Confession is the place where honesty and repentance meet. The Bible tells Christians that we ought to confess our sins not only to God, but to one another. It’s one thing to be knowledgeable about theology and teach it. It’s quite another to share personal failure in light of that theology while teaching it. I would venture to say that most people, if they are anything like me, learn much more from the latter teacher than from the former. That said, honesty and genuine public confession is not only hard to do, but also hard to find inside the church. I do not believe it is because we do not recognize our sin. I believe it is because of the reactions we endure when we are most honest about ourselves in the assembly.
There is an ever swinging pendulum moving through the church erring on the side of naivety, then suspicion; believing the best then thinking the worst; superficiality then fear – all of which are understandable when seeking to be real with those who are likely to misread, mistake, misunderstand, and even misrepresent our true stories of trial and transgression. In other words, when it comes to sin we either don’t want to know or we think we already do; we think either more highly or not highly enough of ourselves and our brothers and sisters; we either hide our real selves or we quake in our boots and bail before the words we need to share ever even come out. And that’s just fine with everyone else because they probably really didn’t want to deal with it anyway -or so we think.
But we all have those stories. The Bible commands us to confess that we might be healed. The implication in James 5:16 is that if we do not confess and pray with one another specifically about our own sin, we will not be healed. Still, the utter frustration and crippling fear that comes alongside nitty-gritty authenticity is limitless.
Therefore, at the risk of being painfully repetitive, I have a few more words to say. I don’t want to be redundant. Really, I don’t. Beating a dead horse is no fun for the reader nor the writer. But after writing on Ephesians 5 three times over the past year and considering it’s message on countless occasions of solitude, I cannot leave this text without one final hurrah.
The problem lies not in what I said. the problem lies in what I did not say. I wrote about the context. I wrote about the warnings. I wrote about the commands and I wrote about the consequences. Theologically, I think I covered the bases relatively well – for a girl, that is, without a seminary degree or even so much as a religious sounding surname to speak of.
Honestly, though, I’m having a problem. I cannot move on to the next passage with peace. Every time I try, I stop. I consider my error and I drag my full of faults and failures feet. I end up back at the beginning of Ephesians chapter 5 and I flail around trying to figure out what fancy linguistic form will fit this fetish.
“Be imitators of God.”
That’s just the beginning of a 21 verse, 25 command discourse given by the apostle Paul.
The problem is that when I consider myself, despite the fact that I do desperately desire to imitate God, I don’t know if I veritably ever really do. Because Paul tells me exactly what imitating God actually looks like. He says, “walk in love.” I walk in love – sometimes. Really. I want to. But I also walk in anger sometimes. I walk in frustration. I walk in impatience, fear, doubt, and disillusionment, just to name a few. I pray repetitively every day for God to help me stop being angry, frustrated, impatient, afraid, unbelieving, and disillusioned. But the next day is often the same. But that’s just one command. Twenty four to go, right?
I go on in the text. Be moral; be pure; do not covet…
Fail. Fail. Double fail. I can’t even walk into Walmart without wanting something I don’t need.
…be clean; no foolish talk; no crude joking…
I’d love to believe that I’m sophisticated, classy, educated, wise, and reasonable all the time. Well, even most of the time would work for me. But the truth is that I’ve often been anything but. Ignorance may indeed be my middle name. I can’t help but recall the foolish, thoughtless words which have left my lips in days past. And don’t even make me finish the verse where he mentions being thankful. Doubtless I have been one of the most ungrateful, spoiled children God has ever fathered.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, right? Problem is, no matter what people say, this stuff is not small! Paul goes on to tell me that God’s wrath is coming because of these very things! His wrath! You know, that force that strikes people dead without warning when they complain about the redundance of his bread showers?
Ok, now here’s the kicker: “Do not be partners with them.”
*Swallows hard* Them?! He’s talking about me.
And that’s where I stop. That’s the part where I begin to wonder about all the things I thought I knew – chiefly, has he really saved me? I’ve been all but convinced otherwise by some who say they know. And if he hasn’t saved me, has he saved anyone at all? I love the Bible. I long for the truth. Theology is the solitary subject I chose to study. Nothing else has ever captivated me over the past two decades. I puzzle over the height from which I fell. I grieve over the great sin I have committed. I console myself with the stories of David, Noah, Moses, and Peter. Their worst failings play over in my mind like a broken record. I wonder why God ever chose them. I wonder why he chose me. I realize that I am altogether terrified of the evil capabilities of my own heart. I pray. I confess. I fast. I mourn. I seek peace and pursue it. I repeat it all over again. For just a moment, I find the truth. I am that bad – and so are you. I am far worse than any person has or ever will accuse me of being. We are sinners. That is why we need a Savior. That is why we need Paul’s commands. It is why the Ephesians needed a letter, a church, and a leader so invested in their progress that he was willing to lay down his likes, his liberty, and even his own life for the likes of them.
I do not live a life of sin, but there are times I have. There are precious few kinds of sin I have left uncommitted – if any. If any human is honest with himself he will conclude as much.
And that is why we must confess…in the church – to God and to each other. We must confess. We must stop reacting to one another’s sin as if we cannot believe it. We must offer one another the same amount of grace that we, too, desperately need. We must be honest about ourselves as well as with others. And when we are, and they are, we must, must, must resolve to treat one another the way we want to be treated when we have lost a painful battle in the war against the enemy. It’s one thing to be well versed in church culture and biblical truth. It’s quite another to share personal failure in the midst of that background. I would venture to say that most people, if they are anything like me, learn much more from the latter than from the former – teacher or otherwise.