Grace is God’s response to our messes. If you don’t acknowledge your messes, you’ll never receive his grace.
Confession is one way to receive grace and break the power of sin. But confession is poorly understood. Like the word repentance, confession has been mangled through the machinery of man-made religion.
Instead of bringing freedom to the bound and life to the dead, confession is seen as the cost of admission into the House of Grace.
“You wanna clear your conscience? Then start talking you miserable sinner!”
Confession is good for you, but only when it’s done right. We might say there’s good confession and bad confession (see 1 Tim 6:12).
So what is good confession? Very simply, it is the articulation of faith; it is agreeing with God and acknowledging your total dependence on him.
And what is bad confession? It is verbalizing unbelief in the goodness of God and the finished work of the cross. The picture below illustrates the difference.
To help you grasp this distinction, I want to draw twelve lines between healthy and unhealthy confession.
1. Unhealthy confession is an admission of my badness, but healthy confession is a declaration of my trust in God’s goodness (Ps 145:4-7).
2. Unhealthy confession emphasizes leaves me focused on my needs, my weaknesses, and my shortcomings; healthy confession connects my need with God’s grace, his strength and his limitless provision (Php 4:19, 2 Cor 12:9).
3. Unhealthy confession puts the focus on me and what I have or haven’t done, but healthy confession puts the focus on Christ and what he has done for me (Rom 10:9-13).
4. Unhealthy confession requires no faith at all and so doesn’t please the Lord (Heb 11:6), but healthy confession is an expression of the faith in my heart (Rom 10:8). Indeed, healthy confession stirs my faith (Rom 10:17).
5. Unhealthy confession is based on the hope that I can convince God to do something or give me something to make things better; healthy confession is based on the good news that God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us (2 Pet 1:3).
6. Unhealthy confession is begging God to forgive me; healthy confession is only possible when I know he already has (2 Pet 1:5-9).
7. Unhealthy confession is begging God to bless me; healthy confession is thanking God that in Christ I am already the beneficiary of every blessing there is (Eph 1:3).
8. Unhealthy confession perpetuates a cycle of Adamic self-reliance and death (Gal 6:7-8); healthy confession empowers me to walk in newness of life (Acts 13:46).
9. Unhealthy confession is hedged with excuses, finger-pointing, and blame (see Gen 3:12); healthy confession is an honest admission of failure or need underwritten by a radical reliance on God’s grace (see Ps 51:1).
10. Unhealthy confession is motivated by a perceived need to restore relationship with God; healthy confession is only possible when I am secure in his promise that he will never leave nor forsake me (Heb 13:5).
11. Unhealthy confession always follows sin but healthy confession often preempts it. By being honest about my weaknesses and vulnerabilities I position myself to receive the grace that empowers me to say “No” to ungodliness (Jas 4:6).
12. Unhealthy confession is agreeing with the Accuser that I am still a miserable sinner (“look at what you did!”); healthy confession is agreeing with the Holy Spirit that I am still a saint despite what I did (Joh 16:10).
In this life you will make many messes. Confessing-to-be-forgiven or to otherwise manage your sin is like trying to clean house with a filthy mop. You’ll be busy but you won’t make any difference. If anything, you’ll make things worse by adding self-righteous unbelief to your pile of sins.
True confession is freely acknowledging your total dependence on God’s grace – grace for salvation, sanctification, and every other thing. True confession is faith put into words. True confession is relying on the One who cleanses you from all unrighteousness.
Bad confession, such as religion teaches it, seems right to man but ultimately leads to death. Good confession leads to life and godliness.
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