Confession gets a weird rap.
It’s often associated with something negative — like a police trying to force a confession out of a suspect. Or your mom trying to get a confession that it was you who broke her vase, not the cat.
Or, you think of Catholics and the confessional booth where someone sits in a darkened space across from a priest and starts off with, “Father forgive me for I have sinned” and lists off the things done wrong. At least that’s what TV has told me about confession.
What really is the point of confession?
Why do we need to confess? Especially when we’re told God already knows everything.
Not only does it feel awkward, but it also feels pointless. Why tell God everything that God already knows?
Confession is only the first step.
Confession is supposed to lead to repentance but often times we just stop at the act of confession (if and when we confess).
We say (or pray) where we messed up; how we messed up; what we messed up and we move on with our life, feeling a little lighter.
After we confess, we’re to take the next step: repent. (Ah — there’s another “churchy” word that’s been thoroughly misused. )
Any time I’ve run into the word ‘repentance’ outside of a church building (sometimes within a church, too) it’s always someone yelling at me that I need to repent or go to hell: "Turn or burn! Repent you sinner!"
Nothing says love like being told you’re going to hell.
Aren't preachers supposed to be spreading the good news?
Maybe it’s me but the good gets lost in the “Repent or go to hell!” message.
It sounds rough, but truly repentance is a beautiful concept. The word for repent in Hebrew is T’shuva and it simply means “to return.”
Return to what?
Repentance is to return to the life you were intended to live. When you ask someone to repent, you’re not trying to scare them from hell. You’re encouraging, urging, telling them to return to the life they were created to live.
"Yes — you decided to live for yourself and you’ve made a mess of things. But this isn’t the life that you’re supposed to live.
"You weren’t meant to be on this very limited path where hope is dimming with each passing day. You were meant for so much more.
So wake up! And return to the path that you were intended to walk. Come back to the life you’re supposed to live. Return to the path that gives you life, purpose, and meaning."
But we can’t walk on that path if we don’t confess. The need to confess isn't out of some legalistic clause or because "God said" or the Bible demands — but mainly because confession is admitting "oops, I may have screwed up." The path to wholeness starts with acknowledging our brokenness.
Confession allows us to start the process of being whole (again). But, it’s so easy to leverage confession as a self-serving mechanism. If we don’t follow through on the next step (repentance), confession just becomes an attempt to rid ourselves of guilt.
If we confess and not repent, we’re just setting ourselves up to do the same thing over and over again: We screw up. We say "sorry God," because God has to forgive us. Then when our guilt is somewhat relieved, we go make the same mistakes again.
But true confession leads to repentance. True confession leads to true change. True confession helps us leave the limiting path and move to the lives we were always intended to live.
Perhaps confession is meaningless to many of us because we don’t take the next step. For those of us who use confession purely as a guilt relieving mechanism, maybe in- stead of confessing in our prayer, we’re just honest with God:
God, I’m sorry for screwing up. But I have to be honest with you — I’m still going to do it. I’m not ready to change yet. #SorryNotSorry
At least that's being honest.
And perhaps this kind of honesty gives just enough room in your heart to be a wake up call to see that a change in your life is what your soul is yearning for. Real confession always leads to real change.
The goal of confession is reconciliation.
There’s one more step on the journey of confession: reconciliation. Not only should we confess to God, but we should also confess to the person that we’ve hurt.
Confessing to God is easy because being held accountable by God is hard to discern. But confessing to the person I hurt? That’s difficult because we can actually be held ac- countable for our action. It makes our mistakes real and the fallout real, that be-gins the path of healing and reconciliation. It begins the process of forgiveness and restoration. It helps piece together what we broke. It’s probably the most difficult process of confession — confessing to other actual human beings. But we can’t be made whole without it.
Confession leads to repentance which leads to reconciliation. When we follow that road map, it’s impossible not to change. That’s why real confession leads to real change.
Is there something that you need to confess? Perhaps you’re exhausted of living out the same cycle and you’re wondering how to break it. Perhaps genuine confession is a way for you to begin that new life.
Confession leads you to a ‘new’ life and a ‘new’ you. Except, it’s really not ‘new’ because it was the life God had always intended you to live.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves as an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church Pearland. Find more of his writings at josephyoo.com
[Publish February 27, 2019]