In conjunction with Tenth Presbyterian Church's 2010 Urban Ministry Conference, Sex in the City (3/5-7), the members of Tenth's pastoral staff and HarvestUSA will discuss issues of sex and sexuality in our culture. A list of the topics we will be discussing is available here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Need freedom from darkness? Step into the light…, by Rev. David White

There was a time when interpersonal confession was a central part of the Christian faith. Confessing to your priest continues to be an important aspect in Roman Catholicism. Sadly, in most quarters of Protestantism, the centrality of formal confession has been jettisoned, replaced with a “just between me and Jesus” approach. Now, I understand the Protestant reaction against the distortions in Catholicism. Because we have a Great High Priest who lives forever interceding for his people, we no longer need a human mediator. Indeed, there is only “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). A human priest cannot offer absolution for sins and assessing our sins with forms of penance flies in the face Christ’s finished work on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. But as we approach the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Reformation, I suggest that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. Realizing that we no longer need the institutional church to approach God, much of 21st century American Evangelicalism has lost perspective on the corporate reality of our faith, particularly true in the case of confession.

Most Christians have memorized 1 John 1:9. It is often claimed as a simple formula for receiving forgiveness. Now, it surely affirms God’s goodness and mercy and readiness to forgive, but it is teaching us so much more. Look at the verse in its larger context – “5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But 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. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” In verse 3, John states that part of his purpose in writing is “so that you too may have fellowship with us.” The passage is radically corporate. Notice that he uses the 1st person plural throughout. In this short passage, God shows us the first steps on the road to freedom from our struggles with sin.

First, he is calling us to be honest, to come clean with the messy areas in our life. This is the only way to be free from your struggles with sexual sin. Most of us are ruthlessly committed to keeping these things hidden. Misinterpreting 1 John 1:9, we believe that our personal confession guarantees freedom. I heard a great quote, “If you want to stay stuck in your sin, confess it only to God. If you want to overcome it, confess it to someone else.” What does it mean to walk in darkness? In the context of this passage, it means to live falsely before others, to live a life of hypocrisy and pretense. So the passage describes that we lie to others, deceive ourselves and even make God out to be a liar.

The cross makes abundantly clear that we are in desperate need of radical, divine intervention. Nothing short of sacrificing the Son of God can atone for our sin. Acknowledging this need is the entrance into the Christian life, but then a subtle shift happens in our heart. After being a Christian for a while, we get the sense we should be beyond all those struggles. People come to church wearing a mask, presenting a façade, walking in darkness as they hide the truth of who they are in secret. The gospel proclaims that your sins are atoned for and invites you to be ruthlessly honest about your struggles with sin as you rest in the finished work of Christ. We must be committed to a life of exposure, not hiding in the bushes, covered with fig leaves.

The passage makes two promises to those who “walk in the light.” First, we experience genuine fellowship with others in the Body. I know that you’ve had the experience of walking into church pretending everything’s fine, when things in your life are a mess. It’s brutally isolating, isn’t it? Rather than being encouraged by your time in worship, you leave feeling discouraged. God, knowing the worst things about you and dealing with them through Christ, invites you to experience genuine intimacy through letting others in, allowing them to truly know your heart. All of us long for this…and fear it because of our shame. In Christ, we have the love and acceptance of our Creator, and a reciprocal blessing is to allow others to truly know us. There is risk. You may be judged. You need wisdom regarding with whom to share your struggles. But know this: your willingness to be open with your sin is a tangible expression of your grasp of the gospel. It reveals to what extent your hope is truly in the covering of Christ, or where you continue to cling to “fig leaves” and the darkness of “appearances.”

Finally, there is a beautiful promise: those who walk in the light through public confession are cleansed from their sin! Although there is more entailed in life-changing repentance, this is the utterly necessary first step to freedom. The Christian life is about finding freedom from the sins that dog us. Jesus really is faithful to cleanse. He offers us radical life transformation, but it will only happen if we are willing to be exposed first. He was taken outside the city, stripped naked and killed in the darkness for us, so that we would have the freedom to step into the light, clothed in his righteousness. Will you risk it?

For a fuller discussion on this issue go here.

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