"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Lost Grace of Confession in Evangelical Leadership and Churches

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" I John 1:9-10 (ESV)

It  has been said that there are only two things certain in life -- death and taxes. In reality there are other things just as certain, and one of those certainties is that you and I will mess up. Some may call our messes "poor choices," others may say we have "problems," but the Bible calls it "sin." Sin is what happens when we live our lives independent of Christ and His ways. We have sins of behavior as well as sins of the heart (envy, bitterness, anger, pride, etc.). A key to living with the complete joy that comes from experiencing the grace of God is to know what to do when we sin as believers in Christ. There is a principle or precept of grace that seems to have been lost in evangelical circles:

We are called by Christ to regularly confess our sins to God and others.

I don't know if it seems to you, as it does me, that there is just the opposite spirit in evangelical Christianity. Most of us seem to be doing everything possible to NOT confess sins to God and to others. The loss of this grace principle is, in my estimation, one of the reasons evangelical Christianity lacks the power of Christ and is becoming like any other religion in this world.

"If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (v.9). Confession is the Greek word homolegeo which means "to say the same thing as." To confess sin means you know that God thinks that what you have done, or what you have said, or what you feel is a violation of His precepts, and you agree with Him--and are unafraid to tell others.

The mark of true Christianity is not sinlessness but sin-consciousness. We are sin sensitive.  But the reason we Christians often find it hard to "confess" our sins to God and to others is because our perspective about our sins is wrong. We see the sin, but we don't see it like God sees it. Confession becomes part of my life when three things occur:

I. I have confidence in God that He has already dealt with my sins.

This is where our brothers who emphasize their works, their faith, their commitment etc... and not the effectual, powerful and eternal work of Christ often fail. Those who add to the grace of God by exalting human works wind up tripping and falling in their confession because to admit sin and failure negates the grace of God in a system that places human works on par with God's grace.

 The "confession" of I John 1:9 mentions nothing about what you do, nothing about what you promise, nothing about what you perform, and absolutely everything about what God does for you as you confess your faults and sins to God and others and  then rest in the finished work of Christ. Christ died for sinners, not the righteous, and confession of sin exalts the work of Christ.

II. I have confidence in God's faithfulness to fulfill His promises to believing sinners.

He will be faithful and perform all the promises that He has made to those who trust in Christ. "As far as the east is from the west He has removed our sins from us" (Psalm 103:12). Now, you and I must ask a very important question. On what basis has God removed our sins and fulfilled his promises to sinners who trust Him? Love? Yes, but there is an attribute of God that is even more important when it comes to freeing us up to confess our sins to God and to others. God is love, but the faithfulness of God in regards to our sin is found in the attribute of His justice. Until you comprehend God's justice at Calvary, you will never be a believer prone to confess your sins to others.

To have confidence in God's justice means that He, as my Judge, has already punished my sins in the substitutionary death of His Son at Calvary. The wrath and condemnation of God will never be experienced by the believer who continually confesses his faults and sins to God and others because God's holy anger toward those sins has already been satiated at Calvary. And it is the confession of sins to God and others that is the evidence of trust in the Son.

Christians often have very little understanding what it means to trust in God's justice. It is this inability to understand that God is faithful and just that makes confession hard. In Romans 3:26 Paul writes about our sins, Christ's work, God's justice, and our faith. Christ died that "God might be just and justifier of one who has faith in Jesus." I have confidence that my sins were borne by Christ and paid for by Jesus Christ. Therefore, I don't mind telling you of my sins because my confession of them portrays to you the confidence I have in Christ's work of Christ for me.

III. I have confidence in God's grace in me to actually remove my sins the more I confess them.

Forgiveness means that God views and treats me, the offender, as not guilty of the sin which I have committed. Not because He blinks at my sin and ignores it, but because His Son has become my sin and borne the punishment due it.  The grace of God will cleanse me of the remnants of sins in me as I confess to God and others my actual sins.

