Look, here’s the deal, reading this may make some people mad, or maybe even a lot of people mad, and for this I apologize as this is not my intention. Then again, maybe deep down it is one third of my objective. Maybe getting mad will somehow expose your heart if is filled with religious hypocrisy.
Let’s be frank, we have a serious issue throughout Christianity. Well actually we have many serious issues, but every generation has had them and by the Grace of Jesus the church lives on. Let me be specific, I have personally seen this time and time again in many Russian churches. (I am sure many American churches have this problem as well or have an equally bad and opposite problem.) However, I’m only speaking from experience, and my experience has been with the Russian churches of Washington state. This comes not solely from my church, but from dealing with tens (easily over a hundred) teenagers and young adults from all around the Seattle area who keep telling me the same thing:
“We are too scared to confess our sins to people from the church”
Confession is a sign of salvation.
1 John 1:9 tells us confession of our sins is part of the process of salvation. Christians who are justified (made righteous) by the cross of Christ are no longer scared to confess their sins and since Jesus paid the penalty and confessing a past washed by the blood of Christ only aids to glorify Jesus. Christians who are being sanctified (made holy) by the power of the Holy Spirit are no longer afraid to confess their sins because doing so proves the Holy Spirit is inside you and convicting you that sin is wrong, thereby continually leading you into a life of being fruitful and into a life of fulfilling Gods calling. Confessing sin is evidence of being justified, and evidence of being in the process of sanctification. Peter confessed sin. Paul confessed sin. The men who wrote the bible committed and confessed sin shamelessly and without hiding it. Confessing is good.
Yet the saved are scared to confess
The only people who should not want to confess their sins would theoretically be unchristians who love sin or hypocrites who want to hide their sins and maintain their image of supercharged holiness. It might be understandable if the young people I have talked to over the last few years carried a large bible, sat in the very front row, and were in the process of earning their very own halo, set of wings, and salvation. Or if they were extremely self conscious and obsessive about self image. Yet they were/are not. They are very authentic and sincere… and very sincerely scared. Many of them believe in Jesus, trust the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture, some are baptized members who love Jesus and then had a sin/temptation issue. They had a time of inconsistency in their christian walk, fell in to sin momentarily and are now desperate for someone to love them and help them. A smaller portion are questioning their faith and life, but largely on the basis of having believed in hype that was created by some visiting preacher only to find the continuation of emptiness, doubt, and a lack of the supernatural ecstasy they were promised. To my recollection, almost all of these people appeared honestly remorseful and want repentance and acceptance.
My experience has led me to conclude that many or at least some people in our Russian community are really scared to confess their sin… but why?
1. HYPOCRISY TOWARDS DIFFERENT SINS
We all sin, but
Every one sins. This is a scriptural truth (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10, 23, 1 John 1:8) and to deny it is to sin far worse than doing all the evils in the world and admit them in repentance.
Every Christian must admit that he or she has sinned in the past
Every Christian must admit that he or she has loved sin in the past.
Every Christian must admit that he or she is not perfect or without sin.
Every Christian must admit that he or she cannot live the rest of their life in full perfection without even one more sin.
Every Christian must admit that were it not for Christ’s atoning death, they would go to hell.
Every Christian must admit that were it not for the Holy Spirit they would never wage war on sin.
Every Christian must admit that were it not for God who first loved us, we would still love sin.
Every Christian must admit with Apostle Paul, that we are not good men, but sinners in the hands of a merciful God.
Every Christian must admit that were it not for the cross of Christ, our sin would have taken us to the same hell as the homosexual, child-raping, satanic, rock music loving, drug abuser, alcoholic killer next door. (“democrat” if you’re from the south.)
Yet so often we have the voracious tenacity and atrocious audacity to stand tall and lift our great big finger (not that one silly) and point to someone who’s sin is “greater” or “worse” and proceed to characterize, portray, depict, distinguish, represent or highlight that sin/sinner as being unspeakably worse and despicably horrendous.
We love to do this.
Internal sin vs. External sin
Think about it. You will right away find the most common culprits. Those sins that everyone knows are so much worse and more evil. Same sex attraction is the vilest of the bunch but any sexual sin is up there. Fornication, pornography, masturbation are filthy, dirty, and probably demonic. Then we have the substance abuse sins: alcoholism and drug abuse; those people are obviously weak willed and not going to change. Next are the illegal ones: murder and theft; it takes an especially evil person to pull that one off. Then our appearance: provocative or sensual attire, because those girls are sluts, those guys are gangsters, and they’re all very clearly involved in persistent sin with no hope or desire of repentance.
