How do you experience the grace of God when you do something wrong? Very often people receive forgiveness as a gift of God’s grace when they become a Christian, but they still find themselves plagued by a sense of guilt or spiritual inadequacy. We can believe we’re saved by grace; but we don’t know how to live in grace. We don’t experience it moment to moment, day to day. This week we’re going to learn how to practice confession in a way that allows us to experience God’s grace, and live in it!

Alright, we’re in a series called Practicing the Way of Jesus, where we’re looking at how we arrange our lives around being with and following Jesus one day at a time.

The foundation is to give up. I surrender my life and my will to the care of God — “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Then, we talked about having my mind renewed with great thoughts, especially by engaging with Scripture.

Then, I don’t go through life on my own power but talk with God constantly, particularly asking, “God, give me the knowledge of your will for this moment and the strength to carry it out.”

Then, we move from me to we — from isolated spiritual living into community with each other.

Last week we talked about leaning in to accountability with one another.

Today, the practice we’re talking about is Confession.


I want to start today by looking with you at a verse that, in my opinion, is one of the pivotal verses in all of the New Testament.

It’s 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.


I became a Christian when I was in high school. I had one of those moments when I realized God loved me and salvation was a gift.

I decided to receive that gift and got baptized a few weeks later as a step of submission and obedience to God, and to mark a turning point in my life.


Well, after that time, when I went off to college, there were periods when I would take a swan dive into some pool of sin.

And whenever I did, I felt terrible about it.

I felt distance in my relationship with God.
I was confused.
Sometimes after I committed a terrible sin, I would spend days questioning my salvation.

My rationale would go something like this: “I can’t possibly be a true Christian and have said or done what I said or did.”

I would actually picture God throwing me out of the family and saying,“You’re not worthy to be my child. Get out!”

Other times I would take a little different approach when I sinned.

I would just beat myself up.
I would carry around guilt and shame.
I’d say, “What were you thinking, you idiot? You knew better than that. You’re no good. You’re underserving of God’s grace.”

Other times I would make wild commitments to God:

I will never do that again.
I’m going to walk closely in step with you this time.
I’m going to stay so far from sin. You watch.
It’s perfection from here on out, I swear, perfection.

And that just set me up for my next fall.


Then, by God’s grace, a mentor challenged me to memorize 1 John 1:9 and kind of helped me understand what it was all about.


And that’s what I want to do in the moments that remain today.

I really want us all to understand how to confess our sin, because as John told the congregation at Ephesus, “You’re going to sin. You better know what to do when you sin, because it’s going to happen.”


So when you sin — when you do something wrong, when you blow it — how do you experience the forgiveness of God?


I’m going to assume that all of us here today know, in our heads, that we can receive forgiveness — it’s a free gift, based solely on God’s grace.

But, very often, people have taken that step — they’ve become Christians, been Christians for years, but they still find themselves plagued by a sense of guilt, or by spiritual inadequacy.


A lot of people believe they‘re saved by grace; but they don’t know how to live in grace. They don’t experience it from moment to moment, day to day.

They live under a kind of a cloud.


And I believe the problem is not a lack of information. I think most all of you here have heard many messages on grace — on the fact that God is a gracious God.

I don’t think you need another message trying to convince you, giving you more information about the fact that God is a gracious God, willing to forgive you.

Intellectually, I believe we all know that.


I believe that people — many people — are missing an indispensable tool for spiritual life.

I believe in our day, for some reason, many of us do not know something.

We don’t know how to do something that spiritually wise people throughout the centuries always knew how to do.


I believe we don’t know how to confess in a way that brings life, and growth, and change.


So my goal is to make this message one of those kind of indispensable messages for spiritual life. My hope is that you return to this over and over again until you learn to live it out.


So today I want to teach you — I want us to learn together — how to practice confession in a way that allows us to experience God’s forgiveness.

And live in it.

To learn from the past
And to be able to let go of it
And to be able to walk forward
And not be defeated by it
But grow towards Christ-centered living


I want to give you kind of a structure that you can use to confess sin, and I want to invite you to make it a part of your life — just a constant, regular part of your life.

And I want to propose it to those of you who maybe never even confess sin.
Or to those of you who just beat yourselves up over it, and think God just wants you to inflict pain on yourself as a kind of penance.


