What Happens When We Confess Sin

Studies show what God revealed from the beginning: we need each other. Loneliness is becoming an epidemic with health risks on par with obesity. We’re increasingly feeling isolated and unknown, lacking joy and community. We discover the hard way that God’s original design for us was fellowship — walking through life together. Such communion with God and other believers is possible, and it comes when we’re willing to “walk in the light” with one another (1 John 1:7).

But many of us miss out on this fellowship and walk in shadows. When we refuse to walk in the light with fellow church members, it is a danger to us because we miss out on the fellowship we were designed for. So, if we can feel its painful absence, why don’t we do it?

We Love the Darkness

When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night with questions about faith, Jesus said,

This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19–20)

Sometimes, we choose darkness because we enjoy our sin and we’re not ready to give it up. A young Augustine famously prayed, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” We can fear that confessing sin to another person will lead to accountability, and we’re not sure we’re quite that serious about giving up a particular sin.

Darkness isn’t just a lack of light. Darkness in 1 John 1 implies opposition to the light. Darkness and light cannot exist together. When we walk in darkness, we’re walking against the freedom God offers us in the light.

Deceive Ourselves and Others

The self in my head is pretty amazing. Sometimes I’m confronted with failure and sin and can’t just breeze past it. Far more often, I’m able to justify my actions with little mental strain. I respond to my kids in anger because of their sin. I’m not judgmental; I’m discerning. I have many good excuses.

But 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” It’s clear that I’m going to continue to struggle with sin, and to think (or pretend) otherwise is self-deception. But there’s another problem: we deceive others too.

Much has been written about our fake “I’m fine” culture, even within the church. We know it’s a problem, but I didn’t always realize why it was such a big deal. One day, I was talking with my children about struggling with sin, and one of them said, “You don’t sin.” In that moment, I realized we had a problem.

They’ve definitely seen me sin every day of their lives. Romans 3:23 is clear that “all have sinned,” which certainly includes me. But they weren’t associating my sinful words and actions with the word “sin,” which meant they might see those wrong things as normal and right. I might be unintentionally normalizing sin. But if they didn’t know I was a sinner in need of grace, they weren’t seeing us as both being in a fight for joy in Christ. If they didn’t see me as a sinner, they might feel they were alone in their struggles.

The same is true for our fellow believers. When I consistently respond with “I’m fine” to questions from my brothers and sisters, I may be isolating those who are feeling the weight of sin and unsure if they can find a safe community in which to struggle and repent.

Joy in the Journey

When we choose to confess our sin to each other, we’re saying, “I know what God says about this, and I know I have gone against him in this area.” But it’s not enough to just open up and say, “Here’s what I’ve been doing, and I feel badly about it.” Books, articles, and social media are full of these kinds of confessions.

In fact, it’s becoming easier for many of us to confess things on social media to strangers than it is to be open with close friends or family. The reassurance we get from online acquaintances — “Oh, I do the same thing. It’s no big deal,” or “It’s okay. No one’s perfect” — is far more palatable than sitting down and having a difficult face-to-face conversation with someone we see regularly, who knows us. The stranger reading our words on a screen is not going to join us in waging war against temptation (which is what we need). Colossians 3 is full of wisdom on how being the body of Christ together helps us fight sin and remember our true identity in Christ.

Community Requires Courage

Each week, I gather with a handful of friends to study the Bible and pray together. Confession of sin has become a part of our routine, and it consistently leads to joy. As I open up with these women about what’s going on in my heart — the things that compete for my allegiance and threaten to steal my joy — a few things happen:

  • I begin to see my sin rightly. Taking sin seriously enough to confess it to others helps me to hate it more.
  • I find joy in companionship. My friends aren’t shocked by my sin, nor do they justify it. They listen and then pray for me (Colossians 3:12–14).
  • I’m reminded of grace. If confession of sin ends with sorrow, it hasn’t gone far enough. Confessing sin is an opportunity to rejoice in the gospel. My friends remind me that God has forgiven me in Christ. I don’t have to wallow in defeat. Instead, I can lay that burden at the cross, where it was already paid for (Colossians 2:13).
  • I gain teammates. Once we’ve confessed our sin, appealed to God for grace, and reminded ourselves of his love and forgiveness for us, it’s time to fight. My friends check in with me, continue to pray for me, and help me battle sin in practical ways (Colossians 3:16).
  • I rejoice in answered prayer. I know there are things I’m going to struggle with until I see Jesus face to face. But there are also things he graciously gives us victory over. Being in the daily fight with one another gives us the opportunity to see prayers answered and to celebrate those things together.

It can feel scary to step out and create this kind of community. But once we’ve walked in the light together, we see what fellowship truly is and the amazing joy that comes with true communion, and we won’t want to go back to how it was before we stepped out of the darkness.