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The Transformative Power of Confessing Weakness

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Primary Scripture Text

James 5:13–20 NLT
13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. 16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. 19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

The Connection Between Repentance and Confession

I have been contemplating the idea of confession and repentance quite a lot lately… really for some time actually. In many ways the progress of the Saint is the process and coming into the saving work of Jesus every day, and I think that has something to do with connecting more and more with the life of Christ in our every day stuff.
John 15:5 NLT
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
This seems related to John the Baptist saying in Matthew 3:8...
Matthew 3:8 ESV
8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
So my question is, what is repentance?

Repentance. Literally a change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God.

Repentance is such an important aspect of conversion that it is often stressed rather than saving faith, as when Christ said that there is joy in heaven among the angels over one sinner that repents (Lk 15:7). The apostles described the conversion of the Gentiles to Christ as God granting them “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

I would guess that many, if not all of us, want this here! So, how do we get it? The passage that we just read from seems to be getting at repentance some, because it ends with this:
I would guess that many, if not all of us, want this here! So, how do we get it? The passage that we just read from seems to be getting at repentance some, because it ends with this:
James 5:19–20 NLT
19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.
This seems to tie the healing power of repentance to whatever preceded that section in ...
James 5:13–18 NLT
13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. 16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.
James 5:16–18 NLT
16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.
James 5:
James 5:
This would seem to be confirmed by :
1 John 1:8–9 NLT
8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
So, there must be something powerful about the confession piece in repentance that is essential.

Confession. Admission, especially of guilt or sin; also, a statement of religious belief. “To confess” can mean to agree, to promise, or to admit something.

In the Bible. Two types of confession occur in the Bible. First, individuals confess that they have sinned and are therefore guilty before God, often confessing a particular sin (Lv 5:5; 1 Jn 1:9). In such confession one agrees or acknowledges that he or she has broken God’s Law (Ps 119:126), that its penalty is justly deserved (Rom 6:23), and that in some specific way God’s standard of holiness has not been met (Lv 19:2; Mt 5:48).

In OT times the high priest would confess the sins of the whole nation (Lv 16:21); the nation of Israel was expected to confess when it had rebelled against the Law of God (Lv 26:40; 2 Chr 7:14). Pious Jews were quick to confess; Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah confessed their nation’s sins, agreeing with God that his punishment of the people (including themselves) was just, yet praying for God’s mercy and deliverance (Dn 9:20; Ezr 10:1; Neh 1:6).

Second, individuals confess that God is God and that he rules the world (1 Chr 29:10–13), that he is faithful in showing his love and kindness (Ps 118:2–4), and that he has helped his people (Ps 105:1–6). Such confession or agreement, expressed publicly in worship or song (Ps 100:4), is spoken of in the OT as “blessing the Lord.”

The two types of confession are often combined in the Bible, producing many psalms of thanksgiving. In general those psalms contain some or all of the following ideas: (1) I sinned; (2) I became ill and nearly died; (3) I prayed to God, who delivered me; and (4) now I offer this song of confession, which I promised him (Pss 22; 30; 32; 34; 40; 51; 116). The same Hebrew word means both “praise” and “confession of sin”; the two meanings were part of a single concept. The psalmist began by admitting sin and God’s justice and ended by confessing God’s forgiveness and delivering power.

Both those meanings also occur in the NT. Christians confess (that is, they declare as a matter of conviction and allegiance) that Jesus is the Christ and that they belong to him. “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Mt 10:32 KJV). Not to confess Christ is the same as denying him (Mt 10:33; Lk 12:8; cf. 2 Tm 2:11–13; Rv 3:5). The Christian life therefore begins with a confession of faith, a public delaration before witnesses (Rom 10:9, 10; 1 Tm 6:12). An additional dimension of the Christian’s confession is provided in 1 John 4:2: one must confess that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” that is, acknowledge Jesus’ divinity and preexistence as the Son of God (that he “has come”; see also 1 Jn 4:15) as well as Jesus’ humanity and incarnation (that he has come “in the flesh”). The Greek word “confession” literally means “saying V 1, p 506 p 506 the same thing.” The Christian’s “good confession” is modeled after the pattern of Christ’s confession (1 Tm 6:12, 13).

In only a few passages does the NT discuss confession of sin. Those being baptized by John the Baptist publicly admitted their sins and repented (Mk 1:4, 5). All Christians, in fact, must agree with God that they are sinners; otherwise “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). James presented a fuller picture: when a Christian is ill, the elders are to visit and give the person opportunity to confess any sins. As in the psalms, forgiveness and healing (the moral and the physical) are tied to confession. Recalling that principle, James urged Christians to confess their sins to one another (Jas 5:13–16).

