But how does it work?
I’m writing more, bloggingly speaking, than I have in a very long time. I think I know why, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about diagnosing something that works really well.
As most of you might have even grown tired of right now, I am currently in a season where I have been plunged into an ocean of grace, head first, and am breathing deep, liquid gulps of it. Last night, as is every Tuesday night, was Theology at Immanuel. So we studied, we talked, we walked in the light, we paid honor to each other, and we sang the doxology. But what I want to zoom in on today is the why behind the what.
I have discussed what happens with regard to walking in the light, but here’s a refresher:
1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (ESV)
So I confess my sin to a brother, he prays for me without offering me a “fix” of good advice, and then I do the same for him. It’s simple.
So why does it work? Why on earth does something this simple actually do anything?
The other night, after a particularly long day of travel, I set my oatmeal-like brain on the topic and did a quick sort of stream of consciousness pontification. In this little brainstorm the big question I was looking for came to me:
Why does this version of confession work, and differ, from every other form I have been involved in?
So then I began thinking through those other iterations of confession/repentance I have been involved in. And I realized something that was missing from them: rhythm.
I was saved while I was trying to go to a seeker style church.
I then tried to join an Acts29, reformed church.
When we couldn’t, because of geographical constraints, we tried to become members of a Presbyterian church.
We couldn’t do that because, to be honest, we weren’t as in love with being Presbyterians as others in that body were. (No judgment against them, but we were moving at the time and it just wasn’t working.)
I then became a Baptist. (gasp)
I then went back to my non-denominational roots when planting a church.
And now I am back where I began after my salvation, in an Acts29 church. (This is not really a chiasm, I just thought it was a fun layout.)
I lay all that out because I never, not once, in any of those churches, dealt with sin the way I do here, now. Not one time. This isn’t a failing of these other churches, I don’t think. I think it’s more a product of culture than any intentional or unintentional malice.
In the vast majority of American, Evangelical churches, confession and repentance are reactionary, not intentional rhythms.
We confess and repent when one of two things happens:
- In mercy, we can no longer stomach the guilt and shame of our sin.
- We get caught.
So we carry our sin around with us all the time, waiting for one event or the other to overwhelm our resistance. Why? Because in scenario one, my sin has to be “bad” enough to convince me the shame of revealing it is worth it. My pride and my vanity both conspire to push me away from confession and repentance. In scenario two, I confess and repent because someone knows now, just how bad I really am.
So instead of taking regular, rhythmic actions against my sin in an active combat style, I take a reactionary approach where I or circumstance decide when I have finally had “enough” sin.
But wait, there’s more.
So the regular, rhythmic breathing out of my sin and breathing in of grace and forgiveness is one part, but it’s not where it ends. My brother then prays for me, for me to be free. And! He specifically does not try to fix it. So what does this do?
It makes both of us totally reliant on the Holy Spirit to do the work. I can’t stand on my ability to suck it up and get better. I can’t stand on his ability to offer me the best advice and counsel. No, we’re both just saying what’s true: I’m a sinner in need of a savior, he’s my brother, asking my Father for help for me. These are true and totally defeat all the things wrong with both my ability to get it right or to make it better.
This is strikingly different than the Roman Catholic view because, though there is structured, regular confession in Catholicism, there is also a set of steps to make it right with God in order to earn forgiveness. In Walking in the Light, my forgiveness isn’t mediated by anyone but Jesus and my forgiveness is the assumption, going in, not dependent on me doing something to secure it.
So in a way, Walking in the Light is a messy, beautiful representation of the presence of the trinity in working to make me more like God. I come because God the Father’s will is to make me more like the Son through the power of the Spirit. I rely on God the Father’s judgment of my sin, the Son’s work of atonement for my sin, and the Holy Spirit’s work to assure me of pardon from my sin.
And that, my friends, is stunningly beautiful.