When I was growing up, we had dog named Monty.

When Monty did something wrong, he would run off into a corner and just lay there with his tail between his legs. And he would allow a certain amount of time to elapse, and then he would come back and be his normal self again.

I think a lot of people are like that.

It’s like there’s some period of time when I have to beat myself up because God’s not happy with me now.

And then, when the timer goes off, when my time-out is over, I can be my normal self again.


Well, what I want to do today is build out a plan for confession that will be life-giving and freeing.


And in this plan, there are 5 critically important steps to confession.

The first step is

1. I acknowledge what I’ve done.

I need to acknowledge my sin.

John says it:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us…

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar. (1 John 1:8, 10)

Everyone in here sins.

And this is an important step because in the church, oddly enough, we often pretend it’s not so.


So, I’d like us all to take one step toward acknowledgement today.

I’d like to ask you to turn to the person next to you and say, “Hi, my name is” (whatever your name is) “and I’m a sinner.”

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This is not a time for a detailed confession.


And this is not about you acknowledging that the other person really is a sinner.

It’s just a confession thing.


Alright, now, we need to clear up one real important issue on this point — one real important issue on this business of acknowledging responsibility.

Because some of you may wonder, “Do I still have to confess my sins? If Jesus died, and I received full forgiveness, doesn’t that mean I don’t have to confess sin anymore?”

Does 1 John 1:9 really apply to Christians?


This is very important… so I want to make a distinction here between what might be called “positional forgiveness” and “relational forgiveness.”

Positional forgiveness and relational forgiveness.


As a Christian, my position — my status before God is — I’m saved by grace.

I can have absolute trust in God’s graciousness.
I don’t have to worry about it.
I don’t have to think, “What if I commit a sin during the day, forget about it, and don’t confess it? Am I going to die and not go to heaven?’

We don’t have to worry about that.

God is gracious. My position before him is one who is utterly forgiven — past, present, future.


But, I’m in an ongoing relationship with God.

And sin blocks intimacy anytime it gets into a relationship.

That’s the way any relationship works — when sin has damaged it, there needs to be confession and repentance for reconciliation to take place.


Here’s another way to say this:

I believe

confession is commanded, is very important, not so much because God needs it in order to forgive, but I believe it’s commanded primarily because we need it in order to heal and be changed.

This is so important.

Confession is not just like an accounting procedure.
Confession is not just saying, “That sin was on the debt side of God’s ledger, but I’ve confessed it, so now it’s erased. So I’m done with it.”
It’s not a mechanical thing.

It’s a practice that — when you do it wisely — will help you become transformed.

It’s a tool for growth.

It’s what used to be called, a means for grace, when it’s done right and well.

And, at the heart of it, confession involves owning appropriate responsibility for what I’ve done.


And, often we have an aversion to this. Often, we live without it.

We do this in relationships on a human level.

Often, what starts as a confession ends up as an excuse: “I didn’t mean to yell at you. I had a bad day.”

To confess means to own up to the fact that my behavior was not just the result of bad parenting, or poor genes, or jealous siblings, or a chemical imbalance from eating too many donuts.

All of these things may be involved… because human behavior is a complex thing.

But confession means saying that somewhere in that mix, somewhere was a choice — and that choice was made by me.

And that choice does not need to be excused, explained or understood. It needs to be forgiven, which is something altogether different.

I need to say, “It’s a sin thing.” And it needs to be wiped clean.

I need to acknowledge responsibility.

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Alright, then the next step is:

2. I see what I’ve done.


What happens at this level is: I come to see my sin with new eyes.

I begin to see how it looks in the eyes of the person that I’ve sinned against.
And I begin to see it through the eyes of God.


Now Jesus often spoke about the need for this.

In Matthew 7:1 Jesus says:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use,

it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

Now just go with this metaphor of Jesus for a moment.

Imagine having a plank of wood in your eye — not a speck, not a grain of dust, not a twig — imagine having a log in your eye the size of a canoe.

This is what Jesus was talking about.


Now, which of your senses would be affected?

Apparently, we don’t have many optometrists in our midst. Anybody want to guess? There’s only five senses.

Your eyesight.

It’s a perception problem that Jesus is addressing.


