By Alex Ly

New Year, Same Old You?

“I pray, read my Bible, serve, and go to Bible study. So why do I still struggle with sin?”

People caught in patterns of sin—which, if we’re honest, is all of us—ask this question frequently. We try to change, practice disciplines, and hope for transformation. At the same time, we go to church, Bible study, or our fellowship group and pretend that we really don’t struggle. When people ask us how we’re doing, we put on a smile and give them the F-word: “Fine.”

Our individualistic culture has sold the church a really big lie—the lie that we can do faith on our own. But anyone struggling with any habitual pattern of sin knows that overcoming it cannot be done independently. It requires the support of others. That’s why I think the discipline of confession to God and others is one of the most invaluable disciplines a Christian can practice.

Confession puts us in a place of vulnerability. Too often when we sin or wrestle with patterns of addiction, we think that we cannot be accepted for who we are. We tell ourselves that something must be wrong with us, or that if people really knew who we truly are we would be rejected. So we hide and avoid being vulnerable.

But real healing happens when we are able to be truly vulnerable with God and others. Putting ourselves in a place of vulnerability opens us up to being honest with ourselves and accepting ourselves as we are—sinful, but loved by God. By bringing sin into the light through confession, we no longer feel a need to hide. And once we are no longer hiding from God, ourselves, and others, we can begin to truly work through our problems, with the Holy Spirit’s help.

In this way, confession is very powerful. But it is a bit of a lost art in our culture; we sometimes value putting on a happy face for others more than revealing who we truly are. Many of us go through life not knowing how to truly be vulnerable.

A Few Tips for Confession

There is no exact formula for good confession, but there are some things that make it effective.

First, confession needs to be consistent. People who struggle with and work through addictions have to learn to regularly confess to each other as part of any formal recovery process. If we’re not in a formal program, consistent confession usually means having an accountability partner, someone who knows our brokenness in a much deeper way. This gives us the space to “check in” with ourselves on a regular basis as well.

In my walk with practicing consistent confession, I’ve found that the act of confessing eventually becomes more helpful and stress-relieving than stressful. So often it’s easy to confess and then go on with our normal lives, but regular confession helps us integrate our brokenness into our lives rather than trying to hide it in the back of our consciousness.

Consistency is also key because, like all practices, confession is hard at first and takes practice. Good confession runs into so many emotional obstacles, such as shame, guilt, and fear. It’s easy to let those things stop us. Constant practice of confession helps us learn to face those emotions when they arise.

What kind of structure for confession can you set up to help you begin practicing it consistently? Maybe it means finding an accountability partner and meeting up with them on a regular basis. Maybe it means having people to call and talk to when temptation kicks in so you can process and find support. It could also mean joining a small group that deals with a specific sin issue so you can find other like-minded folks to talk to.

Second, for effective confession we need full-hearted honesty. It’s easy to say, “I messed up,” or “I sinned,” and keep it general rather than going into details about what we did wrong. But half-hearted confession robs us of a great opportunity to learn more about ourselves and take ownership of our problems. Again, in addiction-recovery groups, there goes a saying: “Half-measures availed us nothing.” Half-hearted confessions do not lead to healing. So let’s get into the details of why we sinned. God knows everything already! Don’t be afraid to let others in as well.

Everyone wants to be truly known, not just for how good we are but also for the ways we fall short. Confession opens us up to a greater life in God and with each other because it allows us to stop hiding. We step out into the light and face ourselves. This all makes confession worth it—even though it can be difficult. Some of my greatest sin challenges have been overcome because I learned how to confess well with others.

It’s a lifelong practice. We will never outgrow our need to confess to each other and God. As long as we live in a broken world as broken people, we will continue to need each other in our faith journey. So until Jesus returns to fully redeem everything, let’s keep confessing together.

Alex is a University of California—Davis graduate and an InterVarsity alumnus of the chapter there.

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