Over the course of the summer the subject of confession has come up often. I have some buddies that I meet with and we know when we come together that we are going to ask each other tough questions so we can grow in godliness together.
I was at middle school camp a couple of weeks ago with three other adults and forty-one middle schoolers. Yes, a forty-one to four ratio is not favorable for the adults and needless to say, at the end of the week I had to confess… a lot.
The speaker at camp hit on the subject of confession hard one particular night and it really sunk in with many of our students and in our church group time, they starting confessing sin left and right. I shouldn’t have been surprised at what I heard. My belief in Total Depravity should have prepared me for anything, but it didn’t. The confessions ranged from hypocrisy and disobedience to parents, to self-loathing and cutting. All in all, it was a good time as a group. We were able to pray and encourage one another and I think the beginning of some real healing took place.
One particular thing the camp speaker said that really bothered me was he was stating how vertical confession (between us and God) is easy and involves no accountability. He stated that horizontal confession (between one another) is the difficult part because we are afraid for people to see us as we truly are, broken. I get what he was saying about vertical confession being easy because we have so privatized our faith that we can struggle with dark sin for years and no one will know because each time we say, “Sorry God, I’ll try harder next time.”
Again, what he said really bothered me, not because I thought he was wrong, but because I agreed with him completely. So here is my question: Why is it so easy for us to confess our sin to God? Is it because we know He already knows? Is it because we take His grace and make it cheap? Do we take 1 John 1:9 (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.) as a license to sin?
Ultimately, this is where I land. If this is our attitude in our confession of sin to God, then we have revealed that we have NO fear of the Lord in our lives. I would also submit that it is impossible to put off sin without a hatred for it and we cannot truly hate it unless we have a genuine fear of the Lord. In Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Solomon’s last written words as an old man who tested everything under the sun and found no pleasure in them were, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether god or evil.”
So fear the Lord. Guard your steps. Jonathan Edwards once described God as an archer whose bow and arrow is pointed steadily at your heart and the only thing that keeps him from releasing that arrow is His love and mercy. We are often so arrogantly certain that God will forgive us, and He will. However, keep this in mind, he has killed some of His people for a lot less. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).
Disclaimer: In defense of Jeff Mangum (the camp speaker), his focus that night was not on fearing God, but on confessing sin to one another so that genuine community and healing would take place. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Jeff a little over the course of the summer and I do not think he would disagree with me on the issue of fear.