In confession we break through to the true fellowship of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in confession we affirm and accept our cross…The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life.
No, we won’t bring him back. We’ll leave him all alone at home when we go.
And as soon as the words were off my tongue the prick was on my heart. This sister had only asked a simple question: Would I bring her Nicky back when we came over later? I should simply have said Yes.
Whence came those cutting words?
The Sinful Root
They surprised me- those words with edgy, bitter flavor. Why such sarcasm?
In a word-pride. In two-wounded pride. In three-I felt mistrusted. As Bonhoeffer wrote, The root of all sin is pride. And, The mind and flesh of man are set on fire by pride. And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.
Joan’s question messed with that. It took my pride to task. I took pride in being competent. Pride in being capable. Pride in being trustworthy.
Not, by the way, that competence or ability or being thought trustworthy are bad things. They’re not. They’re good things. But taking pride in them is a bad thing. And though my friend assured me her question wasn’t borne of distrust, my fragile, wounded ego took it that way. And wounded right back.
The Way Out
Then, via confession, was I ushered to the place of grace. By way of confession was I led to the place of the Cross. Where pride dies and mercy reigns.
Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride. To stand there before a brother as a sinner is an ignominy that is almost unbearable. In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death before the eyes of a brother. (Life Together, p. 114)
Not that that’s bad, either. Scripture’s plain: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. And, If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Then, if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. And, Take up your cross and follow me.
And Bonhoeffer continues,
It was none other than Jesus Christ himself who suffered the scandalous, public death of a sinner in our stead…It is nothing else but our fellowship with Jesus Christ that leads us to the ignominious dying that comes in confession, in order that we may in truth share in his Cross. The Cross of Jesus Christ destroys all pride. We cannot find the Cross of Jesus if we shrink from going to the place where it is to be found, namely, the public death of the sinner. (p. 114)
Easier to Confess to God
And public death- ignominious, embarrassing, shameful death- happens in the place of confession. But we refuse this Cross, this good death of flesh, when we are too ashamed to take on the shameful death of the sinner in confession.
Confession is humiliating. And especially humiliating when we confess to a living, breathing, fellow saint and sinner. That’s harder for many of us than going straight to the throne of grace.
Bonhoeffer calls us to ask ourselves,
[W]hether we have not been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution?…Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God?
God gives us this certainty through our brother. Our brother breaks the circle of self- deception. A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. In the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light. (p. 116)
Humiliate comes from Latin humiliat, and that means “made humble” or “to bring low.” It’s a inch from humble. And humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. And so this sort of humiliation of confession to a fellow Christian is a good. It’s healing and right- a good thing.
Humbled At The Cross
So the Spirit of Christ led me to the place of the Cross. There I confessed,
Joan, I’m sorry for my sarcastic words. I should have just said “yes.” Would you forgive me?
Forgiveness is always an undeserved gift. Joan gave me that gift when I confessed. And that kind of humiliating, friend-to-friend confession, said Bonhoeffer, is given to us by God in order that we may be sure of divine forgiveness. And I am sure. I am forgiven.
He who confesses and forsakes his sin finds mercy. I found it, there. In confession, at the cross. Where-in necessarily humiliating fashion- pride dies.
And that is a very good thing.