God, by His grace, takes my angry spirit (of which I am forgiven) and replaces it with a soft spirit. God takes my lying, cheating and stealing, and replaces it with truthfulness, integrity, and generosity. But notice: Too many of us get the concepts of confession and cleansing reversed. We often wish to wait until things are straightened out in us out before we confess our sins to God and others. But the Bible says "Don't wait!" The moment you are conscious of your sin, when you are in the middle of it, confess it to God and to others. This is path God designed for you to have your life actually and experientially cleansed of that sin. Others won't help you wipe the dirt off your windshield until you point it out to them. God's grace never shields you from dirt as you travel this world, but God's grace will help you instantly get rid of it when you tell Him and others that you have been splattered with it.

I was called "stupid" by someone who declared that there is no way any evangelical leader who has lied about his past should be kept in his position of leadership.  I receive the label gladly, because the ways of God are much different than the ways of the world. The Christian leader that is MOST qualified to lead is the one who confesses his sins to God and to others on a regular basis. The Christian leader who should be fired is the one who covers and conceals his sins.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

17 comments:

Josh from FL said...

"Others won't help you wipe the dirt off your windshield until you point it out to them. God's grace never shields you from dirt as you travel this world, but God's grace will help you instantly get rid of it when you tell Him and others that you have been splattered with it."

Thanks for the encouragement today.
=)

Bob Cleveland said...

Wade,

Could it be that (what seems to me to be uniquely) Baptist terms like "backsliding" and "rededication" have contributed to this?

What we call "backsliding" is really turning your back on God and living in sin; what we call "rededication" is a face-saving substitute for repentance, confession, and restoration.

But there IS no substitute for those things. Has the church, perhaps, sanctioned the conditions which have led to the subject of this post?

Internet Griot said...

Wade, in certain evangelical circles I have experienced that many leaders would rather be right than righteous. The right defend and cover their sin. The righteous confess and are delivered.

Lydia said...

"The Christian leader that is MOST qualified to lead is the one who confesses his sins to God and to others on a regular basis. The Christian leader who should be fired is the one who covers and conceals his sins. "


Does it take getting caught publicly? Or would that repentance come before getting caught through conviction of the Holy Spirit? That is the problem...we do not know what is real repentance and what is saving a job.

That is one reason Jonathan Edwards recommended some time should pass after repenting to see if is real. (Should we not do the same for celebrities in Christendom who make their living from the Gospel?)

Aussie John said...

Wade,

Thank you for an excellent word.

We have become too adept at destructive legalism to understand the constructive grace involved in the "one anothers" of the New Testament.

Christiane said...

Some reflections on reconciliation:

from Zechariah 12
10 “And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one* whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. ”

The Holy Spirit leads us to conviction. And it is done as He points towards Christ:

The Holy Spirit is the spirit of compassion.
The ‘one whom they have pierced’ is Christ, who was crucified for our sins.
When our hearts are pierced by the sight of His suffering, we will mourn and our ‘repentance’ shall be ‘as one mourns for an only child’, with deep repentance.

No Christian can enable this by pointing to another person’s sin because it is the Holy Spirit who leads us to repentance, as His Spirit of compassion is 'poured out on us' and we turn our faces towards Christ the Lord.

A Christian CAN point a sinner towards the Lord. The Holy Spirit does the rest.

A returning to the Lord.
A 'turning again' towards the Lord, as in the beautiful meaning of the Hebrew word 'teshuva':
to return, to come home to the Father, as the broken prodigal son came home to his father WHO CAME OUT TO MEET HIM with great love and embraced his son in complete, unearned forgiveness.

To be forgiven is to be 'reconciled' to God, and He 'will remember our sins no more'.

Anonymous said...

Wade said: “The mark of true Christianity is not sinlessness but sin-consciousness.”

Hey, I like that! But this is often the biggest problem that stands between us and salvation and forgiveness. For me, it’s my pride that gets in the way of my perceiving and acknowledging those sins that I have present in my life. I think God hates the sin of “pride” more than any other sin because of this. But this still is a great quote.

Anonymous said...

Wade said: “I was called "stupid" by someone who declared that there is no way any evangelical leader who has lied about his past should be kept in his position of leadership.”

I surely don’t think that you are “stupid”, but I don’t agree with you in saying that they should be kept in their position of leadership.

I know that it is your big heart that leads you to want to see the downfallen reconciled to God and to the church that leads you to this position. I pray that I can also have that level of compassion.

