Recently, I was sitting in a men's Bible study listening as James 3 was taught (very well, I might add). This is the passage that speaks of "taming the tongue." I was extremely convicted at that moment of the way I had just recently spoken to someone close to me. I had really "raked this person over the coals," if you will. I had spoken with anger and raised my voice in a way that I should not have. I did not at all speak with the gentleness and compassion of Jesus. Rather, I had plainly sinned with my words.
In that moment of conviction, the Holy Spirit brought to my mind the passage in 1 Peter 2:22-24, which states:
"[Jesus] committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed."
My eyes soon welled up with tears. I quickly and discreetly tried to wipe away the tears before anyone could see (as any man does at a men's Bible study!). The weight of sin was heavy. But the overwhelming sense of Christ's victory was heavier. His grace had once again filled up with heart and soul to the point where I couldn't help but utter a silent prayer of praise for His costly victory over sin and His grace that shed blood for my unholy speech.
Outside of the sin that was so heavy on my mind, this is a beautiful picture of how Christ has transformed the view of continual confession in my life. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, I was able to look at how Jesus overcame that specific sin, confess that specific sin, and rest in the grace of the gospel.
But it was not always that way. Though I didn't grow up in a legalistic family or church, I always had a deep sense of guilt that weighed me down. And that affected the way I viewed confession/repentance.
I found myself constantly begging God to give me one more chance, just so I could try harder and do better. I constantly heard about Jesus' grace, and I believed in it, but I didn't seem to experience the peace of it. I knew I was supposed to confess my sins, but I didn't really know what that looked like biblically.
This is what I mean by "guilt-driven confession." This is the kind of confession that feels sorry for your sin, which is a good thing but usually stops there. This is where you find yourself begging God for something that He wants to withhold but might reluctantly give you if you are sorry enough.
Here's the primary problem with guilt-driven repentance: the focus is still on you. This doesn't magnify the grace of Jesus but magnifies the sin itself. It usually skips one key step, which we will get to in a moment.
Now, please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that "feelings" of sorrow for sin are wrong. That is called "conviction," and it is both biblical and from God's Spirit. We need to feel the weightiness of and sorrow for our sin.
But here's the primary difference between guilt-driven confession and Christ-centered confession: the focus is on the life and work of Jesus.
The Bible is not ignorant of the fact that we sin, even after coming to Christ. 1 John 1:8 makes that clear: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Though our identity in Jesus is not "sinner" any longer, we still struggle with sin every day.
But the Bible gives us the ammunition for this attack. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Notice the emphasis: "HE is faithful," "HE is just." Jesus is the One who will both forgive us and cleanse us.
Christ-centered confession means fixing our eyes on Jesus. We look to the way that He lived perfectly in our place. And then we remind ourselves that He died so that we might be saved from both the penalty of sin and the power of sin. Because of His justice that was done at the cross, He can both forgive us of the penalty and free us from the power of sin. Christ-centered confession fixes its eyes squarely on the righteous Christ, not on the individual sinner.
That was that difference in that early morning Bible study. What once was a guilt-inducing, laborious task, confession became a freeing, praise-inducing joy. It didn't even feel like a task. It felt like the natural thing to do. I couldn't help but confess my sin to Jesus, rest in His grace, and ask for His Spirit's help to conquer the unholiness and unlovingness of my speech. And I know that He will faithfully, over time, do so.
Do you confess freely? Do you rest in His grace? Is your confession guilt-driven or Christ-centered? I strongly encourage you to look to Jesus and His finished work.