“The Christian is the man who no longer seeks his salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone. He knows that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him guilty, even when he does not feel his guilt, and God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him not guilty and righteous, even when he does not feel that he is righteous at all…But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men…He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation…And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian Community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”
This excerpt is taken from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. This snippet specifically caught my eye tonight as I was reflecting on the Christian’s identity in Christ and the practice of confession. When I say confession I am not thinking about the Catholic tradition involving a priest. Rather, I am thinking of confessing our sins to one another simply as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. In my experience, confession seems to be a dying art and a practice that has been pushed aside in light of our forgiveness being found solely in Christ. After all, Christ has forgiven our past, present, and future sin, being that we are in Christ and therefore have partaken in Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Be that as it may, we must not think to highly of ourselves and our own strength. We are tempted daily. Sure, in the Spirit we overcome as Christ has already overcome. Though I suspect more often than not we fail, giving into our own sinful devices, fragility, and fallenness and therefore, we must be reminded of who we are in Christ.
As Bonhoeffer notes, we no longer seek our salvation in ourselves, but in Christ alone. We know that in Christ we are cursed, forsaken, crucified. But that’s not the whole story because we also and more importantly know that we are blessed, received, and raised in Christ. We know that it is no longer we who live but Christ in us, for we have been made new creations. We are now seated in heavenly places with Christ and are now able to understand God’s love for us is beyond the imagination. It is a love that boggles the intellectual and energizes the mystical. Despite all of these realities, we struggle with sin. Things are not how they should be, creation is disoriented. God’s peace and flourishing of life no longer defines creation. Chaos is the game in town. If you want to see a clear picture of this look at the recent American election…just kidding, I’m American for the record. Because things are not the way they should be we must practice confession, as a means of receiving the salvation God brings through our brothers and sisters.
In engaging in this practice we are not only confessing our sin, but our need for daily bread, restoration, and healing. I suspect two key issues holding us back from practicing confession; shame and identity crisis. Many of us are not proud of the things we have done, said, or especially thought. I once heard a Baptist preacher say something to the effect of, “If God put every sinful thought you have ever had on a PowerPoint you would run out of this auditorium screaming in tears because of an awareness of how sinful you really are!” Yea…no shit. I think the preacher was a little out there but who wants people knowing their deepest and darkest sins? No thanks. Because we are ashamed and worried that if people really knew our sin they wouldn’t want to be around us, love us, or accept us. It’s a defense and survival mechanism. Our trust has been broken and abused in various ways. Maybe we’ve been lied to, maybe people have taken advantage of us in different ways. Maybe people have let us down or perhaps we are just skeptical from all of the terrible things people have down and are doing in the world.
Before I became a Christian, and even a few years later, I didn’t trust people or allow people close to my heart. My mother abandoned my family when I was around two or three and I’ve watched people I considered family commit actions I never thought they would. I was an angry kid, calloused, and committed to self-preservation. This lead to building walls, not letting people close to my heart, after all, allowing them to know my struggles, weaknesses, and shortcomings would only lend them the upper hand in causing me pain in various ways right? So I understand having reservations about trusting people and I would never apart from Christ confess my sin to others. However, as Christians we must practice confession. We need each other in our frailness and brokenness. We need to be the means through which God brings salvation to one another. In confessing our sins to one another, we recognize our fragility, weakness, and brokenness, and only then are we in a position to accept the salvation of Christ that comes through Christian community. Bonhoeffer reminds us that it is only after we stop seeking deliverance, salvation, and justification in ourselves that we are able to receive salvation in Christ alone. In confessing our sins we also choose to die to ourselves and allow Christ to be the source of our identity, security, and fullness of life.
We don’t need to worry about whether or not others will accept us or love us because we have already been completely accepted and fully loved without exception in Christ. Confession is not an act of weakness, but an act of strength. Strength defined by the cross is dying to one’s self for the sake of the other. We die to ourselves daily by crucifying our pride and judgement and recognize that as our sins are not held against us, so we too do not hold one’s sins against another. In confession we receive our brothers and sisters without judgement. In confession we proclaim who we are in Christ by confidently acknowledging our shortcomings to one another, knowing that they do not define us or rightly represent who we are as new creations in Christ, all the while receiving God’s salvation from our brothers and sisters. Confession is not about airing our dirty laundry but proclaiming the good news of our salvation, namely Christ, and the freedom we receive in Christ. We receive this freedom every time we practice confession. We should not refrain from confession as a means of self-preservation and protection because we are afraid people will use our sin against us. Rather, we confess and receive Christ’s salvation because we know that our sin is NOT held against us.
Finally, it should be noted that another reason we may be skeptical of confession is because the Christian community has not been faithful in receiving others without judgement. This is why the Catholic practice of confession is so appealing to me. It’s almost like attorney/client privilege or doctor/patient confidentiality. Hypocrisy and judgement were the two main problems that kept me from the faith for many years. If we are going to be a community that practices confession we must be a community that stops practicing judgement. We have freely received God’s salvation so we too must freely offer Christ’s salvation by receiving one another free of judgement. Only then will we be able to give and receive Christ’s salvation to one another, and only then will the practice of confession be a faithful witness to that salvation.