A passage in James talks about the effectiveness of confession. It reads,
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:16).
There was a period of time, about 3 years, where I faithfully attended a 12 step group for sexual addicts. Every week I would confess my faults to other men going through the same struggles, and I would hear their confessions, too. At the end of each confession the group would respond with an appreciative, “Thanks, Chad.” I felt good for getting it off my chest, and felt safe sharing my struggles with these men. There is something liberating about not having secrets.
But I’ve come to learn that liberating is not the same as healing. Being an addict as I was, I became rather fond of the intimacy shared with a group of other broken people, just like I was, who could share our faults openly without fear of rejection or correction. I knew that I could confess my sins and hear, “Thanks, Chad,” every time.
I talk to a lot of people these days who have grown addicted to the liberating effects of confession yet have not discovered the healing such confession is meant to bring. They are stuck, it seems, on a “confession cycle,” forever spinning their wheels, confessing the same sin over and over and over and over again, never knowing victory. Is that how life is supposed to be? As a Christian, I can’t believe it is. I cannot believe Jesus died on a cross and sent us the Holy Spirit just so that I could struggle forever with the same sin until I die or he returns.
Sure we will have struggles. Sure we will be tempted and sure there will be times we fall. But for the person who is maturing in their faith shouldn’t there be more victories than defeats? Shouldn’t the spiritual fruit of self-control (Gal. 5:23) become more and more evident in our lives? Is it true that if we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16), or not? Is it true that the reason Jesus came to live and die was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), or not?
I am convinced the answer to all of those questions is YES. Victory over the chains that have us enslaved is possible for every one of us! God not only desires to set you free, but He has the power to do it. But how? How can you get off the Confession Cycle and start walking in victory over habitual sin? James 5:16 directs us to at least two things:
1. Proper Confession. James says that our confession is to lead to our healing (Confess your sins to one another…that you may be healed). The word “healed” is the same word used through scripture for “cure” or “to make whole” or “to bring about one’s salvation.” If we are not experiencing this through our confession it is not because God’s word has failed but because we are not properly confessing! 2 Cor. 7:10 reads,
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
If you are stuck on the confession cycle it may be because you have not yet experienced godly sorrow over your sin. We have not yet seen that our sin is first and foremost an affront against a holy God. We have not cried out like David, “Against You, and You only, have I sinned!” (Psalm 51:4). Rather, we are more concerned about our circumstances and the trouble our sin is causing our personal lives.
When we see our sin through God’s eyes we are filled with godly sorrow and our confession will lead to our healing. Godly sorrow is not the same as feeling shame or guilt. It’s a sense of being undone (Isa. 6:1-5). It is calling out with Paul, “Wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). The answer comes no sooner than the confession rises from our heart: Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (7:25).
2. Righteous Prayer. The remainder of this verse on confession is often left out, yet it’s critical if you want to find healing. James says that the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. James seems to expect that our confessions should involve someone who is solid in their faith and can point them in the right direction. Who are you confessing to? Is it someone you know to be righteous? Are they striving to be holy? Do they desire to be like Christ in all they say, do and think? Has he or she experienced victory over sin?
12 Step programs are great in that they can connect you with a sponsor – a mentor of sorts – who can guide you through the steps, and who has some level of sobriety themselves. While this is good, it is not best. If you find yourself riding a confession cycle I would encourage you to find a righteous person to walk beside you, who can pray for you and with you, and who will lead you to the only true source of lasting victory over sin: Jesus Christ.
The Confession Cycle is an exhausting, defeat-riddled existence to live. It is not the life God has in mind for you. He has given you His Spirit. The same power that raised Christ from the grave is at work in you who believe (Eph. 1:19-20)!
Dear reader, God has so much more in store for His children than a defeated existence where we continually confess the same things over and over again. Examine whether you are confessing properly and whether or not you have the right person or people around you who can pray in such a way the heavens open and all hell breaks loose!
Praying with and for you,