Jesus is talking to religious people here.

They see the sins of prostitutes and cheaters and so on, and they have nothing to do with them.

And they’re proud of their spiritual superiority.

They’re in denial about their behavior. And they need to take the plank out.

Then they will be able to see their behavior.

And here’s what will happen. These judgmental, religious leaders will be able to say, “Now I see the truth about my actions.

“When I was self-righteous and distant — when I was superior to prostitutes and to cheats — I wasn’t really holding up the banner for righteousness, as I thought. I was just feeding my own smugness and pride.

“I’m not loving these people. These sinners that I’ve been distancing myself from are more loving than I am — they are more righteous than I am.

“And I’ve been tearing them away from God, not leading them to him.

“God help me.”

That’s taking the plank out of your eye.


This step is about seeing your sin through the lens that God sees it.

And this is needed for all sin — anger, lust, deception, you name it.

I need to see my sin through the eyes of the one that I’ve sinned against. And through the eyes of God.


Now, there are two very important questions to keep in mind at this step.

And, if you’re taking notes, I’d urge you to write these down, because again, I really do want to encourage you to use this as a structure as you confess sin — as a means of receiving and living in grace.


One question to ask in confession is:

When I’m aware of sin in my life — and again, you ask yourself these questions without beating yourself up for it. You kind of ask them as you would another person.

And we do all of this in grace.

First question is:

1. Why did I do it?

In other words, I lied to avoid getting in trouble.
Or, I gossiped about this person, because I was jealous of him, or because I feel hurt and insignificant, or whatever it is.

Why did I do it?

And Number 2:

2. What was the result?

What happened as a result of my actions?

I lied.

Now I feel guilty.
And there’s a breach in my relationship with this other person.
And I feel distant from God.
And I’m more likely to lie that next time… and so on.

You just, very calmly, in grace, ask those two questions.


When you do this, you begin to learn. You become more sensitive about how subtle and deep sin is. You see sin that you never saw before.

This, by the way, I think is why Paul talked about himself being the first of all sinners.

A key sign of spiritual growth is: you become aware enough of your own sin that you stop judging other people.


You know… when you live in grace, graciously, in the awareness of your brokenness and your humble dependence on the cross, it’s pretty hard to go around judging other people.


Alright, this step has to do with seeing my sin from God’s perspective and from the person I sinned against — I see what I’ve done.

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And then the third step is:

3. I experience brokenness over what I’ve done.

Confession is not just an exchange of information. And I want to explain this one carefully, so just bear with me for a few moments.

It involves entering into the pain of the one I hurt and entering into God’s pain over sin.

Take a look at James, chapter 4:

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
James 4:8-10

Now I used to think of this as a pretty depressing couple of verses.

Yet, they’re a great gift.


Wise writers about the spiritual life have written that when you begin praying a prayer of confession, and if you find a kind of a dryness inside you — a kind of apathy — it’s appropriate to ask God for the gift of tears.

So that you experience some of the pain of the other person and of God.


In other words, let’s say if I hurt one of my kids — I yell at them and wound them.

And then I realize what I’ve done.

If I go to them and say, “I wounded you deeply.” But I don’t share any of their pain over it — something is off with me.


I can’t force that — I can’t make myself feel bad — nor should I try to.

But if my heart is working right — if I’ve wounded someone, and then I confess to them, there’ll be an emotional part of that.


Now, as soon as I say that, I need to balance that with another statement, another reminder for people who tend to beat themselves up too much — confession is meant to be an act of grace. It can only be done safely in the context of grace.


Some of you don’t just take responsibility for your guilt, you take responsibility for everyone’s guilt.

It helps to know what your tendency is.


I want to talk about this for a moment.


Scott Peck writes that the human race can be divided into one of two categories — you’re either neurotic, or you’re a character disorder.

Everyone falls on either one side or the other.

If you’re neurotic, you live under an inordinate amount of guilt.

You feel responsible for everything.
A minor social faux-pa makes you feel like a huge failure.
You’re sure that all your marriage difficulties are your fault.
All your kids’ problems are the result of your inadequate parenting.
You feel guilty about not praying enough.
You feel guilty about not reading the Bible enough.
And you’re pretty sure our president would do much better at his job if it weren’t for you.