Now contrast the sins above to the ones that no one really talks about. Or at least the sins that we can talk about with passive voices. The ones that we can softly wave away or dismiss as “little mistakes” or consider as “just a minor character flaw.” Someone comes across as unkind? Or maybe someone is a little jealous? Maybe someone has a hard time loving their neighbor (aka hates them)? Someone at church is a little hostile, has some enmity? Maybe someone thinks a little too highly of himself, thinks he is more righteous than those sinners outside, or suffers with a little pride? Someone else works a little too much, just loves money a little more than he should.
Do you notice the difference? The first category of sins are those that are blatant and external! Everyone can clearly see them and there is no denying someone involved in such sin. The poor chap addicted to porn is caught at night in front of his computer and there is no pretending it was “a popup ad.” His sin is clear. The group of masked men caught in the middle of a bank vault at midnight are obviously not there to deposit a check. The prostitute on the corner isn’t waving her hand for a taxi (unless the taxi driver has a little extra cash). Their sins are clear, obvious, and exposed. They are caught and there is no way to deny it!
The second category of sins are often internal and therefore hard to see, distinguish, or discern. The guy who looks like he hates you, well maybe instead of a mother he had a drill sergeant. The lady who works more hours a week than I do a month, may just love Jesus so much she wants to earn money to start a charity for him (then again maybe she wants to be the recipient of that charity). The guy walking with his head lifted higher than the Eiffel tower may simply have a back problem. There is no way for us to really know the heart of the person with internal sin. Nor should be even be the ones to judge everyone’s heart and intention. That is not really our job, and because we can’t do it very well makes it harder (though many people still like to try, and try, and try, and try.)
And truth be told, even if we do find out that someone has such an internal sin, the attitude towards these internal sins is that they are merely something that simply needs to be corrected. A little mistake that needs a little bit more work. The external sins are evil and to be disciplined, the internal sins are just little mistakes that need more work.
We have set up a hypocritical system of judging which sin is superbad and which one is normal, based primarily on our feelings, cultural norms, and our proclivity to do the normal sins ourselves.
2. HATING THE WORSE SIN(NERS)
I don’t believe that many in our christian community specifically choose to hate a sinner who struggles with a lifestyle that does not submit to christian standards. In theory we all say that ”we hate the sin, love the sinner” and most people really do mean it… at least when it comes to a theoretical situation. The problem is, after creating such a system of categorizing sins as normal vs filthy, we fall into a trap that we ourselves created.
We spend so much time defaming and demonizing some particular external sin as “more filthy” that when met with a person who sinned that way, it’s completely natural for us to ascribe all the characteristics that we just used to describe that filthy sin, to that (filthy) person.
If we spend all of our life screaming that the use of drugs is so much more disgraceful, ugly, and filthy than all the other sins combined, when we meet someone who has a drug problem we tend to assume all of those things on that person.
If you don’t believe me, here is a test.
EXAMPLE: tell one of your church buddies that you are friends with someone who really loves money you may get a laugh, then go and tell them you are friends with a prostitute and they will freak out and describe her as corrupt, wicked, and evil. Yet per 1 Cor 6:10, greed is just as bad! Or go to your next bible study and bring up a friend who dresses perfect, sits in church, gives tithes, sings in choir, yet admits he has hate for some people and compare him to someone who struggles with homosexual desires. You will be instantly met with a barrage of hate and contempt for the person who struggles with same sex attraction, yet people will treat your friend as one of the “in crowd” who just needs to try a little harder and just needs to forgive and love. (But a lack of love is equal to murder, 1 John 3:15).
My whole point is that in our christian culture we have created a system where we tend to hate a few particular sins and single them out as more ugly, revolting, repulsive, and depraved. And this in turn impulsively leads us to hate the sinner who is doing that sin.
We did this by segregating ourselves away from the world not by a biblical process of waging war on sin but on creating a sub-culture that has its own standards for what is acceptable and what is not. We have taught children in Sunday school what sins to despise extra hard because “they are so much worse and filthier” and what sins to accept and forgive (because everyone struggles with them). And in turn our hypocritical behavior towards one sin vs another sin, has become a hypocritical and hateful behavior towards some sinners but not others.
But dont hate religious people
Yet we shouldn’t instantly turn around and demonize the people who do this; we shouldn’t point a finger at religious people and say they are the root of the problem and their sin of hypocrisy is so much worse (even though Jesus did to this). This is where some of you may jump off the bandwagon, for up until now you may have been with me screaming “darn the religious hypocrites” or something to that effect. But answer me this: who gave you the right to judge the even religious hypocrites? For if you turn towards the hypocrites and start to hate them for their sin, you are becoming exactly what the hypocrites themselves are.
