Sin Is Heavy
Suffering feels like our biggest problem and avoiding it like our greatest need—but we know that there is something more. Sin is actually our biggest problem, and rescue from it is our greatest need.
There is a link between the two. Suffering exposes the sin in our hearts in a way that few things can. When our lives are trouble free, we can confuse personal satisfaction for faith. We can think that God is good, and we are pleased with him, though we might be pleased less with him than we are with the ease of our lives. Then, when life is hard—especially when life remains hard—the allegiances of our hearts become more apparent. Suffering will reveal sin that still “clings so closely” to us (Heb. 12:1), and sin weighs a lot.
We don’t always like to look at it, but this burden needs to be dealt with. Sin is the heaviest of weights; forgiveness is the greatest deliverance.
See the Weight
Only people who know they have burdens can be delivered from them. Sadly, the method for that deliverance—confession—has been tarnished. We are slow to talk about sin for fear that it could threaten our already fragile egos or label us as judgmental and narrow-minded. But instead of thinking about sin talk as an endless stream of negativity and browbeating, think of it as something good. It is, after all, a part of God’s rescue package that is called the “Good News.”
So though it’s true that sin itself is not good, to see our sin is good. Whereas sin leads down a burden-filled path, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Confession is essential to that life.
Seeing the weight of our sin brings blessings. Here are three:
1. Seeing the weight of our sin drives us to Jesus.
It is the Spirit’s work to help us see our sin (John 16:8). This drives us to Jesus for forgiveness, and this is very good. Jesus comes for sinners, not the righteous (Matt. 9:13). Conviction of sin shows that we are alive and responsive. Conviction means that we can see ourselves, at least partly, and that is a prerequisite for talking with friends about sins (Matt. 7:3–5).
With no need for mercy, why bother sticking with Jesus? If we look to him merely for deliverance from life’s difficult circumstances, we would do better with Prozac or a little cunning. These, at least in the short term, seem more effective.
2. Seeing the weight of our sin brings humility.
An awareness of sin brings humility—not shame or humiliation—and humility is a brilliant reflection of Jesus to others.
The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:13–14)
Here is a community goal: to be able to identify one pattern of sin in our lives, and to be able to do it with only a moment’s notice any time we are asked. Sin is the heaviest of weights; forgiveness is the greatest deliverance.
3. Seeing the weight of our sin is the beginning of power and confidence.
When we see our sin, we are seeing the Spirit’s conviction, which means we are witnessing spiritual power, but that power feels different from what we expect. It’s not like worldly power. Spiritual power feels like a struggle, or weakness, or neediness, or desperation. It is simply, “I need Jesus,” which is the most powerful thing we can say. It means that our confidence is not in ourselves or in either our righteousness before God or our reputation before others. Our confidence is in Jesus, and that confidence cannot be shaken. Just imagine: no more hiding from God, no more defensiveness in our relationships. When we have wronged others, we simply ask their forgiveness. Our security in Jesus gives us the opportunity to think less often about what others think of us. It gives us freedom to make mistakes and even fail. No longer do we have to build and protect our own kingdom.
Sins weighs a lot, but those who can see their sins see something good. When we confess these sins, knowing that they are forgiven, we see something better—Jesus himself.
Lay the Weight Down
So we want to grow in seeing sin and confessing it. We want to lay the weight down. But it’s not always easy. Young children confess blatant disobedience—“I’m sorry I threw my dolly at you”—but the ins and outs of that disobedience are lost on them. We, too, can be children. Consider the man caught in pornography whose confession—“I’m sorry, okay?”—doesn’t measure up to a child’s. Such confessions, from an adult, are unbecoming and hurtful. To lay the weight of sin down means looking more carefully at our hearts.
Against you, you only, have I sinned (Ps. 51:4).
Though we don’t always realize it, all sin is personal—it is against God. It is against God and his character. Our sin says, “I want my independence”; “I don’t want to be associated with you”; “I want more than you can offer me”; “I know what is best for me”; or—and this is scary—“I hate you” (James 4:4). We don’t always know we are saying these things, but that is the nature of the heart. There is usually more going on than what we see.
Throughout biblical history, God has graciously let his people see the realities of their hearts. When he liberated his people from Egypt and led them into the desert on the way to a fruitful land, the people grumbled against Moses and Aaron, wondering, as many of us would, why they were being taken out of Egypt only to face other hardships in the desert.
Moses saw clearly: “Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord” (Ex. 16:8). No one had said a word against God, but in reality they all had. The Lord himself responded to Moses by exposing the truth:
The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (Num. 14:11)
And all they did was a little grumbling during a challenging day.
The New Testament letter from James follows up on this insight (James 4:1–10). James takes us from things that are obvious, such as disputes and quarrels, and then moves to things that are less obvious, such as our out-of-control desires and demands, our unfaithfulness to God, our friendship with both the world and the Devil, and our hatred against God. What has seemed like a perfectly good reason to get ticked off at someone becomes a time for the Spirit to take us into depths we could not see without him.
Let’s keep that understanding of our hearts in mind. Bad behaviors, even those that are culturally acceptable, like a little grumbling, are expressions of our spiritual allegiances. And through confession we invite God’s spotlight on those uneven and divided allegiances.
Confession Is for Everyone, Every Day
We all need to confess, and we need to do it every day (Matt. 6:12). No one is so bad that he or she is beyond forgiveness. Scripture includes murderers (Moses) and schemers (Jacob) and adulterers (David) among God’s people so that no one can say that they are beyond the reach of God’s mercy.
On the other hand, no one is so good that only one or two confessions a year will do. There are things we could confess from any moment in our day, because no one is perfect this side of heaven.
So even though sin weighs a lot, we aim to see it and enjoy the benefits of confession. When we lay it down, we are thankful and find joy in confession, knowing we are already forgiven because Jesus has become our sacrifice, once and for all (Heb. 10:11–14). Our greatest need has been met.
Edward T. Welch (PhD, University of Utah) is a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He has been counseling for more than 35 years and has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions. His books include When People Are Big and God Is Small, Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away From Addiction, Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest, Shame Interrupted, and Side by Side. He blogs regularly at CCEF.org.