Now, that’s if you’re on the neurotic side of the line.


If you fall on the character disorder side, you’re just the opposite.

You have a tendency to blame other people, even when it’s your fault.
You cut people off on the freeway of life, and then ask them where they learned how to drive.
You tend to be skeptical and cynical when it comes to others.
You have to force yourself to do introspection.

That’s if you’re on the character disorder side.


I want to see how we’re distributed here.

How many of you, just based on that quick sketch, how many of you would say: “I’m neurotic.”


How many of you are not sure? Okay, you’re neurotic.


How many of you know someone who’s neurotic? Okay, you’re a character disorder.


Now, here’s the deal: if you tend to take on too much guilt, then, as you confess, you need to lean heavily into grace.

You need to constantly remind yourself that forgiveness is not based on the adequacy of your confession, but on God’s loving faithfulness. Just as soon as you confess, He’s faithful to forgive. You’ve got to lean into grace.


But if you tend to push away guilt — if you tend not to think about it, not experience it —then you need to push yourself to be ruthlessly honest about sin. You need to push yourself to name it for what it is.

I lied.
I stole.
I lusted.
I slandered.

If you fall on that side — if confession works right — it will involve a certain amount of pain.

But, it’s not pain in the sense that God wants you to beat yourself up for a long time, and then, eventually, he feels good because you beat yourself up.

What it simply involves is, coming to see sin in such a way, and have your heart aligned in such a way, that you say:

“Man, I wish I could have that one back. I don’t want to be that kind of person. I don’t want to do that kind of thing. I love you too much. I acknowledge what I did to you.”

And that kind of pain begins the healing process; it really does.

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Alright, the next step — step 4 is:

4. I commit to change.


Here’s what’s going on at this step:

You’ve acknowledged responsibility.
You’ve worked to see it from the eyes of the person that you’ve hurt… and from God’s eyes.
You’ve asked the key questions: Why did I do it? What was the result?
You’ve entered into the pain of the one that you’ve sinned against. So, you have this deep desire not to do this hurtful thing again… because you’re learning and growing.

It’s kind of like a great football team that goes back over film because they want to learn; they want to grow.

Well, confession is partly about that same thing. But people who don’t know that — they’re just trapped; they never grow beyond it.


Okay, now, you feel a deep desire not to do this hurtful thing again, so you make a commitment — I resolve that with God’s help, I will change.

This may involve setting right what I did wrong.
It may involve making reparations.


The story of Zaccheus in scripture is a good example of this.

Jesus comes; He brings forgiveness — he brings grace to Zaccheus; and Zaccheus comes to a point of commitment.

He says, “I’m going to pay back anyone that I’ve cheated four times over. And I’m going to give half of all my possessions away to the poor.”

This is making a commitment to change.


Now the acid test in confession and repentance is — and you recognize this in your relationships with other people — when they say they’re sorry. The acid test is:

Am I about damage control, or am I about setting things right?


And I’m sure you’ve experience this.

You know what it’s like in someone’s spirit when they’re just trying to minimize the damage and contain it.

As opposed to when they say:

“I want to set things right. Not because I’m trying to earn God’s forgiveness — that’s a free gift of grace — but because I want to receive His grace to become a new kind of person. And I want to be about what God is about, which is: the turning around — the redemption of pain and evil and suffering.”

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Let me ask you a question: how many times over the last — let’s say 25 years — has a politician been forced to leave office because of misbehavior, wrongdoing — a sin thing?

And how many times have you heard a politician say something like this:

“I’ve done wrong. I’ve disgraced my office and breached the trust of those I was called to serve. I’m ashamed of my behavior, and I will, therefore, resign and devote my efforts to setting right the wrongs I’ve done.”

How many times have you heard that over the last 25 years?

I think this nation would weep or applaud or both if we heard someone, just once, confess.

But instead, what happens?

“I know: I may have made a misjudgment. Lots of other people do it.”


This is from a book by Neal Plantinga:

“Sixteen women charged a U.S. senator with flagrant sexual harassment. The senator’s response was typical and revealing.

“He first denied the charges outright. He then attacked the credibility of his accusers. Next, he issued an extraordinary apology.

