A Good Confession

You may not recognize them.  I don’t blame you if you don’t.

A Good Confession

Yes. Underneath all that mud, those are rubber boots. The fact that they were left outside the door is testament to the fact that even little ones shedding their outdoor gear know that these are not fit for the house.

And every year, as spring thaws things down, I find it is a shock to go from the cleansing effect of the months-long deep white snow to the grime and mess of water on sand that creates a wonderful sticky goo perfect for coating everything and travelling along to whatever lucky landing is found.

It is at this time of year that I find myself singing that beloved Christmas song with my own spring-spun twist: ‘It’s the mud, muddiest season of all . . .’

Daily, I sweep the step, vacuum the doormat, throw many a dustpanful of sand back outside where it belongs. And it makes me think of our sin-tainted world, and the resulting grime that clings to us, and the regular effort required to cleanse away the filth.  

The Bible has a word for this kind of cleansing: confession. Easy to say. Not always easy to do. And certainly not easy to do regularly and properly. But if left undone . . . well, let’s just say we can become as unrecognizable and unfit as those rubber boots sitting outside the door. And the mess can spread dirt wherever we go until it becomes a monumental job to clean it up.


A Good Confession

What constitutes a good confession? What kind of water will actually remove the goo of sin that clings and spreads?

Honesty. The first ingredient of a good confession is honesty.

In Joshua chapter 7, when Joshua calls on Achan to confess his hidden sin, he says: “My son, give glory to God, the God of Israel. Make your confession to Him. Tell me what you did. Don’t keep back anything from me” (v.19 The Message).

When we are honest, we tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Is that redundant? No. It is possible to not tell the truth at all, which constitutes a blatant lie. There are also other ways to be dishonest. We might tell pieces of the truth, but leave out the parts that incriminate us the most. Or we might tell the truth and add to it in order to nullify and justify our actions. But it is still possible (even if uncomfortable) to be honest. A good confession tells the truth . . . completely . . . without unnecessary embellishments.

This kind of confession requires us to call out our sin using its rightful name, and diagnose the motivation behind it. We don’t minimize or excuse the seriousness of our sin. We remember that this is the behaviour that required the Saviour to suffer on our behalf. And we are sorry. Repentance makes us desire to forsake this sin and live without it for our own good, for the good of others, and for the honour of God. Joshua makes it clear: honest confession gives glory to God.

Humility. We must do some hard truth telling if we are to be clean. But this cleansing comes with a price. 

What is the price? Humility. Letting go of pride. But, really, what do we have to be proud of anyway? In our unrecognizable state, with the gooey coating of sin, we are not much to look at. Those rubber boots by the back door look nothing like the shiny new pair that came home from the Farm Supply Store the day they were bought. Currently, they have nothing like their former glory. 

Humility involves transparency and accountability, an ethic that requires us to stand publicly behind what we say and do privately. Achan was expecting to go undetected. Surely what he did in secret was no business of the community. But God soon emphasized to all of Israel in bold letters that hiding is not an adequate solution for sin and its effects. Love can’t cover over unconfessed sin. If those boots sitting outside the back door are ever to shine again, someone is going to have to bring them into the light and expose the grime in order to expel it. The same applies to us and our sin.


The Alternative

Sin exacts its own price. Choices and consequences coexist, often in balance, and the price of a good confession can involve accepting some intimidating consequences. When we consider the price of a good confession, there is always the issue of how much freedom and cleansing is worth to us. It is only when we decide that we want to be free and clean no matter the cost, that we will be able to voluntarily break free from the sin that weighs us down.

So, what if we decide the price of a good confession is too high? What if we decide that sitting outside the back door covered in mud is preferred to coming into the light to be cleaned up? What is the cost of continuing on “as is”? Is there a price to pay if we decide to keep the mud, and spread the dirt, and hope nobody notices? Can we live with the grime forever, undetected? 

Well, if you’re a pair of boots in spring and the decision is made to just continue on in the mud at length without ever cleaning up . . . before too long, things will get pretty heavy. And pretty messy. And your owner is sure to notice, along with his clean-up committee tracking behind with a broom and vacuum. The thirty-six soldiers who fell in battle as a result of Achan’s sin are testament enough. 

When we opt to hang onto our sin and hope that no one notices, we can be very sure that we are not fooling God. Confession or not, God knows all about our secrets and sins, even while He is waiting for us to turn to Him for cleansing. There are times, however, when our fear of man trumps our fear of God, and we turn away from a good confession, thinking that we can hide the state we are in from the people around us. 

But, surprisingly, the effect of this decision often becomes every bit as noticeable. Before we know it, the only person we are fooling is ourselves. You see, we warp when we hide our sin and hang onto it. The image in which we were created (Genesis 1:27) becomes more marred, our hearts and consciences become heavy, and soon we don’t even recognize ourselves. Our subpar state becomes very obvious to those around us. And the worst of it is that we end up just as noticeably awry, but we don’t know how we got here, and how we will ever get back. 

And this choice to avoid a good confession is not foolproof. Proverbs tells us that “an evasive eye is a sign of trouble ahead” (Proverbs 10:10 The Message). Our sin will find us out (Numbers 32:23). Exposure is sure to come sooner or later. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Unconfessed sin makes us skittish and jumpy. When we fear exposure, everyone is seen as a threat. We isolate ourselves in order to be untouchable and undetected. Giving and receiving love becomes impossible as the protective walls go up.

It is helpful to remember that, biblically, there is a general rule of thumb: expose yourself, or be exposed. Achan learned this the hard way. God has a way of digging up our illicit treasure hoard for public scrutiny when we won’t hand it over voluntarily ourselves.


The Choice

And so, we find that we have a choice to make.

In all the stories, the good people are fundamentally honest and humble, and the bad guys are fundamentally dishonest and proud. Where will we fit?

Will we choose honesty and humility, and the path that leads to cleanliness and freedom? Will we come clean, live in the light, bear the consequences, and live humbly with God on our side? Or will we decide to save face (or so we think) as our world shrinks, knowing that God opposes us and it is only a matter of time until the wheels of justice show the reality of our situation for all the world to see. 

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13 ESV).


The Result of a Good Confession

What is the result of choosing the good confession?

A surprise! 

Where we feared death of self, we find wide open spaces to more of God. The trade-off is so good. Dirt and grime give way to cleanliness, the weight is lifted, there is nothing to prove, nothing to hide, nothing trailing us onto the utility room mat, and tracking through the house. 

We find the sweetness of forgiveness. Our God is not a God of penance and earning. A good confession is enough. God fully and immediately forgives those who honestly and humbly confess. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

When the walls we erected to protect our sin come down, relationships can be restored. New starts are made. There is freedom to love and be loved. We live with a lighter heart and a clear conscience. The breastplate of righteousness (our practical outworking of the righteousness we have in Christ) is restored to us against the Evil One (Ephesians 6:14). And God is glorified.

And our consequences, grievous as they may be, are borne with the help of the Lord, who is disciplining us for our good. We know there is a redemptive purpose in the suffering, and we take comfort in knowing that it is not in vain. 

A good confession is one of the most fundamental and liberating lessons in the Christian life. If we want to live clean, if we want to live free, we must throw pride away, cultivate a healthy hatred for the sin that encumbers, and always speak the truth to the Lord and our fellow man, even about our sin. We will go on our way blessed with a light heart, a clear conscience and a forgiven spirit. 

After all, these boots were made for walking!