Brokenness – Confessing Sin

I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3)

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Where in the Christian community do we feel safe confessing sin?

In tragedy, people tend to surround the hurting even if after a period of time the cards, visits, phone calls, emails, etc. taper off.

In sin, people tend to run for the hills even when there is remorse and repentance.

If we feel uncomfortable sympathizing with the grieving, we feel even more so sitting with confessors. We are much more likely to visit the griever than the sinner, to spend time with the mourner than the fallen.

Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the grieving because we fear the pain of grief–we fear that it might happen to us. Perhaps we are distant with the sinner because we know ourselves too well. We know that we, too, are sinners. To sit with a confessor is to come dangerously close to recognizing and even confessing our own sins.

Confessing the “little” sins, admitting our “minor” faults, and exposing our vulnerability at superficial levels is difficult enough for most of us. How “in heaven’s name” could we ever confess deeper sins, our root sins, when we are so afraid to acknowledge our smallest inadequacies? How can we really confess our materialism? How can we really our own judgmentalism? How can we really confess bigotry and our debilitating resentments? How can we really confess our hypocrisy?

Why are we afraid to confess? I know I am often afraid to confess my sins.

We fear the loss of relationships and friends. Will people shun us when we confess our sins?

We fear the loss of reputation and status. How will people look at us when they know our sin? What will they think about us?

We fear that people really won’t love us if they really know us. Will they love me even when they know the worst about me?

We fear gossip. Who will they tell?  What will they do with that knowledge? 

We fear vulnerability.  We don’t want people to know our deepest, darkest secrets. Will they love me when they know me?

We need a “safe” place to confess our sins with “safe” people. We need mutual confession where a “safe” environoment can be created. We need to experience mutual vulnerability. We need a place where we are loved no matter what and we love no matter what.

Where in the church does that exist?  The public assembly?  I think not.  Small groups? Rarely have I seen small groups go so deep.  Covenant groups? It takes lots of time but it does happen there. But rarely does it exist in covenanted marriages much less covenant men’s or women’s groups.  But I have seen it in places and at times and I have experienced its grace as well as given grace in those moments. 

It can happen; but it is all too rare in my own experience. The rarity makes sense to me. Fear hinders us and, unfortuantely, the community of God has hindered us at times with judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and its own fear. 

Where I have seen it most unfortunately is not in the “church” community, but in 12-step groups of various kinds. Many testify to the acceptance, encouragement, mutuality and empowerment of those meetings. 

If we don’t have a “safe” place to confess our sins, my guess is that we won’t confess them at all.  And if we don’t confess them at all, then we delude ourselves into thinking our sins are not so bad, we can manage or control them, and others don’t measure up to our rectitude.

That is unhealthy, damaging and destructive .  It is self-deceiving and self-righteous. Yet is where many of us have lived or still live.

We all need a “safe” place, a loving community, to confess our sins.  Keeping our sins in the darkness only means that we ourselves remain in the dark. If we confess our sins within a loving community by the light of God’s own presence, God’s love forgives, comforts and transforms as we are surrounded by those through whom God’s presence becomes real in the midst of our darkness. By confession we experience the light.

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

16 Responses to “Brokenness – Confessing Sin”

  1.   Tim Archer Says:

    For a while now, I’ve talked of organizing a “Sinners Anonymous” group. Not seeking anonymity, but seeking an atmosphere where we can talk about sin and work together to overcome it.

    Unfortunately, I find it so hard to live out confession in my own life that it’s hard to try and lead others to practice it.

    Grace and peace,

  2.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Question: Does 1 Jn 1.9 have in mind a confession to God or to God via by confession to another Christian (or priest if you are Catholic)?

    Even though I know that God knows my sin, I find it difficult to even be honest (confession) with God about my sin in my own prayer life. But when I have the courage to verbally name my sins, which God already knows, there comes a sense of conviction that refuses to allow me to keep trivializing such sin as insignificant. The result is that I find is more difficult, or mysteriously God gives me the strenth, to resist the devil. When I stop confessing, I find it more and more difficult to resist the devil.


    Only one time have I ever participated in a group where I felt enough comfort to share my struggles. It was a goup consisting of myself and two other Christian men. It started as just three Christian men gathering to pray and study scripture together. There was never any intention for a confessional angle within the group. But over time, as we learned to trust each other and know that each other would act with grace rather than judgmentalism, it naturally progressed to being a meeting where we could share our struggles – sin or other.


