I sat alone in the church for 15 minutes. The acquaintance who had invited me was nowhere to be found. Finally, he walked in with his fiancée. In jest, I told him he was a bad example of what a godly church member should be.
“Yeah, my fiancée and I had a huge fight,” he said. “I’ll tell you about it later.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. I barely knew him! Why was he being so vulnerable?
UPHOLDING A REPUTATION
Growing up in a traditional Asian American church, I was taught the importance of reputation. I was told to avoid confessing struggles and sins. Because my dad was respected in church ministry, if I shared my sins with others, it would taint my parents’ image. So I struggled with lust, pride, and depression—alone.
One of the most effective yet elusive methods of destroying a man is to turn him into a hypocrite. It’s easy to see the vileness of a murderer, adulterer, or demon-worshipper. But hypocrisy is a silent killer. Many Christians claim to be willing to lose their lives but can’t risk their own reputations. We’re more preoccupied with others thinking we’re like Christ than actually being like him. The irony is that God sees us exactly as we are. He sees the comprehensive depravity of our sins, even the ones we rationalize away.
Reputation is a dam that blocks living water from flowing into our souls. It keeps us from confessing our sins. But in Christ, God has been gracious to us, which means we don’t have to prove ourselves. His throne of judgment has turned into a throne of grace! We can boldly look at the holy, righteous God and run to him in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16).
Nonetheless, confessing sin to one another is hard. But we must remember two things: Scripture instructs us, and God’s grace helps us. Consider these words from James: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed” (5:16).
Consistent Christian living consists of consistent confession. So how do we get better at this distinctly Christian practice?
1. Confess to your fellow church members.
God has designed the church to be a community that’s committed to one another: “And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:24–25).
Committed churchgoers have a mutual responsibility for one another’s relationship with Jesus. When this responsibility is made explicit through church membership, the church grows into deep covenant community.
If you’re a member of a church, then that church is stuck with you, warts and all! And you’re committed to them as well. Your primary accountability is not with a parachurch group or a godly mentor but with the church body. This kind of relationship enables confession.
2. Be specific but not explicit.
Confessions can be littered with vague Christian generalities that do not expose sin for what it is. After the Samaritan woman meets Jesus, she runs into the town exclaiming, “He told me everything I ever did” (John 4:39).
Be specific in your confessions. Don’t just say that you “gave into lust,” but say that you viewed pornography the previous night and acted on it. Don’t just say that you’re struggling with envy, but share what lies you were thinking and believing. Don’t just say your marriage is rough, but share the specific difficulties and arguments.
And yet, don’t be explicit. Don’t say things in a way that would entice sin for others. Confession is meant to expose the ugliness of sin, not to recklessly tempt others into sin. Use discernment and wisdom, and be willing to speak honestly about boundaries as well as sins.
3. Embrace the awkward.
Confessing sin is uncomfortable. It should be because sin should never be comfortable. Even so, making the leap into confession can seem daunting. There’s no shortcut to ease into confession. Just do it. Embrace the awkward.
And remember: confessing sin isn’t just for your benefit, it’s for the recipients of the confession as well. I remember visiting a couple in the church who opened the door saying, “Come on in! We’re having a fight right now.” They spent a short time explaining the details of the fight, then “timed-in” and continued the argument. Later, they “timed-out” and asked me to share any potential sins being committed or insights that could be helpful. I was only 19, but I was discipled into thinking maturely about marriage and reconciliation.
It’s true. Confession could cost your reputation. It could result in an awkward conversation. But freedom in the gracious, holy light of God is priceless.