Is it possible as Christians we have completely missed the purpose of confession? As I talk to more and more people I hear the phrase, “I just need to get this off my chest.” For many people confession has become a process to clear our conscious. And yes, I believe it is one of the outcomes of confession but I do not believe it is the purpose of the process. Honestly, for many, confession has become an archaic and antiquated tradition which no longer belongs in the church.
So if feeling better is not the purpose of confession then what is the purpose? I believe the purpose of confession is change. Confessing something carries with it the assumption you will not do it again.
I remember as a teenager the first time I was exposed to pornography. I was 14 and I was at a friend’s house. He found his dad’s magazines. It was something I had never seen before and I knew I should not be looking at it, but I did. I went home and felt horrible. I remember praying, asking God to forgive me, saying things like, “if you will forgive me I will never do it again.” But there I was the next time I was at his house caught in the same situation. Every single time I was at his house I would go home and say the same prayer. I distinctly remember thinking, but this time I really mean it. Honestly, looking back I don’t know if I ever really intended to change, but the confession made me feel better about myself.
Throughout scripture there seems to be this thought, confession leads to change. If you are going to confess something, it is something which must change. A lot of times I think we treat God like He is stupid; almost as if we have found a loophole in the process. If we simply confess our sin, it goes away. He forgets about it. Does He? First, I would say if we are not confessing with the intention of changing, he does not forget it. As to whether or not He remembers our sins when we are sincere, that is an entirely different topic. Regardless of whether or not He remembers our sins, I believe he remembers them when we are not genuinely confessing with the anticipation of genuinely changing. When we continue to confess the same sin over and over as we continue in the same sin, I think we are mocking God.
Maybe for some confession needs to begin with the honesty to say, God I sinned, I’m sorry, but I am going to do it again tomorrow. At least it is honest, and I believe God would respect it more than the person who says, God I have sinned and I won’t do it again, knowing they have no intention of changing. Of course our goal is not simply honesty with God but obedience to God. Maybe it is through the honesty we would open our eyes to the trap we have fallen into.
One other thought on confession. Confession makes us right with God but should also make us right with others. When our sin affects others, God expects us to make things right with those who have been hurt by our sin. When our sin affects someone else’s life, God’s desire is not for us to make things right with Him, but it is to make things right with the person we have hurt. I believe in doing that we are making things right with Him.
True confession though requires courage. Andy Stanley says, “We fear the consequences of confession far more than we fear the consequences of our sin.” To confess and come clean can mean real trouble. It can mean difficulties in your marriage, your job, and your finances. It is not easy, but then again Jesus never said it would be easy. To confess means to change. However, before we can change we must commit to getting rid of what no longer belongs.