the priest.  The one who is supposed to remove guilt, not add to it.  Moreover, one wonders if Aaron uses the people’s words about Moses absence from camp to insinuate his own guilt in the episode.  For, if Moses had been there, none of this would happened.

Verse 24. Then finally he gets to his part. Instead of admitting the active role he had in “making” the calf, he shows surprise in how this beast was fashioned.  Paraphrased, it sounds like this “I threw the gold into the fire, and out popped this calf.”

It is easy to point at Aaron, or even to laugh at the ridiculousness of his excuse, but we should be quick to notice how similar we are to Aaron.  Paul says we are to learn from the counter-example of Israel (1 Cor 10:1-11), and thus God uses Aaron’s ridiculous confession to show us what confession is not.

Five Attributes of False Confession and True Confession

(1) Confession does not name others first; it takes the first step to admit wrong. There is no place in confession for pointing to the faults of others as contributing factors.  It is satisfied to single our self, and to deal with the Lord and others, without pulling others into the mix.  Though Scripture models corporate confessions–one thinks of Nehemiah or Daniel–personal confession has no business finding comfort in the sins of others.

(2) Confession does not blame-shift; pointing out the sins of others.  It points to self. It is not looking for a scape-goat or an external reason for the moral failure or relational offense.  There is no need to load our sins on anyone else, because for Christians, Christ has already taken that sin on the cross.  Thus confession gives us another reason to rejoice in sin pardoned.

(3) Confession does not simply claim that wrong was done; it is admitting your part. Unlike Aaron, who passively recounts the events of the golden calf, true confession steps up and says, “I am the man. Forgive me.”

(4) Confession does not aim to save face; it is looking to see the face of Christ again. With Christ and his cross in view, it always sees the penalty of sin as a bloody cross; but it also remembers that the greatest sin has been covered by the greater grace of God in Christ (Rom 5:20).  Thus, it frees us to confess even the most miserable and atrocious sins, because in Christ they have been fully forgiven.

(5) Confession is not a lame ‘yeah, I’m sorry,’ It demands a spirit of contrition & brokenness, and willingness to do anything to bring about reconciliation. It abandons personal rights, and is willing to suffer hardship to make-peace.

(6) Confession does not simply retell the shame, it agrees with God that the act, thought, speech, motive, pattern, etc was a sin, and then it boldly claims the blood of Christ as the once for all atonement for that hell-deserving sin.  

Confession that is true reiterates our belief that we are more sinful than we ever knew, and that Christ as our mediating high priest is more sufficient than we ever imagined. It is prompted by the Spirit and leads to forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9).  It comes from a heart that has seen sin the way God sees sin; it cannot be manufactured, it is a gift from God.

In short, it is part and parcel of the Christian life, one that is illumined by God’s word and directed by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.  For truly born again Christians, it should not be an irregular activity or something initiated by a pastoral reminder.  It should be a daily, even moment-by-moment offering to the Lord.

Still, with all that said, I wonder how many Christians do confession much like Aaron. I am concerned that many “Christians” play church–that confession, repentance, and reconciliation are not part of their daily lives.  And thus, their professed Christianity is nothing like the real thing.  Instead of a genuine relationship with Jesus, programs and platitudes have sufficed.

Ask yourself: How often do I make confession to the Lord, and to others?  Is it a regular practice of my life, one stimulated by the Spirit?

Jesus is clear. Those who are forgiven will forgive; and those who are convicted will confess. This is not optional; this is the normal Christian life.  God’s love confronts us and calls us to regularly confess sin and seek restoration with God and others, and Aaron’s errant confession teaches us that “I’m sorry, I’ve got issues,” just doesn’t cut it.

Lord pour out a Spirit of grace and pleas for mercy on your church and on me.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

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