“Faced with charges that, for years, he had been kissing and groping his staff members — sometimes attempting to remove their clothing while standing next to them — faced with such charges, from sixteen women, the senator declared he had never intended to make anyone uncomfortable.

“Still, he advised the media, he would seek professional help to see if his alleged behavior was related to his use of alcohol.”

Then Plantinga writes,

Here is an apology of major, almost metaphysical elusiveness:

According to the senator, nothing happened; but, in any case, he meant no harm by it;

and regardless, he might have been loaded at the time, and so missed the significance of the the nonevent in question.


Now what’s going on with this guy?

Well, look at all the steps in confession:

He doesn’t acknowledges what he’s done — he takes no responsibility.
There is no new perception of what he’s done — he doesn’t see how these women feel as a result of what he’s done.
There is no pain that gets expressed over the wrong that has happened.
And there’s no repair — no commitment to change, or to make right what he’s done that’s wrong, or to become a better person.

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Okay, so you walk through these levels.

I acknowledge what I’ve done
I see what I’ve done — from the eyes of the person I wronged… or God’s eyes.
I’m broken over what I’ve done — there’s a level of pain, I feel it.
I make a commitment to change.

And then, the final step — what confession is all about — what got us to begin the process in the first place is the same thing we experience in the end — and that’s grace.

The fifth step is:

5. I experience God’s grace.

Grace is the start of confession.

I confess because God is a gracious God — he’s gracious at the beginning of the whole process.

And he’s gracious at the end of it.


And John wants to make sure we understand that — so he gives us two beautiful pictures of God’s graciousness right at the beginning of the second chapter:

But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

“But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate.”

Advocate is a term often used of the Spirit — sometimes translated, “comforter.”

But it was also used in the first century as a legal term — a kind of friend of the court.

And the idea is that Jesus is interceding for me — not because God is reluctant to forgive so Jesus has to talk Him into it…

But that Jesus Himself, who is in intimate relationship with the Father, is your advocate.


And John’s intent is just to say:

“If there’s any shadow of doubt in your mind about the graciousness of God, then just reflect for a while on the fact that He has provided an intercessor — that Jesus, God’s son, in intimate relationship with God the Father, is your friend…

Jesus, who is the Righteous One, John says, is interceding on your behalf.


Now you just need to reflect on that — think for a moment about Jesus, the One who really lived and died and was raised again…

He’s interceding right now for you.


So how are you going to go and tell Him, “Sorry, Jesus, I don’t think You’re an adequate intercessor. I better beat myself up for a while more.”

How can you do that?


And then, John says, if that’s not enough — look again at verse 1:

But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

And then this picture just goes beyond all human comprehension:

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.


And this, too, brings to John’s readers a very definite picture.

Leviticus, chapter 16, talks about what’s called the day of atonement —

Once a year, the chief priest would go into the holy place, the holy of holies, and offer blood from the sacrifice — a goat or a bull would have been sacrificed as a sin offering, expressing the punishment that was due because of sin — the gap that stands between us and God because of it.

The chief priest would go in once a year, take the blood of the sacrifice, and pour it out over what was called the mercy seat… or the covering of the ark of the covenant.

And John says, “There was a time when that happened once a year, and it was the blood of an animal.

“But now, Jesus Christ, the righteous one, your advocate, isn’t just interceding — not just a marvelous teacher and wonderful friend, although He is all of that —

“Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, went to the cross, and He shed His blood — not the blood of a goat or a bull — the blood of the spotless lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

“And that blood was poured out to atone for the sins of His people; it was poured out for you.


“So,” John says, “you, who are the recipient of the blood of Jesus — you don’t have to gouge yourself — God does not want or need you to bleed.

“The blood has already been shed. So just bask in the cleansing and forgiveness that is a gift of God.”

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And I’ll tell you something:

If you will just begin to practice walking through these 5 steps… you’re going to find that you begin to grow, and you begin to learn and be transformed — and sin that used to trouble you ceases to trouble you.


And, probably the most wonderful thing you’ll discover is — you’re just walking in grace.

That you haven’t just been saved by grace; you’re living in it — it’s as real and tangible to you as the air you breathe.

We were meant to live like that. You can live like that.


Alright, let’s pray as the team comes to lead us in a closing song.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA