October 22, 2020

iMonk Classic: Confession

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
Originally posted Oct 13, 2008

MOD Note: One spiritual practice commanded in Scripture and little emphasized today in evangelical practice is the confession of sins.

1John 1, on the other hand, assumes that this is one of the marks of genuine Christian faith: “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1Jn 1:8-9). In its original context, the contrast spelled out here was between the approach of the Gnostic heretics that were troubling John’s churches and those who were truly trusting Christ. The Gnostic approach? Claim absolute freedom from sin. The Christian approach? Confess our sins.

In today’s classic iMonk post, Michael Spencer exemplifies the proper Christian practice.

Some Christians love to talk about the sins of Obama or gays or the mainstream media, but get really animated when I suggest we need to talk about our own, even if they are listed in the Bible dozens of times. If the Gospel isn’t grabbing you by the real sins in your real life, just exactly what is the Gospel doing for you? Or you with it?

I don’t like the fact that I can give a really good talk on prayer when I rarely pray.

I don’t like it that I can read Matthew 5:23-24 and, as far as I can recall, never take a single step toward obeying it.

I don’t like that I can sin and then condemn someone else’s sin in almost the same breath.

I don’t like it that I’m convinced people need to understand me, but I take so little time to understand others.

I regret that I’ve spent so much of my life seeking to make myself happy in ways that never led to real happiness at all.

I don’t like it that I’ve accumulated so much stuff I don’t need, and I’m so reluctant to give it away.

It causes me real sorrow that I’ve said “I love you” far to little in my life, especially to the people I love the most.

I don’t like the fact that some of my students think I’m a hero, when I’ve done nothing more than be an unprofitable servant.

I hate the difference between what I know and what I do.

I hate the fact that I can use words like “radical” describing what others should do in following Jesus when I’m the first one to want to play it safe.

I don’t like that part of me that thinks everyone should listen to what I say.

I wish I could see myself as God sees me, both in my sinfulness and in the Gospel of Jesus.

I regret using so little of my life’s time, energy and resources for worship and communion with God.

I despise that part of me that always finds fault, and uses that knowledge to put myself above others.

I am embarrassed by the words I use that come so easily from the tongue but have little root in the heart.

I regret taking so few risks in the cause of living a God-filled life.

I despise the shallowness of my repentance for sin that has caused hurt and pain for others.

I don’t like that part of me that can make up an excuse, even lie, almost endlessly in the cause of avoiding the truth and its consequences.

I don’t like that I can talk of heaven in a sermon or at a funeral, but very little of me wants to go there.

I regret that I have loved my arrogant self far than I’ve loved my self humbled in Christ.

I regret that so much good advice, good teaching and good example was wasted on me.

But . . .

I am glad for the endless mercies of the Lord, and the amazing fact that those mercies extend to me, today and every day.

I am glad that Christ my substitute took this sorry life, pathetic obedience and lethargic worship and exchanged it for his perfect righteousness.

I am glad that the Holy Spirit is remaking and raising dead men- even at age 52.

I am glad that one day I will look at all these failures and regrets and they will have been transformed into the very glory of Jesus Christ himself.

I am glad that God has cast the very things I most dislike about myself into the depths of the sea and has removed them as far as the east is from the west.

I am glad that when I return in shame and embarrassment, my Father meets me running, covers me with his gladness and throws me a party in the presence of the naysayers and pharisees.

I am glad that Jesus takes these things I loathe about myself and says “It is finished. Come you good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord. Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I am glad Jesus says “Before I have called you servant, but now I will call you friend.”

I am glad Jesus says “Who condemns you? There is now no condemnation because you are in me and I am in you. If I am for you, who can be against you? Go, and sin no more.”


  1. I like what Michael Spencer said here a lot…
    Yet I have a problem with the practice of confession as practiced in the Roman Catholic Church and here is why:
    as a novice, I had to confess once a week to a monk who also was my novice master. Whatever I told him gave him knowledge and control over me and he took the place of Jesus for it was him forgiving my sins “sacramentally” be it in the name of Jesus…
    In my quest for a ‘good’ church I have encountered many instances where this kind of spiritual abuse exists in protestant churches as well… the temptation to abuse our need for ongoing forgiveness and to turn it into a control mechanism.
    In a Benny Hinn like pentecostal church I did have people ‘pray over me’ for about a year. Among those people were elders of that church and my o my were they friendly and “understanding” toward me…
    Yet when I came up with ideas of my own, they ousted me using all the information they had so diligently gathered during that year…
    I had walked right into the abusive trap again! Can you believe it?
    So: confessing one’s sins to Jesus? Of course. Confessing one’s sins to a minister of some kind? If that person happens to be a close friend why not, but why not someone wholly unrelated to one’s church instead?
    Servant leadership is so extremely rare nowadays.
    Well, that is my response to this classic IMonk post and I am sure there will be others which will be other.

