For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. This blog is an excerpt from my yet-to-be-released book about my experiences, taken from the chapter on Confession.
One of the great benefits of confession is the way it removes us from the manipulative hands of the enemy.
When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus, she had nothing more to hide (John 8:3-11). Her worst nightmare, exposure in the midst of her sin, was now being played out before the very eyes of those religious leaders who had the power to take her life. She deserved death, for the law said that she should die for the sin of adultery (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). However, under the watchful eye of Jesus, she found not only pardon, but mercy, grace and forgiveness. Jesus literally saved her from the consequences of her sin. When she was brought to Jesus, the only thing she had left to cling to was a blanket to cover the shame of her sin. Now she found Jesus a new covering, for Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John. 8:11).
If we would all come to the realization that everything that we have done or will do is even now exposed to Jesus – and we don’t even have a thin blanket to cover our shame – we would gladly give ourselves completely over to His loving grace and forgiveness. When we confess our sins to God and to those we’ve offended, we will find ourselves able to repeat the words of Jesus, who said of the Accuser, “he has no hold on me” (John 14:30).
Satan had nothing on Jesus. There was nothing in the life of Jesus that Satan could use to manipulate our Savior. I like how the Amplified phrases this passage in John. “I will not talk with you much more, for the prince (evil genius, ruler) of the world is coming. And he has no claim on Me. [He has nothing in common with Me; there is nothing in Me that belongs to him, and he has no power over Me.]” Since Jesus had no secrets, there was nothing in His past that Satan could use to control Him. Jesus didn’t have to fear Satan or man because no one had a claim on Him. Satan held no secret dirt on Jesus that could be used as leverage to divert Him from doing the will of the Father.
I’ve met very few people who are completely free from the claims of Satan. Most of us walk around with some secrets from our past, praying and hoping that nobody will find out what we are really like. Many of us live in dread of the day that someone from our past will expose us for what we’ve done, ruining our life. However, when we confess our sins, we too will find ourselves repeating the words of Jesus who said of Satan, “he has no hold on me.”
This was the place I found myself in shortly after leaving the Little Portion. I was preparing to be ordained with the Assemblies of God (up until then I was only a licensed minister), but I needed my pastor to put my name before the ordination committee. However, I was still bothered by some unconfessed sins in my past – sins that could have led to my dismissal from the Assemblies of God. Although John Michael and a few of my close friends knew of those sins, my immediate pastor did not. I felt it necessary for him to know, for if he was going to vouch or my character as a minister, he needed to know just what kind of character I had been. After confessing my sins to my pastor, I said, “Whatever action that you find necessary to take regarding this discussion, I will obey it. If you feel I need to talk to the district superintendent, fine.” I didn’t really care anymore. I simply needed to confess my sin and obey my pastor’s council in order to be free of the weight of my secret.
My pastor smiled and said that our conversation was going to stay “between you and me and this desk.” He knew that the man who did those things several years before was not the same man who now sat before him. He knew that, given the opportunity, I would not do them again, and I would follow his direction and submit to any consequences that he felt appropriate for me to take. He knew I had a repentant heart. He also knew I had just been set free. Satan had nothing on me.
Every disciple of Jesus has the authority to hear the confession of sin and forgive it in His name. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23 NLT). To forgive the sins of a brother or sister who offends you is truly an act marked by the character of God. Why would we ever withhold such a life-giving ministry? Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Our brother . . . has been given to us to help us. He hears the confession of our sins in Christ’s stead and he forgives our sins in Christ’s name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to my brother to confess, I am going to God.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1952), p. 112). By sharing my sin with my pastor, I was also confessing to God. And being the good pastor that he is, he kept the secret to himself. Only when that meeting was over could I say to Satan, “You no longer have a hold on me.”
Okay Jim, so what is that sin you are referring to?
I’m sure a few of you are now waiting for me tell you what I did that was so bad the Assemblies of God could take my credentials. Sorry, it’s not going to happen. You probably think I’m too ashamed to admit it, but that isn’t the case. I just told you I’ve shared it with those who needed to know. I’m not sharing it here is because I do not have permission from those involved with me to release the specifics of the situation. This is my confession, not theirs. Exposing the sins of others may be good fodder for today’s media, selling many books for those who are using the art of memoir for their “personal therapy . . . self-indulgence and reprisal” (William Zinsser, ed., Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), p. 5) but it is not my purpose for writing. You’ll notice that any dirty laundry that I have aired in my writing is the dirt I have created.