    In 1 Cor 5.9-11 Paul lumps the sexually immoral in the same catagory as the greedy. But in contemporary North American Christianity sexual sins (which almost every man struggles with in one way or the other) is treated as though it were the plague while greediness is accepted as an acceptable and normal behavior. Drunkeness, though not on par with sexual immorality, is certainly more repugnant than greediness. As long as churches have this discrepency, those who struggle with sexual addictions, drug & alcohol addictions, and other addictive behaviors will struggle in silence.

    I have heard some claim the reason for the discrepancies is that sexual sin and drunkeness is objectively identifiable where as greediness is more subjective. But it does not appear too subjective to Paul. Perhaps the subjectiveness reveals more about a sin struggle that North American Christians do not want to own up too (while unfairly judging those who struggle with other sins).

    Just some thoughts… Wonderul post!

    Grace and peace,


  3.   Q Says:

    I appreciate this post so much.

    I am finding that I have a (very small) group with whom I’ve been able to be more open and recently openness has lent itself to things confessional.

    I wish I knew better how to create those safe spaces for everyone. It has been good for me and my walk to be able to admit to those around me that I struggle with anger and an unforgiving spirit about old hurts. While I find it easier to be a servant to those in my church family and my community, sometimes it’s harder for me to wear that same attitude toward those in my immediate family, especially when they’re the ones who’ve been most hurtful. And prior to therapy and proper medication for my depression/OCD, I tried to self-medicate with alcohol.

    I guess I’ve spilled all of that (when I wouldn’t have, not long ago) as a way of taking that one step further. There could be tons of people who read this who’ll misuse the information — nothing is private on the internet. But I’m the same person I was before anyone knew any of that with one exception: I have fewer secrets.

    When I am honest, not only with myself and my God, but with those around me and I know I have the support of their unconditional love and their constant prayers and now their accountability, I honestly feel much freer. I don’t have to worry “what if someone knows?” about these things. Because people do. God does.

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Q and Rex,

    When we don’t have “safe” places to confess and speak the truth about ourselves, we will either medicate (alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, etc.), or numb (escapism of some kind), or explode (rage, anger, etc.).

    We need a place to confess, to vent, to speak the truth without fear, without judgment, with support and acceptance.

    Fewer secrets…more honesty…is liberating.

  5.   John Mark Hicks Says:


    I like the idea of “sinner’s anynomous”…it is what the church should be to some degree if we understand “anynomnity” as full acceptance without judgment. I wish it could be…but just as I am not perfect, neither is the church.

    The church needs my grace and mercy just as much as I need theirs. 🙂

  6.   Richard constant Says:

    I wish it could be…but just as I am not perfect, neither is the church.

    we all need to wake up!!!!

    i don’t believe you said it.
    shame on you’! bite your keaboard!!!

    oh ouch that hurts.
    probley one of biggest fault’s in the church.
    the sin of non fellowship based in concete and … and…

    one hour assembly”s ba humbug.
    who ‘s learning what.

    turn out the light’s i don’t wamta see?
    a conspearsey of ignorance?

    ya ya thats it i’m ok your ok
    let’s go wash our hands

    if i don’t get to tired i rail out a good post later john mark.
    this realy gripes me.Brokenness – Confessing Sin
    great post passive and weak finish my brother
    rich in

  7.   Gardner Says:

    Seems like confession can be contagious. I’ve noticed this with teenagers in a camp setting. The more who are willing to express their problem with things like pornography (it’s amazing how many struggle with it!) the more others are willling to open up about their own struggles.

    I wonder if some of the reluctance to confess in known churches of Christ comes from a lack of confidence in God’s mercy. To confess a spiritual struggle equates to being out of the light in the minds of many, or in other words, to hypocrisy since the confessor has been “attending services” while dealing with his challenge.

  8.   Preacherman Says:

    Wonderful post brother.
    I wished that the Church practiced confession. I believe the culture of independance has played a role in Christian not confessing sins to one another. I believe there is really no accountablity or wanting accountability in the Church today. Who are you tell me I’m wrong and if I confess my sins to my brothers and sisters in Christ I look weak.

    God help us to be a people of confession and repentance. May we be heal and strengthen by this practice.

  9.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    A pornography addiction is so private compared to some sins and so chemically/pychologically overpowering that only confession and community can release us from its power. We need a “safe” place to confess, and if we don’t have one, let us find one. Otherwise, it will consume us as will other sins left unconfessed. Our secrets, my friends, will kill us.

  10.   Nick Gill Says:

    John 20 and 1 Jn 1 model for us the deep need and calling for Christian communities to be “soft places to fall” for sinners. Safe places for full confession AND places where the discipline of forgiveness is practiced.

    “As the Father has sent me, so I send you…” We can and should confess and forgive sins without fearing that we are somehow usurping the role of God, without suggesting that our manifestation of the forgiveness of God lessens the import of baptism in the redemption of our lives.

