My thought for this week comes mainly from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was martyred by the Nazi's one month before the end of World War II. Though his most famous book was "The Cost of Discipleship" (where he warned people against adopting the unbiblical substitute for real grace which he called "cheap grace") this thought comes from ideas expressed in his book, "Life Together." If you have never read it, it is well worth your time (and the price of the book)! It's all about what is necessary for true Christian community to take place. Enjoy.
"Acknowledgement of sin in the presence of another brother is a safeguard against self-deception. It is a curious fact that many people find it easier to confess their sins privately to a holy and sinless God than to openly confess them to an unholy and sinful brother. If this is so, it should give us reason to pause and ask ourselves if we are really confessing our sins to God. We must ask ourselves whether we have not been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God -- whether we have not, rather, been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution.
Is this not perhaps the reason for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience? Is it not to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness? When sin has been brought into the light, and confessed it can be forgiven. Its power can be broken. It can no longer hold the believer in bondage or tear the fellowship apart. The sinner can honestly be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God and the love of the brethren. This is the moment where fellowship in Christ becomes a profound reality (when sin is openly confessed -- even the worst of sins -- and the love of our brethren continues to be extended to us in spite of it).
Open confession of sin to another so crucifies one's pride that rarely ever occurs unless a person earnestly yearns to be rid of his sin. By openly confessing his sin he breaks the habit of secretly cherishing, nurturing, or refusing to let it go. He becomes accountable. He gains the support of his praying brothers in his fight to overcome its life-polluting influences. In essence, he begins to live the life of discipleship."
Bonhoeffer makes a good point. Why is it that believers are so unwilling to confess their sins to a fellow believer or believers (as the Bible encourages)? (James 5:16). Not secretly, from behind a curtain, so we can continue to remain anonymous in our sin, but eye to eye in the presence of another who knows us and can keep us accountable.
It's a question each believer honestly needs to ask him or herself: Why do I hesitate to confess my sins to another when Scripture encourages it? Although some might justifiably suggest lack of confidentiality (which is a very real problem), many (most I've spoken with) struggle with the inner sense of embarrassment, shame, or exposure that often accompanies it. And surely, as Bonhoeffer points out, it may even be that confessing to a close friend means we may have a pair of eyes keeping us accountable that were not even looking our way before. In any case, our hesitancy to "confess our sins to one another" calls forth an earnest examination as to why we don't, or won't.
Maybe Bonhoeffer is right. Maybe it is that we've been confessing them to ourselves and granting ourselves absolution. Maybe it's because we want forgiveness but don't really want to give up our sin. Maybe it's confession without true repentance. For as Luther once rightly pointed out: "The truest repentance is to do so no more." If we really want to be done with sin, and not just receive forgiveness for sins we aren't sure we fully intend to give up (or worse yet, have no intention of giving up), then being silent and simply confessing it to God is the best way to go.
Just some food for thought.
In the service of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff