Is confession all that matters in recovery? If we continue to admit our faults and failures, is that enough to live a life of ongoing purity, or is there more to the equation of freedom than simply admitting time and again that we are broken and imperfect? I propose that confession is only half of the equation when it comes to living each day in sexual purity.
Repentance is the ‘other half’ of this coin of recovery.
Confession is certainly necessary for recovery to begin, and even to move forward. To confess is to agree with truth. We confess that we are not perfect (true). We confess that we have a problem with lust – or whatever the particular struggle may be (true). We confess that we need help and cannot overcome our faults and failures alone (true). We confess each time our thoughts or actions do not match up with what God has said is good or right, and in so doing we agree with truth. Confession is an honest assessment and expression of reality. But confession alone does not change behavior. No, confession invites the forgiveness and cleansing of God on to our broken lives, but it is repentance that ultimately changes the course of our recovery over the long haul.
I used to think that if I just got really good at confessing my faults and failures as quickly as possible to when they occurred that I would become a different man. Unfortunately, all I learned from such a venture was how desperately wicked my sinful nature was and how often I must confess. Nothing seemed to change, at least not in significant, lasting ways. I just confessed and confessed and confessed. Mostly, I just confessed the same failures over and over again. This didn’t seem like progress (I’m not the brightest kid in the class, but I can deduce that repeating the same failures does not equal positive growth). Each confession did bring about a cleansing, a sort of “start-over-point” as promised by God (1 John 1:9), but this didn’t seem to do much for gaining traction in overcoming these vice-like sins. There always seemed to be an ‘ingredient’ missing in acquiring the long-term victory my heart craved.
Then I discovered the key to gaining ground against the ever-chasing pull of lust: applying the practice of repentance.
Repentance is the process of turning away from anything opposed to truth. Repentance provides the balance to confession. We confess to agree with truth, and then we repent to turn away from the opposing thought, belief, or action that prompted the confession. Through repentance we train our minds and hearts to focus on that which leads to life and freedom: truth (John 8:32). And as we continually turn toward truth we experience the power of God unleashed on the false thoughts, beliefs, and actions that seek to pull us again into darkness, shame, and despair.
One of the biggest challenges to repentance is pride. We truly believe we know what is best for our lives, even if it may be killing us. We think we can reason our way out of the lustful trap we are caught in, rather than surrendering ourselves, through repentance, to the truth of God’s Word and His ways. Pride is an ugly beast, but so often goes unrecognized as we wiggle and squirm out of the loving invitation of repentance and new way of life. But to become a new person, a free, pure child of God, we must die to our pride and invite, even embrace, the path of repentance.
Another harmful opponent to repentance is minimizing our sin. We deceive ourselves into believing that our problems aren’t as big as they really are and that we can successfully manage our sexuality without anybody’s help (minimizing and pride often travel together). We say we have a ‘little’ problem with porn or that we ‘aren’t hurting anyone.’ The longer we play with the fires of pride and minimizing the further we drift from repentance and the more we will suffer the consequences (Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Prov. 6:27).
Does confession matter in recovery? Absolutely! But without repentance, confession only serves to perpetually wash over the same stain again and again without ever effectively seeking to remove it. Repentance, therefore, compliments confession by guiding us toward the proper focus and perspective once we receive the refreshing cleansing brought about by humble, honest confession. May you allow your times of confession to remind you to take the additional step toward long-term freedom by also repenting. This is the path to true and lasting freedom…
For help on this subject please see Every Man’s Battle.