    • I’m sorry to hear you have had such negative experiences of this in your life of faith. I think we’re always going to be at risk with this when humans are involved, yet, we are called to confess our sins to one another as well as to God. I’ve been on the other side of the theological fence, where aside from “public confession of faith”, there were no other encouragements to either confess sins or hear the words of “you are forgiven in Christ” spoken to me. I like having the communal confessions I’ve experienced in liturgy as we both confess and celebrate forgiveness together.
      However, I don’t think we need “professionals” to be involved. It can be a close friend or another believer. Eugene Peterson talks about the “priesthood of the believer” being less about me being my own priest (tho private confession before the Lord is certainly part of this grace) but it is also that we are ALL now called to be priests to and for one another.

      • Christopher Lake says


        As a former Protestant, I used to share your view that we don’t need “professionals” to be involved in the confessing of our sins. In the last year, my view has changed. God is the One who ultimately forgives sin, but I see strong Biblical evidence that God chooses to work through formally ordained men in that process of confession and forgiveness. In that vein, I am wondering what you make of John 20:21-23 (from the ESV translation):

        “21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

        It seems that ordained men, here, are being given permission, by Christ, to forgive and retain the sins of others– sins that have not necessarily been committed against these men themselves. I’d be interested to hear your view on these verses.

  2. Anglo-Catholic here, and coincidentally, I gave private confession for the first yesterday. It was a good experience. It did not offend my formerly Protestant sensibilities as much as I thought it would. I am sorry to here what Hans says about his experience, but that is a terrible abuse. In fact, in the confession literature I have read (Anglo-Catholic, mind you), specifically notes that the use of any information gathered in confession, even if not stated out loud, is considered a violation of the seal and a very, very serious sin on the part of the priest. My priest tells me that he can very seldom remember anything said in confession, and he considers this a supernatural gift.

  3. Buford Hollis says

    Okay, that’ll be ten Hail Marys and fifty push-ups. Vade in pacem.

  4. The Lutherans have kept private confession, but have stripped it of the assigning or works of penance.

    It is a Gospel declaration of the forgiveness of your particular sins. The seal of the Confessional is strictly enforced and Pastors can be defrocked for breaking it.

    The practice has been instrumental in my spiritual life.


  5. Dave and Patrick,
    your posts really appeal to me… an anglo catholic and a lutheran…
    If I go to church it’s to the anglican church here in Holland (there are about 12 expat churches under the bishop of Gibraltar here in Holland, one of which happens to be in my town).
    They assemble in the local lutheran church…. I even considered going there but after I found out their new pastor is a practising homosexual I gave up on that idea… for american standards I might be liberal but I am not that stupid… I know my bible.

    • Hans, the Episcopal Church, the “official” arm of the Church of England in the U.S. is extremely liberal too. I attend a “Continuing” Anglican Church. This term typically refers to those churches which broke off from the Episcopal Church in the ’70s, after the ordination of women. A second wave has also recently broken off of the Episcopal Church after the ordination of active homosexuals, but they can range theologically from Calvinist to Pentecostal.

  6. For me, this confession does not go quite far enough.

    I don’t like it…
    I regret…

    This confession seems to be too focused on me and my good intentions. The deeper problem is that even my intentions are warped by sin to the point that I love my sin more than I love my savior. All I can do is hold up the holy and good law of God as a mirror in which to examine myself and plead helplessness before a holy and merciful God.

    The Lutheran practice of individual confession and absolution has been most helpful as it speaks sweet gospel forgiveness over even my sins, as repulsive and persistent as they are.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      This confession seems to be too focused on me and my good intentions. The deeper problem is that even my intentions are warped by sin to the point that I love my sin more than I love my savior.

      Go too far along that route, Matt, and you will wind up in Excessive Scrupulosity and Final Despair.

      • No doubt. That is why there is such value in confessing my sin and doubt and despair before a confessor who pronounces Christ’s full pardon. I think it is sad that most protestants have such an aversion to speaking clear words of absolution either individually or in the worship service.

  7. “I was wrong” seem to be the three hardest words to say in life, yet are usually the most restorative.