  11.   Richard constant Says:

    It always amazes me what a mess I am.
    It’s always a subjective observation to be sure.
    The perception of God is all that’s important, what is his take on my sin, our sin.
    Through faithfulness, I am now under law of liberty, where pray tell in that law of liberty do I have to suffer being cursed of God because of a transgression.
    The acknowledgment of a problem is the first step in seeking help, I don’t think that it matters whether it’s physiological, psychological or a psychological problem based in behavioral issues.
    Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
    Without him I’m lost, dead the God.

    I would imagine just like anyone else I have more bad behavioral problems that I can shake a stick at.
    Denial is not a river, yes we have to deal with with our personal issues, although we don’t need to make them as overwhelming as our subjective opinions tend to make them.
    God looks at who we truly are, who we have truly become through the painstakingly diligent application of applying the word to our hearts.
    Will I be defined by the incidents of my life, that are quote unquote sinful.

    Who lays this sin on me but myself, or the people around me that justifie their misdeeds by my miss deeds and say ya but look at what you did.
    God doesn’t.
    God has called me to righteousness through faithfulness.
    God took a lot upon himself when he took the law out of the way and nailed it to a tree so that those of us that believe might have life and life abundantly.
    If we want to focus on sin in somebody else’s life, and point at that sin in a disparaging manner, we’ve missed the point but that doesn’t make that kind of person unfaithful. That just means they don’t understand grace. and the grace that is being applied to themselves by God, just for the 10,000 thoughts that they entertained to day that are sinful.

    What a mess this society is.
    And for all products of our environment.
    When you make the perfect law of liberty, a law that itemizes and defines sin, you set yourself up to be a hypocrite every time and that’s the shame of it all that is not what the law is about we have been freed from sin.
    Blessings rich in California I hope this reads well

  12.   Keith Brenton Says:

    I think it’s even tougher for those in the ministry profession to be able to confess. Far too often, ministers know they will be fired upon their first confession, because the reputation of the congregation is somehow held to be more important than the soul of the minister. Whom can they trust?

    I had honestly considered setting up a forum on the New Wineskins site where people could anonymously confess sins and ask for prayers of others who confess there … and didn’t, for fear that people would be constantly trying to figure out what real names belonged to what user names so they could play a role in getting them fired or disgraced or just spread gossip about them.

    Sorry to be blunt. That’s my confession: Judging a group of others by their projected actions.

    (But based upon their actions in the past.)

  13.   Richard constant Says:

    Well John Mark, here we are some of the most gifted people on the face of this planet freer than most ,
    how do we teach our way out of this,
    I have often said that you are one piece of work, well John Mark.
    This is a real-life issue.
    seems like we all ought to be able to figure something out…
    there must be a resource that we can use.
    I’m just wondering if anonymity is necessary, as it seems.
    I don’t know if any of you guys remember since I’m probably the old dog here here Alice’s restaurant you can get anything Arlo Guthrie but it’s kind of funny the way he says to start a movement you only need three or four people and that scares everybody.

    I would sure like to see this regulatory principle dissolved before I take a dirt nap.

    there should be some sort of the way that we can set up some sort of a community over the Internet got to start somewhere

    .Blessings all rich in California.

  14.   Mike Ellis, Church For Men Florida Says:

    Great post. I admit that I have not been the husband I should be. Today I started officially trimming almost everything off my plate except for focus on my wife and my son.

  15.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    My good friend Terrell Lee comments through email and here published with his permission: “I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope. Strange but I’d been gradually going toward some of the same conclusions he lays out in that book (before I read anything on the topic), chiefly that heaven may be less about fluffy clouds and 24/7 formal worship and more about living in restored Eden. Wright really got my attention when he observed that if the physical body doesn’t live forever then death wins. I’d never thought about it in those terms. I’m not sure if we’ll be roaming around naked in the renewed creation (if so, I definitely want a different body!), but surely there will be a kind of nakedness (purity, transparency) about us that confession in this age functions in somewhat of a preparatory manner.”

    At some point, at the request of several, I hope to find the time to review Wright’s book which I deeply appreciate.

  16.   Raj Says:

    Thank you for writting this post. Right now, I’m finding it very difficult to confess my sin to others in my congregation due to the fears you mention in your post. the real reason why im afraid is because ive witnessed much of the judging happen when others have come out to confess their sins. I even realized that I would isolate myself from those individuals who have confessed their sin.

    Now that I have sinned, I now know how hard it is to confess your sin to others and feel terrible about the way I behaved around those people who did sin and had the courage to confess.

    I’m glad I read this post.


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