“So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16
At this point, while we’re still working through Principle four, “Openly examine and confess my faults to myself, to God and to someone I trust,” we now inch forward to Step five, “We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” At first glance those two appear to be alternate ways of saying the same thing but the key difference is found in the latter statement due to the word exact. No fudging allowed. Webster’s defines the adjective “exact” as (1) characterized by, requiring, or capable of accuracy of detail. (2) Leaving no room for error or doubt. You may ask, “Why are you spending so much time on the moral inventory deal? Do you think I’m dense?” No way. The fact that you’re reading this puts you far ahead of the multitudes that think everything there is to know about a subject can be encapsulated in a Twitter posting. As I expressed in an earlier chapter this is the phase of recovery where a high percentage of people throw up their hands and drop out so it’s important that an understanding of what’s at stake is achieved before, during and after writing down your inventory. For some it turns out to be an incredibly cathartic and cleansing experience while for many it’s the one thing they can’t bring themselves to do. In another sense it’s what effectively separates those who’re sincere about wanting to change and receive the new life that Jesus offers from those who’re basically going through the motions in order to give the appearance of attempting to straighten up and fly right. The leaders at Celebrate Recovery have no way of determining a person’s true motives so we treat each man or woman who darkens our door the same. You don’t even have to tell us why you showed up. Our job is to sow seeds, not judge the quality of the soil they take root in. We figure you can fool us, your spouse or significant other as well as your family and friends but you can’t fool your Father in heaven who knows your heart better than you do. So admit your faults honestly.
Confessing your sins to God isn’t a matter of whether or not you will but when. Paul quoted from Isaiah in Romans 14:11; “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.’ Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Reminds me of the bygone ad wherein a car repairman talks about motor oil. “You can pay me now or you can pay me later,” he shrugs. Reconcile yourself to the knowledge that your court date with God is set in stone and it’s to your advantage to establish a tight relationship with Him beforehand. Confession is as old as Adam. While the Catholic church insists that one’s admittance of sin must be done in the presence of a priest, protestants teach a less restrictive doctrine that implies any fellow believer is qualified. I won’t jump into that debate but I reckon God’s concern is less with the mechanics involved and a lot more with how genuine it is. If you think you can outsmart the great I AM the only person being buffaloed is you. Saint Augustine wrote, “In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You.” It’s God’s desire that you come clean about your past. While he warns us against casting our pearls before slanderous swine He also urges us to dare to be vulnerable and open up to those who’ve earned our trust. Proverbs 28:13-14 contains valuable wisdom: “The one who covers his transgressions will not prosper, but whoever confesses them and forsakes them will find mercy. Blessed is the one who is always cautious, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into evil.” It takes guts and perseverance along with the power of Christ to tear down the barrier our pride has erected around our hearts and minds so that we can admit to another the exact nature of our sins. Humility is necessary to reap the full profits of confession. Saint Faustina wrote, “A soul does not benefit from confession if it is not humble. Pride keeps it in darkness. The soul neither knows how, nor is it willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own misery. It puts on a mask and avoids everything that might bring it recovery.” The CR ministry is all about removing masks and sometimes it feels like our skin comes off with it. But Jesus never said anything would be a breeze this side of heaven, repentance included. The reality is that revealing our entire unedited history to another person takes all the bravery we can muster. Pope John Paul II said, “Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.” David expressed it well in Psalm 32:3-5; “There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was. But my dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration… My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, ‘I will confess them to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.”
That’s one of the gifts you get by completing the moral inventory phase of recovery; the opportunity to become guilt-free! Yet some folks come down with what I call post-inventory remorse. Guilt can be a Grizzly. According to cartoonist Bill Watterson, “There’s no problem so awful that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse.” But when you accept Christ into your heart there’s no need to glance over your shoulder because all your transgressions have been forgiven. Even though you (and the rest of us) continually fall way short of being worthy of salvation, we’re told in Romans 3:24 that we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Your criminal record as a rebellious sinner has been purged from the books. Romans 8:1 confirms it: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Sound too good to be true? Believe it. It’s astonishing and some find it very difficult to accept but we must understand that without God’s forgiveness we’d be lost in the dark, doomed to spend eternity separated from God’s light. No one is beyond the reach of our Lord’s mercy. Charles Stanley wrote, “Perhaps you’ve been ensnared by a sinful habit that you will not abandon, and your guilt is so overwhelming you’re ashamed to approach Christ. Whatever the reason for your broken intimacy with God, there is good news. Jesus waits to embrace you now in the arms of unconditional, divine love.” No doubt you’ve heard the devil’s lie that time heals all wounds but don’t be bamboozled by that creep. I quote C.S. Lewis: “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin.” Truth be known, Christ is the only remedy. 2 Corinthians 5:19 states, “For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out.” Accepting the truth about Jesus will not only set you free but He’ll also heal you of your hurts, hang-ups and habits. You’ll be enabled to become the man or woman God intended you to be all along. As someone exclaimed recently in a CR small group meeting, “For the first time in my life I’m not ashamed to be who I am!” I couldn’t have said it any better than that.
