Uncovering our Hidden Sins
Ever been caught in a little white lie? How about a big black one? We all have because we are all human. But our natural tendency is to deny what we have done. Even if our action was a mistake and done in innocence, we still deny it. The irony is that making a mistake is not necessarily sinning, but once we lie to cover it up, we enter the sin-world first introduced by Adam and Eve. Genesis chapters 2 and 3 reveal that God told Adam and Eve they could eat from any tree in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So, of course, they ate from the forbidden tree. When they realized what they had done and they heard God coming to talk with them, ‘they hid from the Lord God among the trees in the garden’ (Genesis 3:9).
I bet anxiety first made its way into the human heart during that time. Adam and Eve knew God had told them not to eat from the tree, but they ate anyway and already they sensed changes going on in their minds and the world around them. Uncertainty and a negative kind of change entered the world. Perhaps their thoughts were something like this:
Oh, no, we’re naked! We weren’t naked before we ate the fruit of that tree. Look – the animals are naked, too! But, but…I think that’s OK. I don’t think it’s OK for us to be naked, though. Quick, let’s sew some fig leaves together to cover ourselves. What is going on? What is happening to us? Remember how God said we would die if we ate that fruit? What does it mean to die? What will happen? I don’t like this. And this feeling…this awful gnawing in my stomach at the thought of what God will say when he sees us. Where did this awful feeling come from? Wait! Do you hear that! Oh, no, it’s God! He’s coming to see us! I used to love it when he came to see us, but now…well….quick, quick, hide…there in trees. Maybe he won’t see us. Maybe he won’t know what we’ve done.
We think we are covering it up, but God knows. Numbers 32:23 says “You may be sure that your sin will find you out.” That’s exactly what happened to Adam and Eve. God asked them, ‘What is this you have done?’ (Genesis 3:13) He knew what they did, but was giving them an opportunity to confess. Instead, they started blaming everyone but themselves. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Trying to hide the sin and then blaming someone else for it only makes a bad situation worse. Adam and Eve did not make their sin less harmful when they tried to hide it and when they blamed others – they extended their failure.
Perhaps they thought their lies would smooth things over and God would overlook their disobedience. Don’t we do the same? We don’t want to make others, or ourselves, uncomfortable. We wait for it to ‘blow over.’ Perhaps it is the easiest route in short term, but it does not get the best results. We are left with an underlying uneasiness because we know what we have done. And the lie will come out in the long run, be it now or on judgment day. It hangs over our heads until the lie is exposed. So, for our own good, God commands us to confess – to stop the ‘con’ and ‘fess’ up – to ourselves, God and others.
Confess to Self
The hardest step can often be admitting our failures to ourselves. There are a variety of reasons we choose to stay in denial, but here are the primary ones.
- We do not want to stop what we are doing. Sin feels good. There is an appeal to it. After all, we are not tempted to eat a bowl of dirt. But that double chocolate chip brownie is a different story. If it wasn’t appealing, we wouldn’t be tempted. And our culture does not promote delayed gratification. Instead of thinking of the long-term impact of our actions, we focus on how we feel right now. In one of his sermons, Pastor John MacArthur said that he sometimes denies himself dessert in order to practice self-denial and not to gratify the desires of the flesh’s every whim.
- We do not want to feel the pain we are numbing. In many instances, we are using the pleasures of the moment to numb the pain. No one starts life thinking they are going to be a drug addict. The drug makes them feel good for a moment, forgetting the pain of loss or rejection or shame or harm done to them. The more we take the drug, the deeper the pain recedes. We may even believe the pain has dissolved along with the drug. But it doesn’t, which is why we need an endless supply of the drug in order to keep the pain away. Keep in mind that the drug is anything that temporarily elevates our sense of well-being: food, shopping, adventure, pornography, work, attention from others, tv, reading. Satan in clever and the list is endless. The desire to numb the pain can be so strong that we may blind ourselves to the destructiveness of our behavior. It often takes another person to point out to us the harm we are doing in our lives.
