I came home from a day that started off ok, not great, but ok. After being surrounded by beautiful woman after beautiful woman, billboard after billboard, my ok day had worn down to a day full of lustful indulgence. I knew I had to confess to my wife but I dreaded it. On my way home, I had crafted the perfect thing to say where it would be just enough details to be a confession but not enough to truly show how horrible I was that day.
It went ok. She was disappointed but it didn’t seem to bother her as much as previous, worse times. So I checked the box next to “confess” and moved on to be an excellent husband and father at home.
But something was still eating at me. I felt God’s spirit impressing on me that I had not really confessed everything. And that I had not confessed to all affected parties (i.e. the church body, my kids). So I went back and did what I have learned over the years is necessary for true confession. Here is a list of what you need to do to avoid shallow confession:
Understand that behind every sinful thought or action is a sinful belief
You only think and act out lust because you believe that lust will benefit you more than obeying God will.
Lust is always there to comfort you. You know it ends in emptiness and broken relationships, but you can always count on it to feel really good exactly at the moment you call on it. It does not seem the same with God. You run to his word and it just slips right off your heart, not taking root and definitely not comforting you. You try to pray but if you’re honest you don’t really want him. You want physical pleasure and he’s not even physically present let alone the kind of physical pleasure you want. This leads to the next step.
Understand that behind every sinful belief is an idolatrous love
You believe lust will benefit you more because you love sexual pleasure more than God himself
Given the choice between hanging with your dad or a date with a woman you’re attracted to in every way, the obvious choice is the date with the woman. It’s not that you don’t love your dad, you just love female companionship more. This is normal. But God is not just our true Father but also the Church’s true Husband. When scripture says, “it is not good for man to be alone,” it is ultimately speaking of the coming marriage between Christ and the Church. Our love for sexual pleasure is supposed to encourage a greater love for God, who gave sex as a picture of the future intimacy between Christ and the Church.
But that intimacy is still primarily in the future and thus sexual pleasure is the greatest thing we’ve experienced to date. Thus, we think it is better than any other pleasure. But just as kids grow up and discover pleasures greater than candy and toys, we need to trust that when God says he is better than sex, he actually is. We need to love God more than sex because he is more lovely than sex even if we have not experienced it.
Since this is true, don’t just confess that you looked at another woman or that you masterbated or looked at pornography. These are just the symptoms of a deeper sin. Confess also the sinful belief and the idolatrous love that led you to act and think sinfully.
Understand that as you expose more darkness more of you becomes light
Shallow confession means shallow cleansing of our hearts.
Paul says to the church at Ephesus, “Anything that becomes visible is light” (Eph. 5:14). And John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). All our sins were paid for on the cross and we are completely forgiven when we first repent and believe, but he shows us over time what he has forgiven us of. And over time, he washes away the unrighteousness that he already declared us free from. He does this through confession. Confession is the “how” of sanctification.
The deeper you dig into the darkness of your own heart the more you will see how much he has forgiven you of. And the more you can actively, consciously turn away from loving sin and turn toward loving God. If confession is how unrighteousness is actually washed off of us, then not confessing prevents you from being cleansed.
You have already been forgiven, but it is through confession that you can actually experience that forgiveness and cast off the idol.
Do whatever it takes to uncover your idolatrous loves
Interrogate yourself mercilessly to find everything possible that is keeping you from loving God with all your heart.
Don’t be afraid to uncover the dark loves of your heart. Don’t be afraid to find what good things you have made ultimate things; things more important to you than God himself. Find out what has a hold of your heart. Be honest with yourself.
It is always God that you have sinned against. You must always confess to him.
This may seem obvious, but all too often it’s far easier to feel sorry for how lust effects your human relationships than how it effects your relationship with God. He created everything for his glory. Everything you do and every love of your heart is intended to be ultimately for him. When you lust you not only disobey him, you actively hate him.
We get furiously angry when our phones don’t work like they’re supposed to, or when traffic makes us late to an important meeting. Or when we are betrayed by a loved one. Just think about how it must feel for God when someone he deeply loves cheats on him with something that he gave them as a gift. You have utterly betrayed and cheated on the God who has given you all good things through the death of his Son. Own up to this fact and confess it to Him. He has already forgiven you for it. You have nothing to fear in bringing it before him.
Tell someone from your local church body
The church is the body of Christ, his representative to the world. Though forgiveness only comes through Christ, his church is a main vessel through which forgiveness is experienced and strength received.
Another image the Bible uses is that the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This means, in part, that much of the ministry of the Spirit comes to the world through the church. It also means that believers receive much of the power and grace for right living through church community.
Think of a leaf in the fall. Did you know that leaves fall because a chemical cuts off the flow of water to the leaf? The leaf then becomes brittle and begins to tear off of the tree. As soon as the next breeze comes the leaf is completely separated and falls to the ground. The Christian who isolates himself and hides his sin from his local church body is like this leaf, cut off from the living water.
Ultimately, we need to avoid shallow confession because Jesus did not die a shallow and trite death to pay for our sins. Do you see how great his love for you is on the cross when you dig to the depths of your sin and see that he knew and chose to die for them, for you. He did not just die for the misuse of your eyes and hands but also the betrayal in your heart and mind. Sin is not simply something you did but something you were. Jesus did not die to scrape the mud off your face but to completely change you from mud to a precious gem. In that case, do not trivialize your beloved savior’s death by only confessing surface level sins.
Have you noticed a difference between shallow confession and true confession in your actual experience of forgiveness?