John begins his first epistle insisting that life has entered the world, and that life means fellowship and joy and light (1 Jn. 1:1-5). Confessing sin is the life breath of Christian life. When you begin to live the Christian life, you repent and believe, and the only way to keep breathing is to repent and believe. And if you stop breathing, there is only darkness and death and separation.
Repentance unto Life
Repentance is preaching the gospel to yourself every day in every situation: the good news that Jesus is the Christ, our King who has come to set us free from sin, death, and Satan. And in the death and resurrection of Jesus, those powers were thrown down, we were forgiven, cleansed, and set free. We have been adopted as beloved sons and daughters, and therefore are united to Christ by His Spirit and share in His glory and righteousness and power. Repentance means turning away, turning around. Repentance means that if you were going left, you go right. If you were going upstairs, you go downstairs. If you were lying, you tell the truth (Eph. 4:25). If you were stealing, you cease, get a job, and save to have extra to give to those in need (Eph. 4:28). If there were corrupt and bitter words coming out of your mouth, you begin to speak words of kindness and edification and forgiveness (Eph. 4:29-32). Repentance means hating your sin from the bottom of your heart. If you are constantly apologizing for the same things with no measurable improvement, you are not repenting, you are just feeling sorry for yourself in front of other people. Godly sorrow is desperate for freedom and leads to salvation and joy (2 Cor. 7:9-11). People who are forgiven are set free. To go from darkness to light is to go from dead to alive. This is miraculous and it fills people with joy (1 Jn. 1:4). And if you’re going through the actions of repenting and asking forgiveness, and that is not resulting in fullness of joy, then you are not repenting. You are lying to yourself and others. And people who know the power of forgiveness are quick to extend that love and forgiveness to others (1 Jn. 2:2).
This is why a season like Lent should be both a profoundly joyful season and naturally evangelistic. If you are fasting in order to cover up your guilt, you are lying to God, and God hates your fasting. If your soul is hallow, and you are not walking in the joy of the Holy Spirit and you think giving up Facebook or Coke is going to help you, you are liar. Propitiation is a big word that means covering; it was the place where the blood was sprinkled once a year in the Most Holy Place. When we confess our sins, the promise of God is that our sins are forgiven and covered by the blood of Jesus (1 Jn. 1:7-9). And it is God’s faithfulness and justice that does this cleansing, and this necessarily results in profound freedom and fearlessness and relief. Worrying about whether you will fall again or whether this will really work is another sign that you don’t really want out. Forgiveness makes you say crazy things like the Apostle John: “these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” (1 Jn. 2:1). Forgiveness and repentance is a turning away from darkness and guilt and confusion toward light and fellowship and joy. Your days should be growing lighter, your fellowship should be growing tighter, and your joy should be filling up not draining out. If that is not happening, then you are walking in darkness and that is because you are not really confessing your sins, including the sin of not believing the promise of forgiveness. Confessing sin is how we wage war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. When people cease to confess their sins, they are refusing to fight. Being nice to sin is to already admit defeat.
The Fellowship of Repentance
The end of confession is fellowship. But fellowship doesn’t make all differences evaporate. Some differences can be worked out rather quickly (days or weeks), others can take longer (years, resurrection), and still others are not necessarily bad. In fact the body of Christ is full of glorious differences. But without fellowship, differences will collide and clash. But when our differences are woven together in love, they create a harmony instead of a dissonance.
Our great temptation in a sermon like this is to hope that someone else is listening carefully. But Jesus calls that hypocrisy. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Mt. 7:3-5). The principle is that if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. But the flesh loves to blame shift and try to insist that the other guy walk in the light first. Confessing our own sins first, removing the log from our own eye first means taking responsibility, bearing the shame, claiming the fault. This shouldn’t be a fake show of piety, but Christ-like love and compassion, gladly suffering for the sake of others.
Taking responsibility for our own sins and weakness teaches us humility and compassion for the weaknesses and sins of others. When you know how unlovely your own heart is, you can love the unlovely around you, even those closest to you in all of their weakness and shame. This is what the body of Christ is supposed to do more broadly anyway (1 Cor. 12:23). This means helping one another obey, supporting one another where we are weak. Individualism teaches us to hold back and let our brothers crash and burn, but love teaches us to reach out and gently bring our brothers in for a safe landing. Because we have an Advocate, we can be advocates (1 Jn. 2:1); He is the propitiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2).