Discipline of Confession
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective
At the heart of God is the desire to give and to forgive. God created us with a right, like the prodigal son, to have to decide what to do with our own lives and God know what you should do. And God is always ready and waits and expects you to come back to Him that He can forgive and restore you back into family. Because of this, he set into motion the entire redemptive process that culminated in the cross and was confirmed in the resurrection. The usual notion of what Jesus did on the cross runs something like this: People were so bad and so mean and God was so angry with them that he could not forgive them unless somebody big enough to be punished or blamed for those bad things .
I. God’s Redemption Process
Nothing could be further from the truth. Love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross. Only Jesus alone who qualify to be somebody big enough to be punished for all our sins. Golgotha came as a result of God’s great desire to forgive, not his reluctance. Jesus knew that by his vicarious suffering he could actually absorb all the evil of humanity and so heal it, forgive it, redeem it.
This is why Jesus refused the customary painkiller when it was offered him. He wanted to be alert for this greatest work of redemption. When Jesus shouted, “My god, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (mark 15:34) it was his moment of greatest triumph because Jesus who had walked in constant communion with the father, now become so totally identified with humankind that he was the actual embodiment of sin. As Paul writes, “he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Having accomplished this greatest of all his works, Jesus, then, cried out, “It is finished,” that is, this great work of redemption was completed.
This redemption process is a great mystery hidden it the heart of God. But we know that it is true not just because the Bible says it is true, but because we have seen its effects in the lives of many people, including myself. It is the ground upon which we can know that confession and forgiveness are realities that transform us.
II. The Discipline of Confession
The Discipline of confession, without the cross, would be only psychological therapeutic. But I is so much more. It involves an objective change in our relationship with God and subjective change in us. It is a means of healing and transforming the inner spirit. The salvation, as the Bible speaks of, refers to far more than who comes to faith in Christ or who get to heaven.
The Bible views salvation as both an event and a process. To convert people Paul says, “Work out you own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). The discipline of confession helps the believer to grow into “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
But is it confession a grace instead of a discipline? It is both. Unless God gives the grace, no genuine confession can be made. But it is also a Discipline because there are things we must do. It is a consciously chosen course of action that brings us under the shadow of the Almighty.
About Corporate Discipline, Confession is a difficult Discipline for us because we all too often view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners. Therefore, we hide ourselves from one another and live in veiled lies and hypocrisy. But if we know that the people of God are first a fellowship of sinners, we are freed to hear the unconditional call of God’s love and to confess our needs openly before our brothers and sisters. We know we are not alone in our sin. The fear and pride that cling to us like barnacles cling to the rock also. We are sinners together. In act of mutual confession we release the power that heals. Our humanity is no longer denied, but transformed.
III. Authority to forgive
As we learned together many weeks ago, in James 5:16 God wants us not to just confess to God but to each other, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
But here is one verse that bothers about the authority to forgive and there is different understanding between the Catholic and the Protestant community. John 20:23 says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” It seems like the disciple of Jesus Christ have been given the authority to receive the confession of sin and to forgive in his name. We should also consider this important point. The Greek tenses of John 20:23 make it clear that the apostles were authorized only to announce the terms of forgiveness on the basis of God’s previous appointment. Literally, the text suggests: “Those whose sins you forgive, have already been forgiven; those whose sins you do not forgive, have not already been forgiven.” As a follower of Christ we don’t have authority to forgive sin but we have privilege to assure the forgiveness from God to the person that confess their sin from their heart in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord.
IV. Counsel in the Giving of a Confession
God calls his light-filled creatures of heaven into celebration whenever one person on earth makes confession (Luke 15:10). His greatest delight is to forgive. We come with hopeful heart s, for the One we are coming to waits for us like the father of a prodigal who saw his son when he was still a great way off and in compassion ran and embraced him and welcomed him back (Luke 15:20).
What do we do? St. Alphonsus Liguouri wrote, “For a good confession three things are necessary: an examination on conscience, sorrow, and determination to avoid sin.”
1. An Examination of Conscience
We are inviting God to move upon the heart and show us areas that need his forgiving and healing touch. In this experience of opening ourselves to the gaze of God, we must be prepared to deal with definite sins. A generalized confession may save us from humiliation and shame, but it will not ignite inner healing. The people who came to Jesus came with obvious, specific sins, and they were forgiven for each one. It is far too easy to avoid our real guilt in a general confession. In our confession we bring concrete sins, a definite sins, the sins of the heart as pride, avarice, anger, fear, as well the sins of the flesh as sloth, adultery, murder.
2. Sorrow is necessary to a good confession
Sorrow is a way of taking the confession seriously. But being sorrowful only in the emotions without a godly sorrow in the will destroys the confession.
3. Determination to Avoid Sin
In the Discipline of Confession we us God to give us a yearning for holy living, a hatred for unholy living. John Wesley once said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and decide nothing but God . . . such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.” It is the will to be delivered from sin that we seek from God as we prepare to make confession.
Then there is the practical matter of whom we should go to confess. It is quite correct theologically to say that every Christian believer can receive the confession of another, but not every Christian believer will have sufficient empathy and understanding.
V. Counsel in the Receiving of a Confession
Like any spiritual ministry there is a preparation involved in being able to hear rightly the confession of a brother or sister. We begin by learning to live under the cross. Also we know the deceptiveness of the human heart and we know the grace and mercy of God’s acceptance. One we see the awfulness of sin we know that, regardless of what others have done, we ourselves are the chief of sinners. By living under the cross we can hear the worst possible thing from the best possible people without so much a batting an eyelash. If we live in that reality, we will convey that spirit to others. They know it is safe to come to us.
Finally it is extremely important that you pray for the person and not just counsel with them. Before or during the prayer we should announce to them that the forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ is now real and effective for them.
The prayer is for the healing of the inner wounds that the sin has caused.
The Discipline of Confession brings an end to pretense. God is calling into being a church that can openly confess its frail humanity and know the forgiving and empowering graces of Christ. Honesty leads to confession, and confession leads to change. May God give grace to the Church once again to recover the Discipline of Confession.