the most unpopular part of Christian fellowship

James 5:16 tells us to “confess your sins to one another.” Confession is exactly what we do not want to do. We want to keep our sins private. We don’t want to admit to any mistakes. We fear that knowledge gained might be used against us. And we live in a world that regards personal privacy as a supreme right. We justify our sins and tell ourselves that we did not really do anything wrong. We convince ourselves that we do not need to confess because we think we did not do anything worth confessing. We spin the truth and blame circumstances or other people. We might admit to a half-wrong, a vague sense that something did not go right, but we will not simply say, “I sinned.”

Self-justifications are not harmless thoughts that serve our self-defense. In their book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson say, “Mindless self-justification…blocks our ability to even see our errors, let alone correct them. It distorts reality, keeping us from getting all of the information we need and assessing issues clearly. It prolongs and widens riffs lovers, friends, and nations. It permits the guilty to avoid taking responsibility for their deeds.” 

The reason we hide our sin is pride. We battle to conceal because we prefer our pride to real fellowship. We would rather disguise ourselves than be exposed. In chapter 5 of Life Together, Bonhoeffer says confession “hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride…Because this humiliation is so hard we continually scheme to evade confessing to a brother.” 

There is reason self-justification harms the community. Self-justification is often nothing more than a series of carefully crafted lies we hide behind to improve our status in the community. Self-justification silences the conscience by beating it down with a barrage of justifications. It warps our moral self until we believe that we did nothing wrong and we are, after all is said and done, a good person. We want to believe we are good and so we twist the facts until they reveal our goodness. When we do this, we have lied to ourselves and failed to face who we really are.   

 Self-justification causes disconnection, but confession reconnects.

Unfortunately, what we most often hear in the church is a series of justifications for attitudes, words, and actions. What we need is truth. It would be refreshing to speak truth to one another – both theologically and personally – and would go a long way toward reconnecting church relationships.

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