But if I, as a minister or spiritual leader, fail to maintain the integrity that is expected of a leadership position or if I prove that I never met that basic standard to begin with, then I should be disqualified from serving in that leadership role. Then, at the very least, there should be a sufficient interval that allows for a re-assessment of my being qualified at a later time.

To remove the consequences of poor judgment or intentional risk taking is the same as enabling an addict by rescuing him from the consequences of his abusive behavior. That is NOT compassion. You are not doing him any favors and in reality, you are being cruel by not contributing to his recovery in a real sense. That’s not to mention the lack of responsibility assumed for those that are begin victimized by the irresponsible behavior.

Unfortunately, our diligence in maintaining and insisting upon candidates or leadership incumbents meeting basic standards of character and integrity is what has been devastating to the image and effectiveness of our Southern Baptist Convention and many of its constituent churches. I wonder if its not why God is not blessing our Convention with growth and increasing numbers of souls being saved.

There is a Biblical mandate for church discipline as well as Christ-like graciousness. God is indeed a gracious and compassionate God, but He does not compromise His righteousness and holiness on that account.

It’s a tough combination, grace and righteousness, but we really should strive to exercise it.

Anonymous said...

“Before the Christianity Today article, it was just a few blog accusations,” Moore said.

This is the quote by LU spokesperson, Johnnie Moore, today in a LU article from a Liberty, VA newspaper. Funny thing is that the Christianity Today article reported the EXACT same thing that this blog did. hmmmmm....

Thanks for what you are doing!

Rex Ray said...

Wade,
There’s a line between confessing your sins to God and the legalism of confessing your sins to man.

Baptists don’t believe we need a priest as a go-between us and God, but when do we need to confess our sins to OTHERS?

I believe we only need to confess our sins to OTHERS when OTHERS are involved.

And I don’t mean we should announce to the congregation: ‘I’m sorry when Mrs. XXX leaned over so far I could see more than I should.’

And I don’t mean we should announce to the congregation: “I’m sorry I lost my temper with XXX.’

I believe we should confess our sin to XXX in private, unless the congregation knows all about it.

When a person rededicates their life, they don’t need to go into details before the congregation.

A tip to the wise: Don’t rededicate your life after a sermon on adultery unless the shoe fits or the congregation will think the shoe fits. :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"This is the quote by LU spokesperson, Johnnie Moore, today in a LU article from a Liberty, VA newspaper. Funny thing is that the Christianity Today article reported the EXACT same thing that this blog did. hmmmmm....

Thanks for what you are doing!"

So they get paid for it and that makes it a "real" story. The bloggers found the story for the paid one's to cash in on. hmmmm..

greg.w.h said...

Christiane:

I thought of the sacramental view of confession that the RC Church takes when I read Wade's title. Specifically, I thought of how the expectation to confess sins regularly is "built in" to Catholicism from at least Confirmation forward.

Baptists are skeptical of treating confession as a sacrament for a couple of reasons (I'll describe in a second). But if a Baptist is as faithful to what he is taught (using myself as the antecedent for "he") as a Catholic is faithful to what she is taught (thinking of yourself as the antecedent for "she") my suspicion is that God dispenses grace to both for the same reason: faith.

I appreciate that Wade is taking it one step further by trading out the word "sacrament" for the more direct word "grace" in referring to the OPPORTUNITY of confession. This deals nicely with the two objections that Baptists often raise towards a sacremental view of rituals such as confession:

1. We are leery of the appearance of a mechanistic relationship between an outwardly measurable action such as attending the confession booth and God's recognition of the person's faith and a direct accounting of righteousness AS an act of God's grace. Martin Luther's Theses summarize one very strong cause for skepticism, especially with respect to the sale of indulgences.

2. We also believe that each believer is a priest and the only intercessor(s) we need are the Jesus performing and being the sacrifice for us and the Holy Spirit interpreting our needs with uttering and groaning that we can't understand. So we're, again, leery of having to do that with a human.

My thought is that there is no way to force God's offering of grace and his accounting righteousness for faith. He sees through to the heart, and acts according to his own thoughts. So while I understand and am sympathetic to Southern Baptist opposition to sacraments, I trust God will actually figure out who is and isn't deserving of grace.