Transformation: The Shift from Confessing Failure to Confessing Weakness - The Power of Humility in Humanity

At this point I am going to borrow from some writing by Brandon Cook, cofounder of the Bonhoeffer Project. He and I collaborated on this… He just doesn't know it as of yet. I love how unity in the body of Christ
The prophet Jeremiah wrote at a time when the nation of Judah faced exile; they were about to be captured by the nation of Babylon, and God said this through His prophet:
Jeremiah 3:11–13 NLT
11 Then the Lord said to me, “Even faithless Israel is less guilty than treacherous Judah! 12 Therefore, go and give this message to Israel. This is what the Lord says: “O Israel, my faithless people, come home to me again, for I am merciful. I will not be angry with you forever. 13 Only acknowledge your guilt. Admit that you rebelled against the Lord your God and committed adultery against him by worshiping idols under every green tree. Confess that you refused to listen to my voice. I, the Lord, have spoken!
“Oh, Israel my faithless people, come home to me again for I am merciful. I will not be angry at you forever only acknowledge your guilt, admit that your rebelled against the Lord your God, and you committed adultery against your God by worshiping other idols. Confess that you refused to listen to my voice.”[1]
When you read the prophets you constantly read this theme of repentance.  It is one of the great scriptural patterns: repent and confess.  Turn and get explicit about your weakness/failure/need.
When you read the prophets you constantly read this theme of repentance.  It is one of the great scriptural patterns: repent and confess.  Turn and get explicit about your weakness/failure/need.
The Prophet Ezekiel wrote during the time of exile said it every more succinctly: 
Ezekiel 14:6 ESV
6 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.
“Tell the people of Israel this is what the sovereign Lord says, ‘Repent and turn away from your idols and stop all for your detestable sins.’”[2]
“Tell the people of Israel this is what the sovereign Lord says, ‘Repent and turn away from your idols and stop all for your detestable sins.’”[2]

Repent and confess.

Turn and confess your weakness and your need.
Of course, we see this pattern in Jesus, himself.  “Repent and believe.”[3]
The turning point for our human sinfulness and selfishness is forgiveness and then transformation.  Repent from darkness, be transformed by light.  The church has often stopped at forgiveness, probably because it’s easier to legislate and control forgiveness than it is actually disciple people and deal with the underlying messiness.

How We Get This Wrong While Striving Hard to Be Right

But even if we understand the critical nature of confession and repentance, the words might become tainted for us if we don’t understand their full meaning, scripturally speaking.  To confess means “to acknowledge and admit,” and repentance means “to turn from one direction to another,” as in turning from death to life.[4]  But sometimes when we confess and repent, what we mean is, “I’m going to get it all right now!” or “This is never going to happen again!”  Oftentimes we relate to grace as a second change to get it right.  We often follow confession and repentance with a burst of will power and resolution, much like we would relate to a new diet or New Year’s resolution.
This is certainly how I related to confession and repentance for most of my life.  I would do something that violated my conscience—watching pornography comes to mind—and feel a sense of shame and frustration, followed by resolve to stop and turn over a new leaf.  Sin, shame, resolve, breaking point and sin again, shame, new resolve, breaking point, repeat cycle.  If will power is our only tool, it can be very hard to find our way out of this cycle.  But this was all I knew: my idea of having a Savior was that Jesus would tolerate me until I got things right.  I spent so much energy in The Human Paradigm, trying to arrive at a place where I was fully free of sin and selfishness.

Will Power Is What We Need More Of! Right?

As is the sincere desire to do better.  But will power alone will usually leave us feeling frustrated, at least when dealing with things at a deeper level of heart and mind.  The problem is that will power, when not coupled to a deeper, internal reckoning and re-orientation, is much like throwing paint on an un-sanded surface; usually, the results don’t last for long.
The problem is that the necessary internal reckoning can feel quite uncomfortable!  Not to mention confusing.  The deeper things of heart and mind are often mysteries to us, evading our best efforts at understanding, let alone transformation.  Why does one reach into the cookie jar again, knowing it will ultimately lead to misery?  Why do we find ourselves in the same pattern of broken relationship….again?  The parts of our hearts “underneath the surface” need help much greater than the capacities of our merely mortal minds and will power.  What we need, in fact, is a source of transformative power outside of ourselves—God—which transcends our human faculties.  And becoming open to God means understanding confession and repentance at a deeper level.  That is: biblical confession and repentance is not just naming our failures so that we can resolve to try hard to do better.  Indeed, confession and repentance is more than just the confession of things we have gotten wrong, it’s the confession that we cannot get everything right It is not solely a confession of things done, but of our limitations as human beings.  It is not simply a doing thing, it is a being thing.  We move from confessing failure to confessing weakness.
This is a truth with which we may agree and yet resist.  It’s a scandal to our minds and it makes little sense, which is why so much of Paul’s writing was spent trying to get people to accept this incredibly counter-intuitive reality: we don’t come to God by our strength but by our weakness.  In fact, Paul actually said that the Law—all the things that Israel was supposed to do and get right–was actually given to Israel to demonstrate and to finally convince them that they couldn’t get it all right![5]  Maybe Israel could master some prayers and practices and religious performance.  Perhaps the men could look fancy in their religious apparel.  But the only way real transformation happens is by becoming open to God, and that happens in confessing—celebrating, even—our weakness.
This is why following Jesus is founded on the scandal of grace.  We have to learn that the way into fullness is the way of emptying.  This is why Jesus says that we have to lose our life to find it. [6]  Confessing weakness can feel like losing our life, built as it is on our sense of strength and success.  But it is also the path into abundant life.
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