Confession and Fellowship (Part 1)
“The Spiritual Disciplines are those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times.”
(Donald Whitney in The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life)
Over the next two weeks we are going to be examining two disciplines together: Confession and Fellowship. By confession I do not mean going to a member of the clergy to receive “absolution.” By fellowship I do not mean attending potluck suppers and drinking red punch.
A fascinating study is to read the gospels and see how the disciplines of the Christian life are exemplified or taught by our Lord Jesus. Gratefully, Jesus never had to practice the discipline of confession. There is a sense in which Jesus did identify with John the Baptizer’s message and call to repent by submitting to baptism (Matthew 3:7-10, 13-17). He did, however, recognize the necessity of His followers needing to deal with their sins. They must mourn their sins (Matt. 5:4) and be cleansed (5:8); His followers must value relationships enough to deal with sin between them and another follower even if it interrupts their religious activity (Matt. 5:21-26). Our prayers must be laden with confession and forgiveness (6:12a); we must deal with our own sin before trying to help with others (7:5); we must take sin seriously and resolve issues in relationships and in the church (18:15-20); and when we sin, we ought to deal with our sin quickly (Mark 14:72).
Confession is not to be alone. It must be accompanied by repentance. Confession without repentance may just be bragging. In my readings on the spiritual life I have been blessed by the likes of Brother Lawrence, Nouwen, Bonhoeffer, Manning, Merton, and Kelly. By and large all of the spiritual writers stress the importance of keeping short accounts with God through regular confession and repentance. Tan and Gregg write of repentance and confession:
Repentance and confession are the white flags of surrender we wave to declare the death of our pride and the submission of our will to God’s will. Awareness and conviction of sin is the beginning of real Spirit-Centered living. (1997, 96)
In many circles today this discipline would be referred to as having an accountability partner. James 5:16 is pretty specific that as believers we are to “confess our sins to one another.” This discipline functions within the church family to literally enact 1 John 1:7: “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Seen in the context of 1:9, this truth is a liberating fact for the body of Christ. This discipline maintains spiritual and moral cleanliness before God and among each other. In doing this, we “confess” our faults, weaknesses, and sins to trusted people. This builds our faith in a forgiving God, builds our relationships with others in a spirit of humility, and motivates us to keep short accounts with God and others. There is no stronger sin than sin that remains hidden under wraps. Secret sins are the most destructive force in the spiritual life and in relationships. They chain us into a life of hypocrisy and spiritual anemia. However, through genuine confession, our sin is brought to the light. Such openness brings true freedom.
May we live in the freedom Christ desires for us (Galatians 5:1) … See you Sunday