I think the Southern Baptist position on priesthood of the believer is precisely correct. There is no true professional/vocational priesthood in the NT church--especially that reflects the OT--in the sense of professional, human-designated intercession. But a part of my brain nags at me about how if we deal with confession seriously with another person, it has an entirely different impact on our lives than if we "only" confess to God, especially if we're essentially trying to game the system.

That different faith practices should differentiate ecclesiological positions probably is simply a fact of the wonderous diversity of belief that God tolerates--for his own reasons--among the many churches and denominations (no matter how you size or describe each concept.) But I do believe that understanding WHY different faith traditions vary their faith practices actually leads to a richer understanding of God's interaction with us mere mortals.

And I appreciate where Wade is going in highlighting the emphasis on our forfeiting of God's grace when we reject biblical suggestions for how to relate to God through Jesus Christ. Confession is the routine of the honest, faithful Christian. Forgiveness and cleansing is the routine of our loving Father as he and the Holy Spirit work through our entire lives seeking to conform us to the eikon of Christ Jesus.

And the most beautiful thing of all is when someone who has not experienced salvation encounters a Christian that is keenly aware of sin and its consequences and as a matter of consistent, faithful practice seeks to resolve sin via confession, repentance, forgiveness and cleansing: they know when it's authentic as the Holy Spirit directly witnesses to them of the truth of that authenticity. We can't fool God, and most of the time, we really can't even fool each other.

But heaven knows: we try.

Greg Harvey

Christiane said...

Hi GREG HARVEY,

It's me, Christiane

Thank you for sharing with me about your beliefs, or how should I ever come to understand my Baptist friends better.

And thank you for the clarity of that explanation.

When I share here, I try to find something of meaning that 'transcends' denominational barriers, if possible, at times.

In my faith, we believe that the source of all grace is Christ the Lord. And the Bible story of the prodigal son illustrates to us the unearned nature of that gift of grace. That parable alone is such a great teacher of how Our Father welcomes us back to Him when we come in humility.

'Confession' is a word that is seen sadly, with some hesitancy. And much misunderstood, I think.
Wade presents a biblically-based concept of 'confession' that I believe Baptists can understand, and, with encouragement, come to see as a great blessing in their lives.

I imagine many Baptists have been practicing a kind of 'confession' all along, without knowing it, when they have sought out a pastor, or a dear Christian friend, and allowed that person to hear of their brokeness, their pain and their sadness;
and then they have prayed together in the Name of Lord Christ, the Great Physician. Christ is there, in their midst, we know this.

Lambs get lost sometimes. The Good Shepherd, in His Mercy, searches them out and finds them, and brings them safely home.

In Christ, peace
Christiane

Anonymous said...

"the pastor family"

"the pastor brotherhood"

whatever you want to call it, Wade is a member and has to abide by their unwritten codes, so for him to say

" that they should be kept in their position of leadership"

you can understand why.


That's why until recently you didn't have lawyers suing lawyers until the bad ones were hurting the "reputation" of the rest of them, and this helps keep them "honest"?

wadeburleson.org said...

Anonymous,

On the contrary, I would give the same grace to laymen as well as pastors.

Lydia said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnAYSQrCtYw

the clergy/laity lie by Jon Zens

Jeff Rogers said...

I have found that a deep understanding of doctrinal truth is not much help in this area.

I have found that pastors beating on the bible and badgering believers to perform these works of grace is not the answer either.

The balm that works (or has worked in my life) is when I hear==read==or talk with another brother about the glories of Christ, the majesty of the work that he did on my behalf...this is when my heart begins to open up to the idea that I could come to such a one and confess. I can come to this one who did it all and with great boldness and freedom I can trust, with my life, the one who trusted the Father with his own life.

The more we reveal Christ to believers the more they will be ready to act on these inclinations of Grace from God's very own Spirit dwelling in us.

Let's leave behind the obligation, the work, the duty...let's look unto Jesus, the author and finisher...look and live, just as Moses called on Israel to "Look at the Serpent on the pole and be healed".

We MUST look to Jesus and we then will begin healing.

How can I not come to such a one with every need, and every failing, every sin, every pain.

This is New life.

Jeff "Miztah" Rogers