We were sitting in one of the four booths in Samford’s food court one October afternoon. College students sat in the booths and at the tables around us with their textbooks, laptops open, and earbuds in (at least those that were in the zone studying). Some students were gathered chatting with either their coffee or their Chick-fil-A in hand.
In light of this environment, you can imagine my surprise when the college junior sitting across from me chose that particular place and time to tell me about her sex addiction. By the end of that month, a total of nine girls had confessed to me their struggles with porn, masturbation, and sexual sin.
And these were all church girls - Christian girls. Girls I had been discipling for 2-3 years. And it took that long for them to tell me about such deeply rooted sins in their lives. I could tell they were nervous to tell me. They were nervous about how I would respond. And just nervous about telling something that they hadn’t really told anyone else because of the guilt and the shame they felt. And this guilt and shame held them captive. Their secret sins enslaved them because they were unwilling to humble themselves and bring those sins to light by telling someone about their struggle.
Confession as a Spiritual Discipline
As Christians, we’re saints, but we’re also sinners. I will continue to sin as long as I live on this earth. God is working inside me, and when He looks at me, He sees Christ’s righteousness. But even though it frustrates me to no end, I continue to sin. This is why I need - why we all need - the discipline of confession, both confession to God and confession to other believers. And confession to fellow believers is the discipline I am addressing in this post because I would hope that you would already know that you need to confess your sin to God, even after you become a Christian.
Am I advocating that you confess every single sin to another believer? Not necessarily. But when your sin is against another person, go to that them, own your sin (not playing the blame game or trying to justify yourself), and ask their forgiveness. Or if there is a temptation that you cannot resist or a sin that you habitually commit, confess it to a believer (of the same gender, preferably) and ask them to walk alongside you.
Get to the Root!
There is a catharsis that comes with confession. It is a relief to let something out that you have held in for so long. But to be helpful, confession should involve more than just catharsis. As Augustine (an early church father) says, “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”
After each of my nine girls confessed their sin, we picked a time where we could sit down in a private place where we wouldn’t be interrupted (since the Samford food court was not the most conducive to lengthy, tearful soul-cleansing convos), and during this time, we looked at why they engaged in those particular sins.
You see, their sin was the symptom. There’s a reason why a Christian looks at porn or engages in premarital sex. That reason points to the root of their sin issue. What thoughts or beliefs do they have about that sin? About God? About themselves? Last time they engaged in that sin, what were they hoping to get out of it? Were they looking for comfort, acceptance, affirmation, significance, etc.? Why that particular sin and not something else?
You can treat symptoms, or you can treat the root. And like with medicine, you’re more effective if you treat the disease directly rather than just attempting to alleviate symptoms. So whatever sin you battle, ask yourself what you were wanting out of it and what your pursuit of that particular sin says about your beliefs about God, yourself, and others. Then look at what the Bible says about that sin and what is true about God, you, and others.
Helpful Tips for When Someone Confesses Sin to You
As I hear confessions from others, something that has helped me is to think about how I would want someone to respond to me when I confess. I think back to high school when I confessed sin to my good friend, crying as I spoke. Her response? She hugged me. Didn’t say anything at first - just hugged me. It was what I needed. I already felt guilty. I didn’t need to be berated. I knew truth and had already confessed it to God. I needed someone else to know, and I was fearful of what she would think of me after I told her. She would see the icky part of me that I tried to keep hidden. Her response has stayed with me and affected how I hear confession from others.
A few other things to keep in mind:
- Listen to them. Hear them out. Let them get through what they need to say without interruption.
- Express appreciation that they would share something so personal with you and trust you enough to tell you.
- If they haven’t already, encourage them to go to God with their sin and to seek His forgiveness (and anyone else that they have sinned against).
- Remind them of God’s forgiveness and how God sees them (see 1 John 1:9 and Romans 8:1).
- Problem Solve - What next step can they take to resist temptation? To pursue Christ? To create boundaries for themselves, so they don’t give into that particular sin again? Be specific as you problem solve.
- Ask how you can walk alongside them as they battle against this particular sin and walk in repentance.
- Pray with them and for them
Helpful Resources Regarding Sin & Confession: