It is hard to admit you are wrong. It is even worse to admit that you have sinned. However, the act of confessing sin is paramount in the life of a Jesus follower. Even for those who do not believe Jesus is Lord will suffer from hidden sin. Sin eats away at you.
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but
the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
-- Proverbs 28:13
And yet, while we know God forgives us, we still struggle with confessing our sins to those our sin has affected. It may very well be the hardest part of a conflict because it means humbling yourself, making yourself vulnerable, and admitting wrongdoing, which is never fun. However, to live a life that honors God and those we love, we must make confession a regular part of dealing with conflict.
The problem is confessing sin is not easy. Most of us have not been taught how to confess sin or we have not seen it modeled properly. For example, have you ever received an apology that did not feel like an actual apology? Have you ever confessed sin in a way that created more conflict rather than settled a conflict? Because we are human, we want to protect ourselves. True confession requires humility and vulnerability.
If we claim to be without sin,
we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and
will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
-- 1 John 1:8-9
Fortunately, we can look to God’s Holy Word to see how to confess sins and genuinely apologize. Peacemaker Ministries outlines how to confess sin with the 7 A’s. Let’s look at these guidelines in more detail.
Address Everyone Involved
It is tempting to want to confess to the minimum number of people. But, this is not how it works. Instead, you need to consider all who were affected by your sin. Sin often causes a chain reaction. For instance, when someone in leadership sins, it tends to affect more than the one person they sinned against. You must consider all the repercussions of your sin and how many people your actions hurt. Then, you must address everyone involved.
Avoid If, But, and Maybe
It is also tempting to confess and then add a buffer. You know what I’m talking about – I’m sorry, but… Or, I didn’t mean to hurt you, but maybe if you’d… These kinds of confessions do not resolve conflict. If anything, they often make the conflict worse. Those who are truly ready to confess and seek forgiveness must come from a place where they are willing to deal with their sin independently of others or extenuating circumstances.
Most of us have had someone confess to something when it was clear they were just saying the words without any meaning. For instance, parents are well versed with children admitting a sinful action, but not necessarily acknowledging a sinful attitude. Or, if you have any experience with someone who is passive aggressive, you understand how difficult it is to admit specifically (such as using a negative tone of voice to say something unkind). If your attitude, actions, or tone of voice was sinful, then you need to specifically confess these sins.
Acknowledge the Hurt
Next, you must acknowledge your sin hurt someone. Instead of falsely believing your sin wasn’t “that big of a deal” or “didn’t hurt that that bad,” you should consider the other person’s feelings. How would you feel if the situation were reversed? It is critical to make the other person feel seen and heard even when it is painful to see the pain you have caused.
Additionally, your words and body language should show remorse and sorrow for the pain your sin caused them to feel. Sin separates us from others – and it separates us from God. This is something that should cause us to feel sorrow.
Accept the Consequences
Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus set us free from the wages of sin, but while we are on Earth, we still must accept the consequences of our sin. You will have to make amends as you are held accountable for your wrongdoing. This also means you must be willing to make restitution to restore the relationship or the situation.
Alter Your Behavior
Unfortunately, people have heard many trite confessions and half-hearted apologies, so you also need to explain how you intend to alter your behavior with God’s help. As Christians, we can ask God to send His Holy Spirit to help us change our attitude and actions. If you simply confess and apologize, but your attitude and actions do no change, the conflict will not be resolved.
Ask for Forgiveness
Finally, you must ask for forgiveness. This is the most vulnerable part of all. You are placing yourself in the hands of the other person. Ask God and those your sin has affected to forgive you. Throughout the Bible, we see the beauty of forgiveness when it comes to restoring relationships with the Father and with one another. As Christians, we are also commanded to forgive one another.
We all will fall short (Romans 3:23) and need to confess sin. While it is difficult and uncomfortable, the forgiveness we receive from our Savior and then from others is one of the most freeing things we can experience here on Earth. And, the more we become accustomed to true confession, the freer we will be.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
-- 2 Corinthians 3:17