Admitting our sins

On the Sola Panel:

I’d like to admit something to you. My admission isn’t particularly juicy or scandalous, but it’s an admission, nonetheless. The admission is this: I’m not honest enough with people when it comes to my sins. I don’t admit my sins to others often enough. The reason I don’t do it is pride, fear of what people will think, and general obliviousness to my own sin.

It’s true that God doesn’t require me to formally admit every individual sin to another human being in order to receive forgiveness. I certainly don’t need a special ‘priest’ to hear my sins. Because of Jesus’ perfect atoning death (1 John 2:1-2), all we ultimately need is to confess that we’re sinners before God: “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). I can have full assurance of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ alone. So why do I think I should admit my sins more often to other people?

Firstly, it’s because even the verse I have quoted above appears in the context of Christian fellowship. 1 John isn’t written to isolated individuals; when he tells them to confess their sins, the Apostle John wrote to people who were together, striving to live in fellowship in God’s truth (1 John 1:7). We may confess some sins privately to God, but admitting our sins is also, to some extent, a communal thing.

Secondly, it’s because admitting our sins to one another enables people to pray for us and encourage us, which is good for our souls (Jas 5:16-20).

Thirdly, sometimes we actually need to ask another person directly to forgive us for a particular sin against that person. Admitting our sin to him or her is a crucial first step towards that important interpersonal forgiveness process (Luke 17:3-4; Eph 4:32; Col 3:13).

Fourthly, we are told to speak the truth in love to one another (Eph 4:15), and to have the word of Christ dwelling in us richly as we teach one another (Col 3:16). One key aspect of the word of Christ is that our sins are forgiven (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14, 2:13, 3:13). It would be strange to speak this word to one another “richly“ without ever admitting to times when we ourselves have sinned.

Fifthly, I have noticed that many (if not all) of the people I know who are faithful and ‘effective’ in the ministry of God’s word are people who are in the habit of occasionally admitting their own little sins and foibles to others—in public and private, describing how God has changed them. It helps their hearers to remember that Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15), and to realize that what matters in the Christian life is progress in godliness, rather than unattainable perfection. Not only is admitting our sin to others a good way to stay humble as a leader, it’s also an act of leadership by example—particularly when it’s accompanied by obvious progress and growth in godliness (1 Tim 4:15-16). It helps people see how to admit their own sins and failures, and to repent and grow. Often admitting our own sin can be an act of love for others.

So I think I need to be more deliberate in speaking of my own sins and failures in my day-to-day conversations—my lack of patience, for example, or my lack of love, joy or kindness. My envy. My greed. It’s not that I should go around confessing every sin on every occasion, or that I ought to admit everything to every individual indiscriminately, or that I should pour out my deepest secrets to everyone I meet. But I reckon it would be a good idea to work on being more realistic and open about examples of where I fail—and where Jesus forgives me and changes me.

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