Confessing our sins doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs. But if we don’t give it the attention it deserves, we miss the joy that God wants for us, says Howard and Holly Satterthwaite
“Confession is about as enjoyable as a root canal. Avoid it. Fake it. Fudge it. It’s self-attack, why would you put yourself through that?”
On the basis of opinions like that, you may well be asking: why on earth would anyone want to spend time studying, practising and writing a book about confession?
It’s a good question. But what if it’s not those things? What if confession is God’s original invitation to find our way back to joy? What if it’s not a depressing journey of introspection but one of joyful liberation? What if confession is actually like disinfecting a wound: it stings for a short time but brings about healing for the long haul. What if it’s the way to break free from the burden of guilt and the stain of shame?
The first question
In the first recorded dialogue between God and humanity in scripture, God asks a question: “Where are you?” In Genesis 3:9, we immediately see God’s plan to set us free via a loving question; an invitation to step out from shameful hiding to guilt-freeing celebration. God sacrificially clothed our parents’ nakedness, and promised that he will deliver us (Genesis 3:15).
If the Church had a little more authentic joy, there’s a good chance revival might come
The story continues throughout scripture. King David sins in committing adultery and murder, then moves - via confession - to recover his joy. “For when I kept silent about my sin,” he says in Psalm 32:3-4, “my bones wasted away… [and] my strength was dried up.” (ESV). In Psalm 51:8-11 he prays: “Let me hear joy and gladness… let the bones you have crushed rejoice… Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” That is the backdrop to 1 John 1:9, the verse that Spiritual Detox: Discovering the Joy of Liberating Confession (SPCK) is based upon: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Joy is the first purpose statement of John’s first-century letter: “to make our [and your] joy complete” (1 John 1:4). Both translations are legitimate: John is writing to perfect individual and corporate joy (which flow into and out of each other). And this joy is found through right, close, intimate fellowship with God, the source of our joy. This fellowship is so important to John he mentions it no less than four times in the lead up to 1 John 1:9. You can enjoy the same intimate fellowship of holy love that the apostle John had with Jesus. How? Through “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7) – a synonym for confession.
Yes, confession does involve getting serious about your sins, and agreeing with God about how bad they are (this is the meaning of the Greek word ‘confess’). But it should never stay there. Confession is about claiming the gracious cause-and-effect promise of 1 John 1:9. We dive deep into the ugliness of sin, but only so we can quickly rise to stand on solid ground, slowly savouring and forever feasting upon the forgiveness of God.
Mercy is meant to go to your head. Christians are meant to get giddy with delight - drunk on forgiveness
Through confession, our sins, and all unrighteousness - however bad they may be - are sent away, lifted off, covered over, removed, blotted out, un-remembered, trampled underfoot, and cast into the depths of the sea. Gone. Confession is about putting on the ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven identity that Jesus won for us on the cross. So yes, we need to look seriously at our sin and confess it, but only so that we can truly savour the forgiving love of our wonderful Saviour.
One of the reasons Christians can struggle to come to God in confession is wrongly fearing condemnation, rather than faithfully expecting cleansing. The world, the flesh and the devil (see Genesis 3:1-5) want you to think that God is a killjoy; that he’s mean instead of merciful. But Jesus set the matter straight and exposed Satan’s original lie with his first miracle. At the wedding in Cana, he turned water into top notch wine. He kept the festivities going!
An unusual miracle
Thinking ahead to his own wedding, and the bride price of blood he would pay for the Church, Jesus turned some H20 into C2H5OH. But it wasn’t just any water that he used for this miracle. It was water from jars used for ceremonial cleansing and ritual purification. That’s significant. And it wasn’t just a small amount. By my calculations, he made the equivalent of between 600 and 1,000 bottles of wine. That is a lot of wine! God was making a point: he is the God of joyful, abundant, mercy and forgiveness. That’s what he wants you to know most about him. Its why, when he first revealed his name to Moses in Exodus 34:6, he began with: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God”.
Confession is an invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). It is to drink the new covenant wine of forgiveness (note the communion connection). It’s not just knowing that God is merciful but experiencing it. Mercy is meant to go to your head. Christians are meant to get giddy with delight - drunk on forgiveness, if you like. And if the UK Church had a little more authentic joy, there’s a good chance renewal - maybe even revival - might come.
Confession is a key that unlocks celebratory joy. Blending biblical teaching with practical advice and application, Spiritual Detox will show you how making regular, heart-felt confession will revitalise your spiritual life - whether you are unhappy and discouraged, wrestling with guilt and shame or just longing to drink more deeply of God’s forgiveness and abundant grace. Using examples from scripture and meditations based on 1 John 1:9, it explores how confessing sin frees us from guilt and strengthens our relationship with God. Packed full of practical wisdom and insight, it will leave you with a clearer vision of God’s forgiveness, helping you to make confession part of your everyday spiritual formation and setting you on a path of liberating joy and discipleship.