Bonhoeffer has a superb section on confessing our sins to one another in his book Life Together. Here is one quote. Emphasis is mine.
Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought to the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron (Ps. 107:16).
What wisdom in this passage! Bonhoeffer wrote long before Internet porn. But doesn’t this describe it perfectly? We sit at our computers hidden away and sin eats us alive. And this applies to more than just porn. It applies to the angry wife who refuses to confess her sins to her sisters in the Lord. It applies to a lazy man who wastes his evenings and refuses to confess his sins to someone else. It applies to all the sins we hide from one another.
Here is more from Bonhoeffer.
He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from his fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners.
So sin loves the darkness. And often our churches are a place where sin remains in darkness because we do not want to be thought of as sinners. Now why would a church be a place where sins cannot be confessed? Let me give two reasons.
First, is the one Bonhoeffer has already mentioned. We do not want to be thought of as sinners. And we do not want our churches to be thought of as places where people sin. So we pretend. We pretend about our sins and we pretend about other people’s sins. We lie and play the hypocrite. We wear the mask and we want everyone around us to wear the mask as well. Growth is absolutely impossible in a scenario like this.
But there is a second reason we create an environment where sin is not confessed. Often instead of showing God’s grace to someone who confesses their sins and helping them grow out of that sin into holiness we use the sins of others against them. We use their sins as clubs to beat them with. When someone confesses a sin to us, we gossip about it. Or when they confess a sin to us we point our finger and say, “Shame on you.” Or we look down on them and make them feel bad about their sin. If we do this, then our brother or sister will stop confessing. Why should they confess when all it does is make them feel more guilty? They know they are guilty. They need the grace of forgiveness and the grace of sanctification. Growth is impossible in a scenario like this.
Our churches must be places where sin can be openly confessed. (By the way, Bonhoeffer is not talking about confessing in public. For him, confession is talking one on one with a brother (or sister for the ladies).) Our churches must be a home for sinners. If we do not create an environment where sin can be openly confessed then sin cannot be overcome.
I will post more thoughts from this chapter later.
3 thoughts on “A Home for Sinners”
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Great thoughts. Isolation and pretense are the chains that hold people hostage by their sin.
How does this fit in with elders Peter? We know they are but sinful men and have sin to confess as well. But what happens when they confess sin that would keep them from eldership? And how does the body respond when their leaders confess sin?
Jennie, those are good questions. I am going to get into some specifics about how to confess on Friday and I will try to address that question. Peter