February/March 2014 - Vol. 72.

.The Discipline of Confessing Our Sins
by Richard Foster
"The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works."
- Augustine of Hippo

At the heart of God is the desire to give and to forgive. Because of this, He set into motion the entire redemptive process that culminated in the cross and was confirmed in the resurrection. The usual notion of what Jesus did on the cross runs something like this: people were so bad and so mean and God was so angry with them that He could not forgive them unless somebody big enough took the rap for the whole lot of them. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross. Golgotha came as a result of God’s great desire to forgive, not His reluctance.  Jesus knew that by His vicarious suffering He could actually absorb all the evil of humanity and so heal it, forgive it, redeem it. 

This is why Jesus refused the customary painkiller when it was offered him. He wanted to be completely alert for this greatest work of redemption. In a deep and mysterious way He was preparing to take on the collective sin of the human race. Since Jesus lives in the eternal now, this work was not just for those around Him, but He took in all the violence, all the fear, all the sin of all the past, all the present and all the future. This was His highest and most holy work, the work that makes confession and the forgiveness of sins possible. 

Some seem to think that when Jesus shouted ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It was a moment of weakness (Mark 15:34). ‘Not at all’. This was a moment of greatest triumph. Jesus, who had walk in constant communion with the father, now became so totally identified with humankind that He was the actual embodiment of sin.  As Paul writes, ‘He made him to be sin who knew no sin’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus succeeded in taking into Himself all the dark powers of this present evil age and defeated every one of them by the light of his presence. He accomplished such a total identification with the sin of the race that He experienced the abandonment of God. Only in that way could He redeem sin. It was indeed his moment of greatest triumph. 

Having accomplished this greatest of all his works, Jesus then took refreshment. ‘It is finished’, He announced. That is, this great work of redemption was completed. He could feel the last dregs of the misery of humankind flow through Him and into the care of the Father. The last twinges of evil, hostility, anger and fear drained out of Him, and He was able to turn again into the light of God’s presence. ‘It is finished’. Soon after, he was free to give up his spirit to the Father. 

To shame our sins He blushed in blood; 
  He closed His eyes to show us God; 
Let all the world fall down and know 
  That none but God such love can sow. 
- Bernard of Clairvaux
This redemptive process is a great mystery hidden in the heart of God. But I know that it is true. I know this not only because the Bible says it is true, but because I have seen its effects in the lives of many people, including myself. It is the ground upon which we can know that confession and forgiveness are realities that transform us. Without the cross the Discipline of confession would be only psychologically therapeutic. But it is so much more. It involves an objective change in us. It is a means of healing and transforming the inner spirit. 

‘But I thought that Christ on the cross and redemption deals with salvation,’ you may say. It does. But salvation as the Bible speaks of it refers to far more than who comes to faith in Christ or who gets to heaven. The Bible views salvation as both an event and a process. To converted people Paul says, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (Philippians 2:12). In a sermon titled, ‘The necessity of Christians coming into more of the forgiving grace of God. The discipline of confession helps the believer to grow into ‘mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13). 

‘But isn’t confession a grace instead of a discipline’? It is both. Unless God gives the grace, no genuine confession can be made. But it is also a discipline because there are things we must do. It is a consciously chosen course of action that brings us under the shadow of the Almighty. 

How is it that confession is listed under the corporate discipline? ..We are grateful for the biblical teaching.. that ‘there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2:5). We are also grateful for the biblical teaching, newly appreciated in our day, ‘confess your sins to each other and pray for each other …’ (James 5:16). Both are found in scripture and neither need exclude the other. 

Confession is a difficult discipline for us because we all too often view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners. We feel that everyone else has advanced so far into holiness that we are isolated and alone in our sin. We cannot bear to reveal our failures and shortcomings to others. We imagine that we are the only ones who have not stepped on to the high road to heaven. Therefore, we hide ourselves from one another and live in veiled lies and hypocrisy. 

But if we know that the people of God are first a fellowship of sinners, we are freed to hear the unconditional call of God’s love and to confess our needs openly before our brothers and sisters. We know we are not alone in our sin. In acts of mutual confession we release the power that heals. Our humanity is no longer denied, but transformed. 

[Excerpt from Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, (c) 1980, 1989 Richard J. Foster, Hodder & Stoughtonm London.] 

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