Confession has always been and will always be central to the Christian life. Many of us would like to think that when Scripture teaches about confession, it means something we admit to ourselves or keep between God and ourselves.
Admitting the truth to ourselves is essential. Making confession before God is essential. But neither takes the place of confessing to another human being our sins. This is not about legalism (“God won’t heal you until you do x, y, and z”), but it is about the nature of who you are as a created being.
Each one of us must face the reality that a half-veiled life—a life where we hold all the cards, we orchestrate who knows what, we decides what will make us better and what won’t—isn’t working. Confession is a key part of this. Sin produces fear and shame but Confession does the opposite.
We want to believe there is another way, but confession to other people is required for those who want true freedom and purity, which we see in James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”
Under the veneer of being godly, strong, or competent is a fortress of rebellion and pride, and bolstering the fortress walls are fear and shame. We see this in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve sinned. They were no longer “naked and unashamed,” and so they sewed fig leaves together to hide from each other. And when they heard God coming, they hid among the trees of the garden because, as Adam tells God, he was afraid.
When we hide ourselves behind “fig leaves” so others won’t see the truth about us, we also end up running to hide ourselves behind something more substantial in relation to God. Notice that God gave the first man and woman freedom to eat from any tree in the garden except one (Genesis 2:16, 17), and after they disobeyed Him, they tried to hide themselves “among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). They retreated to where they were supposed to be.
Many of us try to do the same thing to deal with the fear and shame produced by our sin—we serve more in church, read our Bibles more, tithe, lead worship, or even become pastors. But in the end, these are just attempts to hide ourselves from God among the trees, and nothing could be more counter-productive. God is the source of all that we truly want: purity, freedom, love, and joy (to name a few)! We need to take the truth about what we’ve done and run to God and others, not away.
When God came to them, it wasn’t to scare them. And when He questioned them, it wasn’t to shame them. Just the opposite. Look what He did for them—exchanged their paltry coverings (leaves sewn together) for clothing made of flesh. The death of the animal used to make those more substantial coverings was the first death, a sacrificial death to remove Adam and Eve’s fear and shame (and a prelude of Christ’s flesh given for us). God didn’t come to scare them. He wanted restored relationship with them. And He feels the same toward us.
As we confess to others and begin to make a habit of telling the truth about our sins, shame and fear lose their hold on us, and we are free once again to walk in communion with God and with others.