Habits of the Heart: A Study of the Spiritual Disciplines “Confession”
By Dr. Jack R. Hodges, Jr.
In this monthly series of articles, I have chosen to survey twelve spiritual habits of the heart or spiritual disciplines that we must pursue in our faith journey to maturity in Christ. Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (Harper & Row, 1978), divides these twelve into three categories: Inward disciplines; Outward disciplines; and Corporate disciplines. After having completed the first two categories in previous issues, we now turn our attention to the final four spiritual disciplines, which comprise the “corporate” disciplines. They are confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
College basketball (in a normal year) has the “Final Four.” The College Football Selection Committee selects four college football teams to play in a final tournament to determine its champion. College hockey calls their championship tournament the “Frozen Four.” These “final four” perhaps represent the crowning achievement of the work of the Holy Spirit of God in the believer’s life.
What God most desires for and from those whom He has set free from sin through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross, is that His newly adopted spiritual children live out the gospel message of salvation. We are to live for Him. And if we are going to be faithful to live the gospel, we must not just speak the gospel, but also allow others to see the gospel being lived out. We practice (live-out) our faith by practicing and living the habits of the heart. Not just a few of them—but all of them.
If the child of God is to grow into the likeness of our Savior, then we must commit ourselves to learn from Him, grow in Him, and live for Him. Each of these spiritual disciplines is a call from God to become like Christ. The inner disciplines prepare us to meet without Savior daily. The outward disciplines ready us to be used as living witnesses in a lost, dark, and dying world. God equips us through learning and practicing the disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service to present us and use us as His powerful witnesses.
The corporate disciplines are designed by God to remind us that we are not alone. As an act of His love and mercy and by our response to His invitation of salvation, God grafted us into His universal family. By faith, we become children of God. We then become a part of His family—each one of us valuable members of that family, which Jesus called “the church.” (ekklēsia—έκκλήσία; i.e., “the called-out ones”)
These disciplines serve to move us toward a deeper sense and reality that we are a part of God’s family. A deep, true spiritual journey is not only about our own private, individual devotion and pursuit of Christ—it is equally about our commitment to be an integral and functional part of the community of faith—God’s Church. His Church is made up of living stones made alive in Christ. Placed together by the Lord, each believer becomes a part of the “Body of Christ.” Jesus called us, His Church, His bride! And as His bride, we have the glorious privilege of loving, honoring, and serving our Savior.
In Mark 3:33-34, Jesus responded to a crowd who informed Him that His mother and brothers had arrived and were looking for Him. “Answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” The new birth, Jesus insisted, would usher humankind into a new spiritual existence and possibility in which men and women would become brothers and sisters in faith. Barnhard Anderson (The Living Word of the Bible, Westminster Press, 1979, p. 146) adds, “The church, as the family of God, sets forth a new criterion of worth, a new form of parity, and a new context of belonging for each person in the kingdom of God.” You and I are the church and we are expected to be a part of God’s functional family.
Christians who do not commit themselves to the “Body of Christ” or to these “family” disciplines will remain as spiritual infants—in self-induced isolation, vulnerable, weak, and immature. God cannot and will not be glorified!
The Spiritual Discipline of Confession begins with our acknowledgment of the reality of sin and rebellion in our lives. We are accustomed to thinking of sin as purely an individual act of disobedience to God. That is true in one sense. But the scriptures go much farther. Since we are a part of God’s family, our sins not only affect our relationship with Jesus but also radiate outwardly and affect our relationships with our fellow family members. God’s spiritual remedy for the broken relationships caused by sin was the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God. We can remove the power and consequences of our sin by way of accepting and receiving God’s gift of forgiveness. We become righteous, not in and through what we do, but rather who we receive. Paul made it so very clear in Romans 5:17, “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”
Jesus accomplished our forgiveness and salvation through His sacrificial death. But it has to be activated by both our acknowledgment of sin and our faith and acceptance of His gift of grace and mercy. When we acknowledge our sins, we are actually agreeing with God about the status of our spiritual being (i.e., we are sinners and as a result, are lost and separated from God by our sins). The gift of salvation comes to us full and free! What do we mean by “full?” God makes us fully right with Him! What do we mean by “free?” We didn’t do anything to obtain it! Remember, Jesus came to the cross out of love, desiring to make a way for God’s creation to receive the Father’s forgiveness and pave the way for God to offer His beloved His very best.
The cross made God’s forgiveness accessible to all of His marvelous creations. But it is only through the Spiritual Discipline of Confession is it possible for us to receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus’ substitutionary death on Calvary activated God’s forgiveness for all of our sins—past, present, and future. All that is left is for you and me to receive His forgiveness by faith.
That process began when we received Christ as our Savior. We confessed our sins and invited Jesus to be the Savior and Lord of our life. Paul wrote (1 Timothy 2:5), “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” By faith, we agreed with God that only Jesus could save us from our sins. By faith, we agreed with God and accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for our sins. By faith, we agreed with God that once the payment was made and received, that God’s cleansing is our free gift. We no longer have to live under the weight of sin, guilt, or shame. John stated (1 John 1:7), “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” And in 1 John 1:9, he continued that marvelous truth, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
There are many things in this journey of life that seek to stand in the way of receiving God’s forgiveness. One is continuing to live in ungodly and unbiblical patterns of sin. Another is a misconstrued theological viewpoint, which sets the stage for other emotional and spiritual snags. Salvation has often been errantly tied in with ecclesiastical authority—and confession and penance have been used throughout the history of the church as a method to convey salvation and forgiveness.
The Protestant Reformation shifted that theological perspective. As a rallying cry, the Reformers pointed to 1 Peter 2:5 where Peter wrote, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And in verse 9 he proclaimed, “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” This “universal priesthood of all believers” stands as the cornerstone of our evangelical faith. We stand before Almighty God as a kingdom of priests, each and every one subject only to the authority of God and the Lordship of Christ. Each one is responsible to God as a member of the body of Christ. We need no other priest, except Jesus who is our “High Priest.”
Confession then ceases to be the means by which we appease God and secure our forgiveness and salvation. Confession becomes an act of obedience and worship—as we come before the presence of God acknowledging His Lordship and authority, as we humbly kneel acknowledging our sins and rebellion, and as we lift our hearts as redeemed and forgiven before our God thanking Him for His mercy and grace which has already accomplished our salvation and forgiveness.
In truth, the spiritual discipline of confession draws us to expose our sins to God and others—so that we no longer hold any false guilt or shame. We have been forgiven! There is a renewed sense that nothing stands between God and me—for He has already removed both the stain and the power of sin.
Richard Foster sums it up so eloquently, “The Discipline of confession brings an end to pretense. God is calling into being a church that can openly confess its frail humanity and know the forgiving and empowering graces of Christ. Honesty leads to confession, and confession leads to change.” That is the essence of the spiritual discipline of confession. Blessings!
Dr. Jack Hodges is the Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Morganton, NC. He has served as a pastor, a biblical counselor, and an International Mission Board missionary. You can read more good news from Dr. Jack Hodges HERE.