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Coming Clean

Anne Jackson talks about why confession really is good for the soul, what makes it so difficult, and how true power lies within opening up to others.

"What do you feel like you can't say in church?"

This was the question Anne Jackson, author of Mad Church Disease (Zondervan), posed on her blog. That simple question fueled such a huge response that she wrote a book about it, Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace (August 2010 by Thomas Nelson).

"I felt like there was something I couldn't talk about in church, and I wanted to know that I wasn't alone," Anne admits. "It's the story of my life. I was afraid to confess something, but I started confessing anyway." In fact, she's very vocal about many of her struggles that are taboo in the Christian sphere, such as addiction to pornography.

"I've experienced a lot of freedom from confessing to others," she says. "It's such a beautiful thing, and I want to see people live that freedom."

We hear about confession being good for the soul. Why do you think that is?

Restoration. We were designed to be restored with God. Adam and Eve sinned and fell away from God, and the first thing they did was hide from him. We, as they, need to confess our sin to him—acknowledging that we were wrong. Acknowledging our brokenness allows us to be restored.

It's easy for Christians to think the Cross is for sinners, but we often forget that it's also for us. That even on our best days, the only thing that makes us pure and holy is the Cross. We need to lean into that grace if we want to continually pursue holiness. And that means making confession a part of daily life—not just to God, but to others.

Why confess to other people? Isn't it enough to confess to God?

There's a clear biblical design for confessing to God, so we can reconcile to him, and to others so that they can help carry our burdens, like it says in Galatians 6:2, and also have courage to confess their own sins. There's also a promise attached to confessing to others: James tells us to confess our sins to one another "so we can live a life together whole and healed" (James 5:16, The Message).

We're supposed to spur each other on and encourage one other. Confession does that, ultimately pointing us back to Christ. The freedom that comes after you confess to those around you far outweighs any discomfort you feel during the confession. I had to learn that—although painful—confessing my sins regularly to God and others allows Christ's power to rest on me.

But we still fight it. Why is it so difficult for us—even when we've experienced God's grace and power?

Shame and fear are probably the two biggest obstacles. We want to be self reliant, independent. We're all broken, but we don't want to admit that because that shows our weakness and imperfection. And many times we don't want to confess because we know God calls us to change that behavior or attitude, and that's difficult for us.

But there's also the fear of being judged. The church should be the safest place for people to confess, but too often we don't feel safe confessing there because we're afraid we'll be rejected by other Christians.

That's true. And often we have trouble confessing to others because of the fear that we're alone in our sin, which is simply a lie.

Exactly. We have to remember that fear and shame aren't truth. Both are diametrically opposed to what the gospel is. The Scripture is truth. Grace is truth. And so as hard as it is, we have to do the opposite of what fear tells us to do. Fear wants to keep the bad things hidden and encourages us to live lives full of shame, lives lacking purpose, holiness, and purity. And that's not what God intended for us at all.

The fear isn't going to go away, but you can still act courageously in spite of that fear. Satan wants us to be distracted from being reconciled with Christ, so he encourages those lies to root themselves so deeply that it seems impossible to overcome them.

Does it ever get easier to overcome those fears?

In my experience it doesn't ever get easier. It does become more natural, though, once you experience it and give yourself grace. There's no magic formula to make it easy. It's just a matter of gritting down and doing it. But God's offered us two specific promises for our sacrifice of confession: He is merciful to forgive us, and we will live whole and healed.

Are there ever things we shouldn't confess?

No. No. No. Confess things as soon as possible. Be wise with the person you confess them to, but I don't think there's anything that we should keep hidden.

It doesn't matter? Big or small?

Right. It's like we grade what needs to be discussed with other people versus with God. I can just confess something "little" to God and not really talk about it with other people, but I think that's a copout.

It's how we handle those "little" things that make up our integrity. The little things are who we truly are when nobody's looking.

It takes a focused commitment to say "I'm going to make this part of my life. When I mess up I'm going to have people around me I can share this with, who can help me, pray for me, hold me accountable, or just love me." Nothing is secret or hidden, because really bad things grow in the dark. But when we bring those things into the light, God's glory shines. It's also showing a broken world that there's grace and hope beyond their brokenness.

How do we know the best person to confess to?

It doesn't have to be someone in your small group or church, only someone you trust. Your spouse, friend, neighbor, pastor, counselor—somebody you're in relationship with to whom you can say, "This is where I'm screwing up and this is where God's restoring me." Then celebrate that restoration and that you're making a conscious decision to remedy those areas of brokenness in your life. Confession is the beginning of transformation.

What about possible backlash?

I don't think confessing anything in the right time in the right place would ever have a negative impact on us spiritually, although we may face the consequences of our sin. It may be a little idealistic to think that, but God wants us to confess things. So when we do it in a safe place, with the right heart and motivation, I think only good can come from that.

Don't let fear stop you. I know it's scary, but ultimately, it's worth it. The fear isn't going to go away, but you can act courageously in spite of that fear. And I really believe others need you to, so they can have courage to share their confessions too.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Addiction; Confession; Relationships; Sin; Truth
Today's Christian Woman, March , 2010
Posted March 1, 2010

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