by Danny Stimson
“If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9
Lately, I have learned some new lessons about grace. This trinity of sources has steered me toward the unmerited favor of God: Scripture, Redemption Groups at PCPC, and Anne Lamott. The main thing I have learned about grace in recent months is that grace comes to us through means that we may not always want, but that God knows we need: confession and prayer.
When I first started working on the youth staff at PCPC in 2014, Mark Davis said at our first All Staff meeting, “If any of you are struggling with a sin pattern and you have had the thought, ‘I can settle this between me and God and I don’t need to tell anyone else,’ then you are believing a lie from the pit of hell.” Those words are not minced. They are also Scripture’s words. As Christians, we love the “already-ness” of God’s grace and forgiveness. But the “not-yet-ness” can be harder to bear. If we are not careful, this lopsided view of grace can lead us down two very slippery slopes: perfectionism or antinonmianism (anti-law). Perfectionism says God’s grace has already made me perfect in Christ, therefore I won’t struggle with sin anymore. Antinomianism says that God is perfect; I am not yet. God’s grace is sufficient to cover all my sin no matter what I do, so I can, in a sense, do whatever I want and still be forgiven. The truth in these two paths are: God IS perfect, and He HAS made us perfect in Christ. However, we will always struggle with our sin, and we need the grace-infused power of Christ and His Word to be able to battle as victors over sin rather than be victims of it.
Anne Lamott says in her book Traveling Mercies that “Grace is having a commitment to—or at least an acceptance of—being ineffective and foolish.” But she does not stop there. It would be easy to take a statement like that or a verse like “by grace I have been saved” and either give up because we are ineffective in living for Christ or become prideful to think, “I’ve got this.” Anne goes on to say, “I do not at all understand the mysteries of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” God’s grace is not a mystical cloak of perfection nor is it a “get out of hell free” card. God’s grace seeks us out. And when it finds us, it grabs us by the collar, points our eyes to Christ, and fills us with Gospel power to want to move from one degree of glory to the next as we become more and more like Christ each day.
Grace is more than two tickets to paradise. It changes us. But how? Through confession and prayer. This is where Scripture and Redemption Groups come in. 1 John says, “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is a loaded verse. In fact, up until a day ago, I think I misunderstood what it meant. I always thought it made God’s grace and forgiveness conditional upon my confession. And ultimately, this is what some Christians believe. It is important to consider verse nine fully connected to verse eight which says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Miraslov Volf says in his book Free of Charge, “Without confession, I will remain unforgiven, not because God doesn’t forgive, but because a refusal to confess is a rejection of forgiveness.” This confession is, of course, to the Lord, but it is also to others.
Being in Redemption Groups has taught me the glorious means of grace that is confession. When we profess faith in Christ for the first time, we enter into God’s grace and forgiveness of sin by the power of His Spirit. And when we confess our sin in an ongoing way, to God and others, we actually take hold of grace day after day, struggle after struggle. We grasp it, use it, and consume it; it changes us through the community that is created by that confession. Confession is one aspect of something bigger, namely prayer. Prayer is a summoning of God’s grace by coming out of ourselves to encounter God on his terms. And John tells us that the result of confession and prayer is a cleansing and a clothing. We are cleansed from our unrighteousness and clothed with Christ as our propitiation, our wrath-absorber. George Herbert describes prayer as our “Christ-side-piercing spear.” What an image! Our prayers, like the centurion’s spear that poured out Christ’s blood to confirm His death, summon the Gospel of Jesus Christ and pour it into our lives.
God’s grace in Christ, applied by His Holy Spirit, is indeed a mystery. It is summoned by prayer and taken hold of through confession in the midst of community with fellow believers. May God’s grace cover you as you confess and spill out of you as you pray today and in the days to come.