3. HIDDEN LIVES
What does extra hate for some sins have to do with confessing?
Lets return to the beginning. The initial question posed by me had to do with figuring out why people in the our church community are afraid to confess their sins and seek repentance or help.
Herein lies the answer, we have scared them off.
Imagine for a moment you are a young guy or girl, confused about so many things like church, God, faith, good versus evil, and etc. For the last 16 years, every Sunday morning you wake up and go church. You have been raised in Sunday school and have memorized bible verses and know all the stories by heart. You see the devotion of your parents and their peers. You see the pastor, whom your parents trust and admire, get up to preach and he proceeds to deliver an especially condemning sermon about the vile and filthy liberals who are pushing America to homosexuality. This is repeated on numerous occasions, the leaders of your church passionately declare the evils of many things including same sex attraction. On one particular day a young visiting preacher, full of energy and vigor also emphatically drives home the point that “we, the church, should stand up against this of the greatest and filthiest evils, the homosexuals!” Left and right you hear people murmur their approval, eyes filled with disgust. Someone behind you shakes with repulsion and says “I can’t believe someone can be so perverted and disgusting, it’s absolutely sickening.” And to your dismay, you feel the deep sting of shame and guilt, for you have been tempted with those exact desires. You don’t want them, you are confused why they are in you, you want help; all these things are running through your head, but the most prominent is the fear of what would happen if everyone around you found out about your struggle. They would find that very perverted, disgusting, sickening, hated thing to be you.
It seems crazy, and I know most will read this with mixed feelings. Some will proudly say “I’d never have such a sick and twisted temptation” only to prove my point about hating some sins much more and those that sin them as extra filthy sinners. Others will angrily yell at me “you want me to love homosexuals?!!” Yes. Jesus does, I don’t see why you should get a hall pass. Still others will accuse me of normalizing homosexual sin by saying we need to love even homosexuals. Or normalizing all sin by stating we should love all sinners, regardless of their sin. Not true.
Jesus loved the prostitute, while she was the prostitute, not because she first changed and became clean and socially acceptable. He first loved her and then told her to go and sin no more, he didn’t rail on and on about how disgusting and ugly she was.
For us to love all sinners, we do not have to glorify their sins as good, but we do have to accept all sinners in love, while they’re still sinners.
The reality of hidden lives
The thing is this story, far-fetched as it is, is also a true story. I know of two people who have struggles with this, and one has actually come forward to talk about this. And yes both are from the Russian community around Seattle. It’s absolutely insane that they would confess struggling same sex attraction with the hostility in their community, and I would guess there are probably more people dealing with that specific sin issue who would never tell or ask anyone for help because they are too scared.
Yet it isn’t only same sex attraction that is the issue.
There are many other sins that are also labeled as so horrible, evil, shameful, and dirty compared to “normal” sins, that no one would dare come and confess them.
Imagine the same thing with pornography, for example. It has been stereotyped by the Christian culture as one of the most disgusting sins and anyone who touches it as equally disgusting, filthy, perverted, and depraved. Imagine being a young kid sitting in church and hearing everyone railing about the ugliness of that particular sin and the very disgusting people who have sinned that way. Instead of going to confess and ask for help from eyes filled with love and a community of supportive and encouraging people around you, you hide it because of the social shunning, shaming, guilting, hatred and isolation you would experience. This is exactly what is happening to so many people, even today.
Again, even that is a true story. I don’t take formal church confessions as an ordained pastor, nor do I proclaim myself as that, or advertise it. Yet, I have heard time and time again people tell me of real life sins that they claim they are scared to confess to the christian community at large. There is such a great fear of being singled out, shamed, rejected, abandoned, and shunned by their church. The same very church that Paul in Gal 6:1 calls to restore “gently” those that fall into sin. I am not railing against pastors, I believe that many pastors are the best examples of love in such a hostile environment, in my understanding it is the culture at large, not any one or two leaders or elders.
Based on the large amount of times I have been told exactly this by young people in hundreds of conversations, I firmly believe than in most churches there are ranks of young and old people living hidden lives, because they are too scared of the shunning to seek help.
If your doctor published angry articles saying that those who suffer with flu are horrendously vile, unbelievably filthy, disgustingly perverted, and irreversibly depraved, would you schedule an appointment with him when you got the flu?