Guilt has two sides, though. Forgiveness of sins committed against God Almighty is dispensed the second we pray to Him for it and it’s an exhilarating moment. The other side of guilt may not disappear so quickly. One of the biggest challenges people in recovery can face is finding out how to forgive themselves. I struggled mightily with that issue. With the glory and grace of Christ abiding in my soul it only made sense to exonerate everyone who trespassed against me and grant them a full pardon. All grudges and bad blood evaporated into thin air because they held no appeal for me anymore. The only person I couldn’t let off the hook was me. I knew all too well the injuries my sins had inflicted on others and how they’d suffered because of my actions. Not only that but, as Voltaire wrote, “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.” Those bitter memories haunted me like a room full of ghosts. I put God’s forgiveness of my debts in one column and forgiveness for myself in another. When my Heavenly Father poured His absolution on me it was warm and comforting but when I tried to douse it on my own head it burned like scalding-hot water. For example, every time I looked in my wife’s gorgeous hazel eyes I could see the hurt that I personally put in them. I continued to hold myself in contempt until someone pointed out that I was literally placing my judgment of what was forgivable above God’s. It had never occurred to me that I was bowing down to my own opinion. N.D. Wilson wrote, “Self-loathing and self-worship can easily be the same thing. You hate the small sack of fluids and resentments that you are but you would go to any length, and betray anything and anyone, to preserve it.” My irreverent pride was photo-bombing the portrait of me and God. What I thought about myself was more important than what my Heavenly Father thought of me. That was not only absurd but the epitome of conceit. I soon wised up and stopped making payments on a debt that didn’t exist anymore. I like what Cheri Huber wrote: “If you had a person in your life treating you the way you treat yourself, you would have gotten rid of them a long time ago.”
I’ve found that many born-again Christians have trouble forgiving themselves like I did. Part of a book entitled “Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life” by Wendy Mass includes a profound passage that impacted me. “’A fight is going on inside me,’ said an old man to his son. ‘It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on inside you.’ The son thought about it for a minute and then asked, ‘Which wolf will win?’ The old man replied simply, ‘The one you feed.’” I’ve found other tidbits of wisdom, as well. Jerry Bridges wrote, “We tend to drag up our old sins and we tend to live under a vague sense of guilt… We are not nearly as vigorous in appropriating God’s forgiveness as He is in extending it. Consequently, instead of living in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness, we live under an overcast sky of guilt most of the time.” An anonymous quip goes, “Forgiveness of self is impossible until you stop longing for a better past” and Aldous Huxley observantly wrote, “Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.” But it was the Bible that helped me more than anything else to overcome my self-indicting mindset. I finally took to heart what 1 John 1:9 clearly teaches: “But if we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins, because we can trust God to do what is right. He will cleanse us from all the wrongs we have done.” I also found solace in the poignant adage that says, “Forgive yourself for the wrong choices that you’ve made in the past. They are not evidence of who you are, they are evidence of who you were.”
Until you develop a healthy self-worth and allow it to emerge from the cell of your own guilt you’ll never know the freedom that Jesus has handed you on a silver platter. Freedom is a universal longing but there’s only one source of it; Christ. Psalm 107:13-14 reads, “They cried out to the Lord in their troubles, and he rescued them! He led them from the darkness and the shadow of death and snapped their chains.” Keep in mind freedom doesn’t mean you’re immune from the consequences of decisions you make as well as what you do and say. George Macdonald wrote, “Free will is not the liberty to do whatever one likes, but the power of doing whatever one sees ought to be done, even in the very face of otherwise overwhelming impulse. There lies freedom, indeed.” I and my fellow leaders at Celebrate Recovery have found paying forward the love and support we received from other Christians acting on behalf of Jesus is an unmatched blessing. Thomas Watson preached, “To serve God, to love God, to enjoy God, is the sweetest freedom in the world.”
It comes down to what we opt to do with the truth we discovered about ourselves in our moral inventory. A famous movie line from “A Few Good Men” is delivered through clenched teeth by Jack Nicholson when he snarls, “You can’t handle the truth!” In the material world that may or may not be true but in the spiritual realm Jesus grants us the fortitude to handle all the truth. Dr. Larry Crabb, in his excellent book, “Inside Out,” offers three ways of dealing with the truth about ourselves. First, it’s okay to ask the tough questions that produce confusion as in “Why did God allow this ugly stuff to happen?” We think we deserve a simple, straightforward answer yet it’s not forthcoming because God asks us to trust Him sans His meeting that stipulation. However, we hate confusion so much we usually insist on thinking there’s got to be something we can do to fix things; including the things we have no control over. Since control is an illusion at best, we must rely wholly on faith in the person of Christ and what He taught us, even as confusion runs amok. Crabb wrote: “Tough faith never grows in a comfortable mind.” Secondly, the truth about our disappointment in others will make us see how wrong it was to depend on them (and ourselves, no less) to give us what only God can provide. It’s only when we stop demanding others slake our spiritual thirst that we’re finally able to love them in the manner Jesus commanded us to. Our hope for fulfillment must be centered in Christ, not our family members, lovers or peers. And thirdly, the truth will expose our fear of rejection that built a wall around our hearts, an impenetrable fence designed to shield us from the potential pain vulnerability invites inside. Until we’re convicted of our selfish determination to protect ourselves from heartache at all costs we’ll be stymied in our efforts to become more like our Savior. Crabb summed it up this way: “Confused? The answer is faith. Disappointed? Only hope will do. Convicted? Learn how to love.” He based his formula on Corinthians 13:13; “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” In essence the Apostle Paul was affirming his conclusions. Discovering the raw truth about ourselves and our relationship with the Lord will lead us to desire, more than anything else, to openly share Christian love without condition or hesitation. By studying God’s Word you’ll know the unadulterated truth. Truth that reveals the way for you to stay on the road to recovery and experience the miracle of the Lord’s bestowal of a brand new you, a brand new start and a brand new life in Christ. Jesus said in John 14:6; “…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” To stand before your Heavenly Father you must be made holy. By cleaning out your attic, confessing all your sins to God and your sponsor and making a permanent home for Christ in your heart, you’ll see that holiness isn’t just a dream but an unbreakable promise.