Today on Truth in Love, I want us to go in a direction that unfortunately may be a little uncomfortable—even for we who believe. I want us to talk about repentance and confession. In biblical counseling, this is a big deal. We talk about repentance. We talk about confession quite a bit. We often talk about the importance of repentance. We talk about this with our counselees and help them to understand how and where to repent of sin as the Lord reveals in their life.
Today, what I want to do is certainly not minimize that, but I want to highlight why repentance and confession are so critical when it comes to healing in the soul. I want to focus not so much on the counselee—I want us to start focusing on we who are in ministry, we who are often doing the counseling.
In this era of pandemic, it’s interesting to me what the Lord is doing in many of us. What we are accustomed to—especially as the counselor or the one who is in ministry—is teaching about repentance. We’re accustomed to talking about repentance. We’re accustomed to helping people repent and turn from their own sin and confess those sins.
But maybe it’s not something that we ourselves do regularly. In this season, for many of us, the Lord continues to reveal issues in our own lives. We’re at home much more and we see ourselves—as this drags on—more clearly. Maybe we’re not speaking as kindly as we normally do. Maybe in our normal busyness of life we find ourselves sort of passing in the night. But now, we’re actually having to have real conversations, slow down, and engage with one another at a deeper level. Maybe the Lord is revealing all sorts of nasty things in our heart. That, in and of itself, can be healthy. It could actually help to turn us back to the Lord our God.
I don’t want to waste these moments. For we who are in ministry in particular, I think it’s important that we not waste these moments. I think it invigorates our ministry with and for other people—where now this is not just something we’re telling them about, this is something that we experience as well. We experience the healing grace and kindness of the Lord, as He reveals sin in our own heart and as we consistently repent and confess.
Here are a couple of passages that I think are insightful and helpful to us. 1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That’s a good place to start because it’s an acknowledgement that we have sinned, we struggle ourselves, and we’re lying to ourselves if we’re saying that’s not true. The Lord is kind and gracious to reveal that to us in moments just like this. Verse 9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The Lord is telling us we need to confess. We need to bring those things before Him.
James 5:13-16 says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”
Now confession is often not in vogue because it’s uncomfortable. Thomas Watson, who wrote a book called The Doctrine of Repentance, says, “Repentance is never out of season.”
Right now the season is ripe for our own repentance and confession. What is the Lord teaching you? What is the Lord revealing about you? Can we cease lying as if the Lord is not revealing so much about our own hearts? He is revealing deeply some of the issues that we may have. What I want us to do is not run from that, not hide from that, not try and cover that with so many superficial things in the world as our normal daily routine demands of us, but to be still, to be quiet, to run to the Lord in confession and repentance.
I want to bring to your attention to a couple of things that I’ve learned through reading Thomas Watson’s book The Doctrine of Repentance. In chapter 2 of his book, he gives six basic ideas that are necessary for the process of repentance. One of those that’s been on my heart and mind has been this issue of confession. That’s point three that he gives in his pathway toward true repentance. We must think of confession as a critical piece of the puzzle.
I think many of us enjoy the idea of confession, but maybe we don’t participate in the practice of confession. Today I want to encourage us that as the Lord illuminates sin in our own heart, may we be ones who practice confession. The same earth that causes the sweetness in grapes, causes the bitterness of crab apples and cranberries. That same earth that causes the sweetness in grapes, causes the sharpness of thorns. So what is the Lord revealing in us right now? Is He revealing soil that is producing bitterness in us with the environment that’s around us?
In this moment of true and deep sorrow as the Lord continues to reveal and challenge us through suffering, what is it that’s coming out? Thomas Watson says, “Sorrow vents itself at the eyes by weeping, and at the tongue by confession.” Why? Because confession truly is a salve for the wounded soul.
I’ll walk through a couple of things that I think would be helpful—and these are come straight from Thomas Watson. I wish I could claim them but they’re not my own. I do think they’ll be helpful for you. The first thing he says is that, “Confession must be voluntary.” Now, I think this is incredible. He’s saying this is something that can’t be coerced. Think about this in the counseling room—it’s not something we coerce a counselee into doing. This has to be something that flows from God’s illumination by His Spirit of a conviction of true sin. And now we respond voluntarily to say, “It was me.”
Watson says it like this: “It must come as water out of a spring freely.” This must flow out of us as one whose heart has been broken by what God has revealed about us. Confession must be voluntary. It’s not something I can coerce in you, but it demonstrates the tenderness of a pure heart before the Lord. This is why keeping a short account with the Lord and repenting consistently is so important. It’s not because we don’t sin. It’s making sure we keep a short account with the Lord.
