Mark Dever on Telling the Truth About Sin

Friends, we know that something is not right, and we’re the ones who can tell the truth about that. Pastors, I hope you appreciate how powerful this is evangelistically. Christians try to reach non-Christians sometimes by soft-pedaling the truth about sin. But they’re smarter than that. They know something is not right with themselves and the world. When we tell them the truth about sin, we give them the diagnosis that finally makes sense of their condition. And then when they step into the local church, they begin to see a whole community of people–not just one virtuous, wise sage-like person they may know in you–but they see a whole community of people, with obvious faults and flaws, but joy in the Lord even if they recognize their own sin. A group of people who do not have to pretend they’re all okay in order to know the full life that God calls us to live. Friends, we are sinners, but we know we can be accepted by a holy and loving God. – Mark Dever (bold emphasis by Russ)

  1. A preacher once said, in thinking about his particular congregation, “We have learned to hide our real selves, our sinful selves, behind masks and facades. When people ask, ‘How are you’, we smile and say, ‘Fine, thank you.’ Our local church is often the last place in the world we would dare to bring our sense of weakness.”
    Whew – what an indictment.
    How sad, isn’t it, if the church ends up reduced to being a place where one goes wearing one’s best clothes and best smile – sitting through Sunday School, participating in worship, having coffee together – but all disjointed, separated from the realities of life!
    The pain, the hurts, the hopes, sometimes even the joys are left in the secret confines of home.
    How tragic!
    That such attitudes and approaches develop in the Church is not surprising, given that our Churches are built on a pioneer spirit where every individual had to look out for him or herself, and where one sunk or swam according to one’s capabilities. We pride ourselves on independent ability.
    We have also developed this ‘Christian’ opinion which says it isn’t polite to stick one’s nose too far into another’s business.

    Yet, charging bull-like into that comes the Word of God scattering our polite and proper Christian attitudes with the Holy Directive
    Confess your faults (sins) to each other. (James 5.16)
    Confess your sins.
    Not just to God.
    But also to each other!
    Six short, simple words……
    …. with an enormous and most difficult message to put into practice.
    Couple of reasons why it’s so difficult to live out:
    First, and probably foremost, is that so many people look at the church community as the holy gathering of saints — before seeing it as the fellowship of forgiven sinners. As Richard Foster says, we come to feel that everyone else has advanced so far into holiness that we are isolated and alone in our sin. And so we can’t bear to reveal our failures and shortcomings to others.
    [Foster, Discipline]
    We imagine that we’re the only ones who haven’t stepped onto the high road to heaven. And so we hide the truth in the dark corners of our hearts. We’re afraid that we’ll be rejected by others if we admit to faults.
    Make sense?
    Second – the doctrine of confessing sins to each other hasn’t really been given much air time in Reformed circles. At one time people were skittish of it – found it too Roman Catholic, or something. At other times they were just caught up in different discussions.
    Not that we’ve rejected it.
    Virtually every major Reformed Theology book mentions and affirms this biblical truth – but few really get into it. Until recently.
    But what’s the big deal about confession?
    If Jesus forgives my sins when I confess them to Him, why can’t we just forget it and simply move on?
    Well –
    for a start, let’s affirm the deep importance of confessing to God. It indeed IS the starting point. Psalm 32.3-5:
    When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my sins to the Lord;’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
    What a powerful picture of what happens when we try to live the double life of outer perfection and inner disaster — it tears us apart.
    Now —
    this is true about our relationship with Christ…. but exactly the same thing is true in our relationships with the Body of Christ, the group of people that together make up the Church.
    Honesty, including confession, is right at the top of the agenda.
    Anything less will eventually tear the Body of Christ apart.
    Another thing – James isn’t the only Bible writer calling us to communal confession. In 2 Cor 5.19-21 Paul tells us that we are ambassadors, the representatives of God calling people to reconciliation with the Lord – that means we reclaim the forgiveness of sins on behalf of and with the authority of God himself.
    John 20.23 says the same thing.
    To ignore all this is to essentially line up alongside Cain and ask his horrible time-old question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4.9)
    It’s a question that has led to the most distressing sort of distance between human beings. It’s a question that lies at the root of the isolation and loneliness that has poisoned our society today.
    It’s the sort of question that leads people to say, “Sorry, my religious and spiritual life is a private matter between me and God. None of your business.”
    What a tragedy!
    How unnatural!
    How far from God’s design for His children!
    If you claim to be a believer in Jesus, a child of God – and if I also claim to be a believer in Jesus, a child of God…..
    then……. well…..
    the state of my faith is very much a matter of concern to you!!
    I have no business keeping it private and hidden from you.
    1 Corinthians 12.26:
    If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it.
    If there is something in my faith life that is keeping me from being a fruitful Christian, then you are in some way affected. And it becomes a burden to you. And it becomes a concern that leads you to approach me and to honestly and humbly call me to account. And it leads me to confess what is at the root of it to you – to you, the Ambassador and Priest of God in my life.
    This is such a profound truth.
    It is a huge, deep part of what Jesus prayed in John 17 when He asked the Father, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you loved me.”

    Unity in joys and victories….. And…. unity in struggles and griefs.
    Solidarity as forgiven sinners seeking to become more Christ-like.
    As Louis Berkhof, one of the leading theologians of the CRC, said: We stand in the same faith, are engaged in the same warfare, and are bound for the same goal. [Systematic Theology p.453]
    What happens when we confess to each other?
    G.C.Berkhouwer once said, “Sin is only removed when sin is fully confessed. In confession, before God AND before our fellows, the new and unlimited powers of the Kingdom are made known [Sin p.229]
    When we name sin in the presence of Christ and His followers, it is as if demons are bound – works of darkness, once exposed to the light, lose their power. Shackles on our soul, that otherwise we’d never shake, are loosened. We are set free from its tyranny.
    When we confess to each other, we give each other space to provide support. Standing together we find greater spiritual resilience than ever could be found when standing alone. We gain support to develop new, healthy habits of the heart.

    And this –
    When WE confess it gives other people permission to be vulnerable. We open doors through which they can walk and find freedom.
    Finally – mutual confession, forgiveness and support becomes a tremendous witness to a world which so often looks at the church and accuses it of hypocrisy; of pretending to be squeaky clean….. when it’s very obvious that the opposite is true.

    Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5.16
    It is God saying to us – “Remember, the church is not a museum for finished products. It is a hospital for the sick. Build the environment where healing may come.
    May that be true of us.
    [Paraphrased from Pastor Ken Gehrels’ sermon on James 5:16, Calvin Christian Reformed Church, Nepean, Ontario]

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