One of the hardest things to admit is when you are wrong. It is not easy to say, “I am sorry. I was wrong.” It is far easier to go on without forgiveness. But sin brings separation in our relationships, and the consequence of our failure to admit our problems is a festering wound that doesn’t go away. Many family feuds begin with unconfessed offences that have estranged people ever since. While sin brings a breakdown in love and causes permanent damage in our friendships and lives, the good news is that forgiveness carries with it the power and the possibility to repair what is broken. True confession brings about reconciliation and peace to two parties that were formerly at odds with each other.
But the problem is that our sinful flesh does not want to admit wrongdoing. We would rather die in our sin than own up to it. And even when we want to make an apology we don’t know how to do it. If you hear politicians or entertainers apologize, rarely will you hear something as honest as what Tiger Woods recently said. So often what we hear and what we say is “I am sorry, but, …” which is really no sorry at all. Whenever we add a “but” to our apology we are really saying, “I am sorry, but I had a reason to do it.” How hard it is to throw down our weapons and take complete responsibility for our actions. “I’m sorry -- period.”
Part of our therapy culture is that we learn to make excuses rather than apologies. Counselors and therapists instructed in secular models of healing are good at playing the blame game. We learn in therapy that the problem is not our own, but the fault of our parent or spouse, how we were raised, or because of our OCD, ADD, depression or addiction. In this we never really deal with the root cause of our own sin. We are the problem, and yet no one wants to hear it. Instead of advice, what we really need is confession, and yet it has been said that that people will tell their barber or their bartender their sins a thousand times before they would ever be caught dead telling them to their pastor.
The Bible has a harsh word to say about such actions. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (I John 1:8) Plainly put, there is no forgiveness for one who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge their sin. The truth is this. If we can’t own up to our own sins and confess them, neither will God forgive us.
Recently I have been stopping by the houses of delinquent members. Some ask me inside. Some close the door and tell me not to come back. Some make excuses. Some say nothing. I have never, not once, not ever, had a person get down on their knees and beg me for forgiveness and say, “Pastor, I have sinned against God! Forgive me!” People would rather die in their sin than turn and make confession. This however is not just a characteristic of delinquents, but the mark of all sinners, including us.
It is impossible for a sinner to make confession on his own accord. Repentance is what God works in us through the ministry of His Word. Through the Law He shows us the real end of our stubbornness: death and hell. Through the Gospel we receive the One who bore our stubborn refusal to keep the law and who suffered for our sakes: Jesus Christ. The verse we heard above doesn’t end there. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)
This month there was an especially difficult day in our house. We all were being mean and hateful to each other. That night after supper we gathered around the dinner table and confessed to each other. “I have sinned, I am sorry, forgive me for Jesus sake,” we said as we looked at one other. We concluded by speaking the words of forgiveness and welcomed each other with a family hug. It is not about feelings. It is about forgiveness that brings Christ. Christ is the One who broke down the wall of separation and sin. “He Himself is our Peace, who makes the both one.” “(Ephesians 2:14)”
If there is one thing that our church should be about, it should be about forgiveness. Forgiveness is where we come back to God. Forgiveness restores what was broken. Forgiveness is where we come to honesty and truth. And yet the one thing that we should be about is the one thing we have such a hard time with. Forgiveness is not an easy thing. And maybe that’s why our Lord instituted so much forgiveness in the church. In our service every Sunday morning we start with forgiveness, we continue with preaching (which is about forgiveness), and we end with Holy Communion which is Jesus body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Maybe someday it will sink in.
We find no such power in ourselves to make confession. In us is only the power to hold on to grudges, lie and deceive ourselves, screw others over, justify our own faults, and damn ourselves to hell. We don’t want to make amends, we don’t want to change our lives, and we do not want to apologize. It is only in the light of God’s Law and Gospel that we come to see our sin for what it is and come into the light of day. In God’s forgiveness we who are broken and wrong are made whole and new and right again.
The question has been asked, “What is the one thing that a liar can say that is the truth?” That one thing that a liar can say that is the truth is, “I am a liar.” We come to speak the truth about ourselves when we own up to what we have done and who we really are. As Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)