Confession: The Open Door
By Henry Cloud, Ph.D.
When most of us think of confession, we get some kind of idea about “being in trouble.” Images of criminals being interrogated by the cops come to mind, high pressure under bright lights breaks them into a sobbing heap. Or, they confess to cut a deal with the DA., hoping to get less punishment. Pretty negative pictures. Or, the quiet, dark confessional booth with a priest that one never sees, hoping to get relieved of guilt.
No wonder we do not think of confession as one of the most important ingredients in our spiritual and emotional life, as something that we cannot live without. But in reality, from the Bible’s perspective, it is just that. And we can promise you, from many years of experience with people in the growth process, it is only the confessors who grow. The good news is, that when properly understood, it is not a negative thing at all. In fact, we think that it is a very liberating and positive experience, and that the results are always a better life.
What It Is
First of all, though, let’s take a look at what it actually is. To confess, from the Bible’s perspective, basically means to agree with reality. It means to acknowledge or agree fully with something. Sometimes, we are told to confess Jesus as lord. (Rom. 10:9) But other times we are told to confess our sins, faults, and brokenness, the negative things of life (1 Jn. 1:9; James 5:16). Why is this so important? Simply stated, it gets us in touch with the reality of who we are, and connects that reality with God, others, and the healing process.
Let’s look at what happens when we confess:
We connect the part that needs healing back to God
The reason we have problems in the first place is because of separation from God, a la Adam and Eve. When they got separated, they were cut off from the light of God’s life, reality, power and truth. This is symbolized by the fig leaf in Genesis 3. They were out of relationship with Him, and the Bible equates that state of being cut off from God with death.
So, whatever parts of us are not confessed are still separated and living in death. That is one reason we can be Christians, and still be dominated by patterns of death in many areas of life: we have aspects of our soul that still remain in the darkness.
If you have pain, sin, needs, gifts, or any other aspect of your soul that is in the darkness, it must be “agreed upon,” with God so that He can touch it. When it is connected to him through confession, then He can begin to work on it and to “cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 Jn.1:9).” This means more than relieving guilt—it means changing the problems themselves. If you can confess them, God can begin to heal them. His power and His love can begin to change you.
The problem tends to be that a lot of people confess mostly surface things. They confess petty sins, not the real things that keep them in bondage. Begin owning and confessing the darker things in your soul, like Jesus mentioned in Mark 7:20-23. Talk to God about them. Those are the kinds of things that keep us sick. In addition, confess to him the broken parts of your soul that have been injured and hurt. In that process of acknowledging the reality about some of the deeper aspects of yourself, you will release God’s power to begin to change you and heal you. As Ephesians 5 says, when we expose things to the light, they become light. The confessional process itself changes whatever is in the darkness of your soul.
We connect the part that needs healing and changing with other people, and resolve guilt and shame
The Bible is pretty clear about confession being done with each other as well as with God. As James tells us, “Confess your sins to one another so that you may be healed (5:16).” The word there for sins means your unintentional lapses as well as your intentional, willful sins. In other words, whatever is wrong with us, we need to acknowledge to each other. We need to share with each other whatever is wrong, and it connects this process to our healing.
We cannot in this article go into all of the reasons why this process heals us. But a big reason is because the parts of our soul that are the most broken need to be touched by love and by understanding. The confessional process with others does this. Other people’s love and their truth strengthens us, heals wounds, grants grace and acceptance where we had only judgment, isolation, fear, and the other aspects of the darkness. The care of other people soothes even the deepest pain. In fact, without them, we do not even experience all of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10).
In terms of the badness, confessing to others heals the split of the proverbial “shadow.” We tend to hide our bad parts from others because we fear a lack of acceptance. Because we are afraid of judgment or a loss of love, we hide our badness and become two people: the one we show to others and the one we truly are inside. This split hurts us emotionally, functionally, and can make us clinically sick. Confessing to each other brings the split together and makes us one person. This is a simple cure for many emotional problems because whatever pain or “badness” has been hidden and expressed through symptoms finally gets processed.
In this process, because we are accepted by others who are living out the grace of God (1 Peter 4:10), we overcome guilt as well. Many times people will say that they have confessed their sin to God, but they still feel guilty. This is because their conscience is a lot stricter and more punitive than God himself. And because the tone and nature of our conscience is something that we internalize from others early in life, it is healed in part by internalizing the acceptance of others that live out the grace of God in our lives. We find that there is more acceptance available that we thought.
God has given us each other for our healing, but we can cut ourselves off from this healing by not confessing to each other. We must open the door to be able to experience the connectedness that the Bible talks about in so many places. As Ephesians 4:16 tells us, we can be healed and built up by each other, as we do our work in our relationships. But this can only happen as we confess.
We get restored to the truth
As we confess, something happens. We come into a deeper understanding of the reality of who we are in relation to who we need to be. We experience the “gap” between the standard that God wants from us, and who we are. And this has a double effect. First, we get a deeper look at ourselves. As James says, God’s truth is a mirror to us to see who we are. (James 1:23,24) It is a lamp unto our feet, and it takes its full effect when we get things into the open.
Secondly, as we confess and see the truth from others as they give us feedback, we can align ourselves with the truth. This is called repentance, and is the real fruit of the confessional process. Repentance is the change involved when we face the truth about ourselves. It is the structure of the changes that we make. When we are truly in a confessional process with someone, we are doing more than just “telling the truth.” We are doing a deep examination of ourselves in light of God’s truth and then making adjustments to that truth. We are “changing our minds” in the process, which is the fruit of true repentance and that changes who we are.
It is very easy for us to not really deal with the “gap” between who we are and who we need to be when we are not confessing. We just deny it, push the awareness away, or eventually lose touch with the reality of who we are. This is the beginning of soul cancer. But, when we are in the active confessional process, we are continually exposed to the reality of the “gap.” I am able to more and more see who I really am, and how far I am from the truth of what He says I need to be. When you begin to understand God’s truth in terms of what you need to be in order for life to work, instead of what you “ought to be,” then confession becomes more of a life line to restore you to the truth.
We build intimacy
One of the things that we all need is true intimacy with others. We need to be known. Most of the time, we think that this is just going to happen by talking with those we love, sharing life experiences, hanging out, etc. But the kind of connection we truly need is the kind where we are known from the depths of our being. Deep confession does this for us. People who are in the confessional process with a few other people are not lonely people, and they do not have the kinds of disorders that come from a lack of intimacy in their lives. Confession gets us closer to each other. It is one of the deepest processes of being known that we can experience.
When you have a few people you are confessing your badness, your hurts and brokenness and the other things that reside in your “shadow,” then you will have intimacy. But this does not come cheaply. Read the list of things in Mark 7: 21– “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness,” and then see how you feel about sharing those aspects of yourself. That will tell you how comfortable you are in the true confession model of the Bible.
Who have you told about your “evil thoughts,” or your adulterous or envious fantasies lately? Who have you wished evil or destruction towards and who knows about those feelings. We all have them, but we don’t confess them. When you consider the true content of the things that ruin our souls, then you can see why confession is something that not everyone does. But if you could, and you can, then you will build a closeness with God and others that is beyond anything you ever knew.
There is no spiritual life without confession. The spiritual life begins with confession and is sustained by it. It is the process that opens the door of our hearts and souls to God, others and even ourselves. Begin to “agree with reality.” It can truly save your soul and life.
Copyright © 2000 Cloud-Townsend Resources, All rights reserved.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.