Updated: May 27, 2021
"If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness."
The concept of falling short is not popular in our society. Our culture is more determined than ever to encourage people to celebrate themselves just the way they are. It's also on a mission to drive away any feelings of guilt a person might possess. And this perspective is not just a phenomenon within secular society. It's also prevalent within the Church. The next time you listen to a Christian radio station, notice the bevy of songs that suggest that you are loved no matter what you do, and that it's inappropriate to feel shame.
But Jesus' mission to earth was not one of affirmation, but of transformation. He didn't say, "I want you to like being who you are." He said, "I want you to be like me." To be transformed into a new person by God requires that we first acknowledge that our current person is a train wreck. Second, we need to admit that the primary problem we have is not a result of poor socialization, being mistreated by others, or making misinformed decisions. We are a mess because we continually choose to live in a selfish way. We prioritize our own desires over those of God. This is the essential meaning of sin.
When we do things that go against the moral sense of right and wrong God has given us, we naturally experience a feeling of dissatisfaction and guilt. And we don't like that feeling. It makes us uncomfortable, it creates anxiety, it loads us down with a sense of shame. So what can we do with these unpleasant feelings?
Our society tries to make guilt the enemy. It assures us that we have done nothing wrong. It tells us that we don't need to accept the hypocritical, judgemental notions of an outdated religion. And if retraining doesn't work, it offers a pharmacological solution. Perhaps the medications we are prescribed will help us forget our transgressions or at least numb our feelings of shame. Yet, for all its efforts, there is little relief to be found here.
John tells us in 1 John 1:8-9 that the world's approach to guilt is only a deceitful attempt to fool ourselves. Instead, John explains that the proper thing to do is to admit that we are sinners, in essence to accept that we are selfish and that we have rebelled against God.
But John does not leave us in despair. He offers hope. When we confess our sins to God, the Lord will show us mercy and forgive us, and through his forgiveness the weight of guilt and shame will be removed.
This call to confession is a core of Christianity that we need to bring back to the Church, for it has the power to restore the Church. As James so clearly exhorts us in James 5:16, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."
If you desire healing, I encourage you to take some time today to consider your own misdeeds. Then confess them in prayer to God and ask him to forgive you. He will not only cleanse you, he will remove your guilt and shame.
(New Living Translation; photo credit: Wix media)