You see repentance and confession before God of our sin was not just a one-time act by faith at our initial salvation. Repentance is an ongoing practice for the believer and it’s a means by which our heart remains tender. The work of the Spirit flourishes in a heart that’s tender.
One of the second things that he says is, “In true confession, we must particularize sin. A wicked man acknowledges that he is a sinner in general. He confessed sin by wholesale.”
I think that’s interesting point because for many of us, we don’t mind saying things generically. “Well, I struggle with this,” “I struggle with that.” In reality, the Lord in His Word tells us in 1 John 1:9 to confess these things specifically to Him, modeling David in Psalm 51—bringing specific sin before the Lord.
Also in James 5, where we would specifically with one another confess sin. It’s a demonstration of humility in our own hearts. It allows us to express ways in which we have failed the Lord, and exalts Him. We should not express our sinfulness in a wholesale manner, but specifically describe: What is the Lord revealing in our hearts? What are the specific issues that we find ourselves struggling with?
A third point Watson makes is that, “A true penitent confesses sin in the fountain.” Now, I love the way that Watson through this book describes this idea. He’s going against the normal flow of our heart. What we see revealed in Adam and Eve and you see so prevalent in your own self, is that when the Lord illuminates sin by some sort of pressure in our lives, we have a tendency to blame shift—to point out that this was someone else’s fault, to point in someone else’s direction. But we must be very aware that we must confess sin where it resides in the fountain—and that fountain is us. That fountain is in our own hearts. We must confess wholly, from our own nature. We cannot shift the blame.
We have to take ownership and responsibility for what we see brewing out of our own hearts. That’s what breeds true repentance and confession. When you shift blame, you are simply justifying what you’re doing. There is no means to justify the sin that resides in your heart or the sin that resides in mine.
This is a protection for us—to keep us from from running to pride and wanting to blame shift. We should confess where this truly comes from in the heart. I want to tether this with the final point, because so often our blame shifting ultimately (as Adam demonstrated in the beginning) leads back to where we ultimately find ourselves blaming God.
You remember how Adam did this, “This was the woman that you gave me” (Genesis 3:12).
Interestingly enough, when we start to blame shift and we don’t acknowledge our own responsibility, we begin to blame other things around us—ultimately blaming God.
The fourth and final thing that I want to mention is in confession, we must so charge ourselves with this sin that we clear God.
I think that’s an important point that Watson is making. He continues to say this, “Confessing sin vindicates God’s righteousness.” Be encouraged that when we confess sin, it actually vindicates that the Lord is the righteous one. He is the judge of all the earth and He always does what is right.
I know the tendency of your heart—because it’s the tendency of mine—is that when the Lord uses situations like this, which alter our routine and really begin to shine a magnifying glass on on my own heart, our tendency is we want to begin to shift blame to somewhere else. But we have to confess to such a degree, to acknowledge that what God is doing is actually graciousness to us, it’s kindness to us. What God is doing is not His fault that we respond in sinful ways, but the pressure that He puts on us is actually kindness that it reveals the wickedness within.
We are so often deceived and tempted into shifting that blame, as if, “God if this hadn’t happened, then I wouldn’t be like this.” Or, “God if this hadn’t happened then I wouldn’t respond like that.” We begin to blame shift, as opposed to calming down and being able to acknowledge, “God because of your kindness to me, right now you’re revealing sin in me by this suffering, by this difficulty, by this pressure. Lord, help me to own it. Help me to confess this before you.”
God is gracious to reveal, but He is not the cause of our sin. Practice confession. Confess voluntarily, acknowledging that this comes from you. Confess a particular sin, the specific sin that the Lord is revealing in you. Confess your own responsibility without justification or blame shifting, because by doing that we begin to vindicate the goodness, the kindness, and the righteousness of our God.
Remember the Scripture teaches us that a broken and contrite heart, the Lord will not despise. Don’t waste these moments because this will season you well in ministry when you begin this habit of listening and hearing God, having an ear toward what He’s teaching you as His Word reveals your sinful responses. Use these moments to run to Him in confession. As you do that, it will season you, so that when you engage in ministry, your speech will be seasoned as salt. You will be wise to give words for the moment. You will value repentance and confession the way the Scriptures value it. And you will encourage those you’re ministering to. You can confess by witness, by testimony of your own, that this is the means by which God heals the wounded soul.