Dangers of Confession


Even though we are commanded to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) this does not mean that confessing our sins automatically accomplishes the goal, which is forgiveness and transformation into Christ’s image.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer mentions three specific dangers of confessing our sins and I want to add one more. First, there is the danger of being too general in confessing our sins.

For the sake of this certainty [the forgiveness of sins] confession should deal with concrete sins. People are usually satisfied when they make general confession. But one experiences the utter perdition and corruption of the human nature…when one sees his own specific sins. Self-examination on the basis of all Ten Commandments will therefore be the right preparation for confession. Otherwise it might happen that one could still be a hypocrite even in confession to a brother and thus miss the good of confession.

When we confess to our brothers we need to be specific with the sin. Give it a place and time and a biblical name.

Second, he notes that there should not be one person that everyone else is confessing to. This will burden the person being confessed to and thus it will all become routine. Instead of being able to shepherd each individual through God’s grace the confessional will become a place for “the spiritual domination of souls.” He also says in this section that anyone who hears confessions should also himself be confessing to others.

Third, there is the danger of confession becoming a pious work, a source of pride. I confess my sins. Do you? Here is what he says about that.

For the salvation of his soul let him guard against ever making a pious work of his confession. If he does so, it will become the final, most abominable, vicious, and impure prostitution of the heart; the act becomes an idle, lustful babbling. Confession as a pious work is an invention of the devil.

To these three dangers, I would add the danger of confession becoming a substitute for repentance and change. Here is the problem with a lot of accountability groups. They confess their sins to each other and often in very great detail, but there is little change. Everyone leaves feeling better about themselves, but no one leaves ready to stop sinning. If confession is a substitute for real change it is a lie. I am not saying that once a person confesses they will never commit the sin again. But I am saying that after confession we should find ourselves climbing the mountain of holiness not sitting at the bottom feeling good about ourselves.

Book Review: Psalms by Bonhoeffer

Psalms: The Prayer Book of the BiblePsalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very short, but good introduction to some themes in the Psalms. As usual, Bonhoeffer connects the Psalms to Jesus and shows how we can only pray them by looking at Christ. A lot of wonderful insight into how the Psalms affect our prayer life. He closes with a short exhortation to morning prayer. This book would be good to pick up every now and then to put some spiritual adrenaline back in one’s prayer life.

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The Law is Grace

“It is grace to know God’s commands.  They release us from self-made plans and conflicts. They make our steps certain and our way joyful. God gives his commands in order that we may fulfill them, and ‘his commandments are not burdensome’ (I John 5:3) for him who has found all salvation in Jesus Christ. Jesus has himself been under the law and has fulfilled it in total obedience to his Father. God’s will becomes his joy, his nourishment. So he gives thanks in us for the grace of the law and grants to us joy in its fulfillment. Now we confess our love for the law, we affirm that we gladly keep it, and we ask that we may be kept blameless in it. We do that not in our own power, but we pray it in the name of Jesus Christ who is for us and in us.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible.

Book Review: Life Together

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian CommunityLife Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bonhoeffer reminds me of C.S. Lewis in that there are things I wish he had said, but didn’t and at times things I wish he hadn’t said, but did. However, there is so much wisdom, so many paragraphs that bring us back to the essentials of Christian community, such a great understanding of human nature and sin, that Life Together was well worth the read.

Several parts greatly impressed me.

First, his discussion of Christian community as a grace and work of Christ was excellent.

Second, his section on common prayer/worship changed the way I did my family worship and gave numerous reasons on why the Psalms are central to all worship.

Third, his focus on listening before proclaiming was a good reminder for those of us proclaim for a our vocation. But it is a good reminder for all Christians. We cannot truly bring the word to people if we do not listen to them. Our applications will fall short.

Finally, he really pushes confessing our sins to one another. This is a much neglected Christian discipline.

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A Home for Sinners

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.