“Confession” isn’t exactly a buzzword around Protestant Christian circles. In fact, you probably shudder when you hear it don’t you? Inevitably, when you hear the word you might immediately think of the Catholic practice of confession in a booth, to a priest, a certain number of times a week, or whatever. And that’s unfortunate; because if we are going to truly live better together while following Jesus, confession is not just an optional thing you do when you feel like it or when it is convenient. In fact, as Bonhoeffer explains in the last chapter of Life Together, confession is at the root of the Gospel and something is missing if it is not in our life, at some point.
“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, although they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship… So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.” (110)
Harsh words from the pastor-theologian… but so true.
We’ve almost become accustomed to sin in our culture as if it were the norm. And to a large degree, it is. But we would never let anyone else know that, now would we? You hear it all the time. “How are you doing today?” “Oh, I’m fine…” You know full well not everyone who says they are “fine,” is fine. We’re all carrying some sort of baggage. Yes, even into church. In fact, especially into church. In my opinion, the church should be the safest place in the world to be yourself. However, so many times it is the opposite. Too often, we make church to be the place where you have to have it all together, or at least look like you do. But is this really all there is to this Jesus thing? Surely there has to be more, right? I think so.
The reason I believe life is better together is because simply living life together and being forthcoming with one another about our doubts, downfalls, hurts, habits, and hang-ups, directly combats sin. I know, that’s not necessarily a comfortable word, either. But, I think we can all acknowledge we’re not perfect. We fall short. The problem is how we do so. Not all of us are so open about that. And when we hide it, that’s when sin begins to creep in.
Sin isolates. It makes us feel as though we are helpless, alone, insufficient, etc. Sin separates us from community and when it succeeds in this, it separates us from God. There is an unspoken myth among the Christian community that being a devoted follower of Jesus simply means you are good at “hiding” your sin. We can act like we have it all together all we want, but our hearts will never change if we do. And if those don’t change, how can we expect our Church communities to change?
Bonhoeffer goes on,
“Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed, it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession, the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.” (112)
We have to start being honest with who we really are and we need to “bring confession back.” Not just the sins we feel “safe” confessing, but being completely vulnerable because we actually believe the Gospel is true and Jesus is who he says he is. The Good News of Jesus is not that we can now act like we are sinless, but that Christ died for those who are sinful. As Paul says,
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8
If I’m not really sinful and I continue to hide my shortcomings, then there is no good news here. But if we know ourselves by what Jesus has already done on the Cross, we can experience the true joy of living better together, because we aren’t hiding who we are anymore. When we’re exposed to our sin, we can all the more confidently proclaim, “Jesus is Lord.” This is what it means to “carry the cross.” But this is also what it means to live in what Paul refers to as “the new creation.”
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! – 2 Corinthians 5:17
So here’s what I leave you with as we close our series on Better Together and finish our journey through Bonhoeffer: live in that new creation. Live better together. Don’t hide who you are anymore and find that person, or persons, in your life to whom you can be completely honest and forthcoming, and they to you. Through relationships like this, we can all begin to echo the famous verse,
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:55-57