C. S. Lewis said, “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.”1 To make progress in our sanctification, we have to acknowledge that we have turned off God’s path. In confession, we can do no good apart from God.
We all like to think that we know where we are and where we are headed. To admit to ourselves or to others that we’ve made a wrong turn means to admit to weakness and vulnerability. But to ignore our sin is to live in lies. It distances us from God, from others, and even from ourselves. It distances us from what God has for us. Only through confession can we get back on God’s path of life.
Confession: Recognizing the Truth
In Luke 18, two men stand before God. The first man polishes his goody-two-shoes badge, smirking at the dismal man before him. He hides the depth of his own sin from God and from himself, trapping himself in a prison of his own making, like the witch who locks herself up in her own tower at the end of Rapunzel.
The second man confesses to God that he is a sinner. He recognizes the truth about himself, and this truth sets him free. No longer does he have to pretend to God, to others, or to himself. No longer does he need to keep up some false image. No longer does he need to plod forward on an increasingly thorny and ominous path. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” he cries, and in this confession, he discovers freedom (Luke 8:13). He recognizes who he is, and he recognizes his need for God’s mercy. And God exalts him.
We must also confess our sins to those we have hurt. To love one’s neighbor includes healing wounds we’ve inflicted. When we’ve sinned against a brother or sister in Christ, these wounds tear at the very body of Christ, which hinders our worship of God. Jesus tells us, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23–24). Our humbleness—our recognition of who we truly are—is not only before God but before others too, just as our sanctification is not just our growth in Jesus; but our growth in the body of Christ.
1C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 36.