“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” — 1 John 1:8-9, NRSV
Well, I am happily back in my hometown for Thanksgiving with my wife, parents, and brother. Driving took most of the day, so that is why today’s post is so late! Anyway, I am in 1 John for my New Testament devotional reading, and I love this selection!
The author of the Gospel of John/The 3 Letters of John is often concerned with light and truth when it comes to following Jesus. We are to “walk in the light” in order to “have fellowship with one another” while “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Being a follower of Jesus means living a life that brings light to the world in the form of self-giving love that heals and inspires in our most “everyday” moments.
This brings us to our Scripture for this post. Now, no one likes talking about sin or being sinful, mostly because this is accompanied by some expectation of condemnation. If, however, we can walk through this set of verses together, maybe we can see this confessional text as good news rather than bad.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” not God. This is often seen as bad news. We can’t fool God! Dangit! Busted! Well, yeah. I don’t know why we ever think that’s possible. But what if it isn’t so much a cause for dismay as it is for healing?
You can’t work to heal a disease you are unaware of. You can’t heal a relationship without acknowledging a problem. Just the same, knowing that God knows our deepest sins and hurts is the key to healing those hurts and being cleansed of that sin. If we try to lie, and pretend that we are justified by our feelings or that the wrongs we do aren’t all that bad, the only person being deceived is ourselves, and healing is indefinitely postponed.
“If we confess our sins,” however, things take a different direction. If we can take comfort in God’s full knowledge of us, and in the fact that He loves and calls us all the same, we can gain enough confidence to face ourselves, sin, pain, wounds and all. We can admit to God and to ourselves our need for forgiveness, guidance, and support, and then “he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (verse 9).
Confession is not a time for shame and a sense of worthlessness, as it has often been taught to be by authorities in the Church. It is, rather, a chance for all of us to realize and speak the truth: we need help. All of us need help. The pastor, the president, the rich, the poor, the holiest, and the lowliest all need grace and guidance in order to live lives of fullness and light. Confession, therefore, is humility, but it is also expectation. We can rest safely assured that our honesty and humility invite God’s work in our lives. We can expect that our confession is not met by derision or wrath, but by understanding (by the God who “was tested by what he suffered” in Christ, Hebrews 2:18), by forgiveness, and by an empowered freedom to move in a better direction for a life that is both blessed and a blessing.
As we go about the rest of our lives, let’s remember that confession to God and admitting our frailties are not means of shame, but of grace. When we are honest in our relationships regarding who we are and what we need (starting with our relationship to the Divine), we are in a position to heal and to move forward toward a new future. So let’s not waste time on shame and regret. Let’s honestly confess ourselves so that we may joyfully (and healthily) encounter and share that divine grace!
Peace be with you!