March 12, 2014

Spiritual Disciplines: Confession

Over the last few months, Wednesdays have been "Spiritual Discipline" days following the Table of Contents of Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline.  To see a list of topics covered thus far, click here.  To read today's post, don't click anywhere, just keep reading!

Today we enter the last subsection, The Corporate Disciplines, which include Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration.  We'll begin with Confession.

You know what confession has to do with, right?  Sin.

Do any of you try to avoid, hide or cover up your sin, brushing them under the rug like dust bunnies, hoping to mask their presence?  We really are pretty nice people, after all.  Yet sin is not so easily hidden from our own hearts and minds.  Those dust bunnies grow into unbearable dust storms in our souls and we walk around trying to "act normal" while blinded and burdened by unconfessed and unforgiven sin.  The weight of which often leads us further into darkness.

Confession is an alternative, THE alternative.  If we deny our sin we deceive ourselves and call God a liar.  But when we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Woah and Hallelujah!  In confession, the weight of wickedness can be lifted and replaced by the precious weight of glory, because God is faithful and just.

Why Corporate?

If we confess or sins and God forgives us, why is this included in the corporate disciplines.  Well, how many of you lovely ladies and gents have confessed a sin to God and know in your head that you are forgiven, but guilt still eats away at your conscience?  C'mon, raise your hand; I'm raising mine!

We all know how difficult it is to cling to Truth and let go of the bondage, even though we believe God's Word to be true and know that He has and does forgive His people in Christ.  This is why Foster plops this topic down in the Corporate Disciplines section; we need to confess our sins to one another* - not willy-nilly to every brother in sister in Christ that we meet, but with discernment, bringing our burdened hearts to another, fruit-bearing believer to hear him or her as the voice of the Lord in our lives saying, You are forgiven.  The cross covers that too.  You are not defined by your sin, but by your identity in Christ.  Go, be free then, to love and serve the Lord.

This also makes me think of confession in the course of a worship service.  On a given Sunday morning, so many are gathered and offering up their confessions to the Lord at some point in the service.  How sufficient is the blood of Christ!  So many receive the elements when communion is served.  So many sinners saved, so many sins forgiven.  Blessed be the name of the Lord!  We need to confess to God, to one another, and with one another for the strengthening of our faith and the health of the body.

Elements of Confession

Foster offers three elements of confession borrowed from St. Alphonsus Liguori: examination of conscience, sorry, and a determination to avoid sin.  A note on each:
  1. Examination of conscience is time to ask God to search our hearts and reveal our sin to us.  Something like David's petition in Psalm 139:23-24.
  2. Sorrow is a way of taking the confession seriously, (p. 152).  We can look to David again on this point, in Psalm 51:4, "Against you and you alone have I sinned ...."
  3. A determination to avoid sin is not a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps attitude, but rather a desire to be delivered from sin and be ruled by God.
Often when God reveals sin to me, I feel bad about it.  Then, I stop there.  Rather than finding freedom in the discipline of confession - letting God search my heart and then letting him be the one to release, heal, an transform me - I wallow, feel defeated, and figure "it will always be this way."  How inspiring to be reminded that God is in the business of forgiving sin, and we can learn to confess and be set free!  Our pride would keep us from the practice, but the Spirit in us can prevail over our pride and we can grow in humility and faith.

What a relief!

What a fellowship,
What a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms!

He's Not Angry

Finally, a sweet or maybe shocking reminder before we close, one our pastor in Cambridge was fond of repeating:  If you come to God, He will not be angry with you.  Foster says it this way at the beginning of the chapter,
Love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross.  Golgotha came as a result of God's great desire to forgive, not his reluctance.  Jesus knew that by his vicarious suffering he could actually absorb all the evil of humanity and so heal it, forgive it, redeem it.  p 144

Stop suffering for that which has already been suffered.  Go.  Confess your sin to another, trustworthy, kind believer, and be healed, believe you are forgiven, and walk as a redeemed child of the Lord!

*     *     *

I don't know that I've done this chapter justice.  Foster shares some great stories and so much encouragement to move toward God in confession.  I've only pulled out a few highlights and added what comes to my mind.  I would encourage you to read Celebration of Discipline sometime.  In fact, I plan to give away a copy.  Keep your eyes peeled for the giveaway announcement in a couple of weeks!  :)

*"God has given us our brothers and sisters to stand in Christ's stead and make God's presence and forgiveness real to us."  p 147

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