- We cannot bear to admit who we are. We are human and will make mistakes, but we have a hard time admitting it. Sometimes our pride is driving us. At other times, we really do believe we are ‘lower than worm sweat’ and that our mistakes prove our shame and guilt. Most times it is a combination of both. But Satan’s lies that we are ‘a mistake’ or ‘not good enough’ often overrides the truth that we all mistakes and are still of infinite worth in God’s sight.
One sobering thought is that God says we are calling him a liar if we do not admit our sin. 1 John 1:8-10 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” How easy it is to confess some of our sins and change those things we would like to change. But Jesus, who calls himself ‘the way, the truth and the life’ in John 14:6, calls us to live truth in all areas of our lives.
The first of eight principles of recovery based on the beatitudes from John Baker’s Celebrate Recovery is based on Matthew 5:3 (GNB) “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.” The first principle is stated as follows: “Realize I’m not God. I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and that my life is unmanageable.”
We need to step out of denial. But how do we step out of denial if we don’t know there’s a problem? You can use the following as a guideline to determine if there is a destructive behavior in your life you are not dealing with:
- Compare your behaviors to the bible – examples: do you gossip to feel better about yourself, do you stretch the truth in your favor, do you watch shows you feel guilty about watching?
- Inconsistent behavior – examples: you act one way on Saturday night and another way on Sunday morning; you have two sets of friends for two kinds of activities; you curse when you are alone but not when you are around other people
- You struggle to control yourself in specific areas, such as spending, eating, drinking, always working
- You conceal your actions – lying about where you went, throwing away all the candy or food wrappers before your spouse gets home, hiding your reading materials
- A behavior keeps ‘eating at you’ You may have recognized and dealt with a specific behavior or word or action, but it keeps recurring. God’s small, still voice keeps bringing it back up again. There may be more going on than appears on the surface. We need to be alert and discern between false guilt and God’s conviction. But if it keeps coming to mind, something needs to be dealt with, even if it is the false guilt.
- Someone has confronted you with your behavior. Although we need to be discerning because not everything someone confronts us with is truth, we should be open enough to listen and to consider their position.
- Some area of your life is unmanageable. I’ve known many alcoholics who claim they do not have a problem because they can hold down a job and take care of the basic necessities of life. But their emotions and relationships with others were in shambles and they could not resist the bottle. Those areas of their lives were unmanageable.
One motivation for being honest with yourself is to consider those you may be harming by your behavior. None of us live in a vacuum. Our behaviors impact other people. Here are some examples. The addicted often spread havoc in the lives of their loved ones. And codependents rob the addicted of the dignity of making their own choices and taking care of themselves. The lie you tell to ‘keep the peace’ is preventing another person from making a well-rounded decision based on all the facts. Your family doesn’t want the extra birthday presents you buy them with all the money you are making from your overtime. They rather spend time with you. The list could go on and on. The bottom line is that our actions do have an effect on others.
Consider taking an inventory of your behavior. Spend some time prayerfully and thoughtfully considering what you do and why you do it. Talk to a trusted friend and ask them if they see any destructive pattern of behavior in your life.
Or perhaps you are on the other end of the spectrum right now and feel a prompting to confront someone else about their destructive behavior. Obtain wise counsel on how to approach the person and prayerfully consider what you will say. No matter how they respond, remember that you are lovingly giving them an opportunity to change for the better. These are Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 after he confronted the Corinthians with their negative behavior: “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Confess to God
After we admit our negative behavior to ourselves, we can then admit them to God. Ironically, he is the one prompting us to admit them to ourselves, but he still calls us to confess our sin to him. It is important to do so because we need his forgiveness and open communication with him, which leads the way to a more intimate relationship. Also, in order to follow him and his ways, we need to agree with him and his ways. Can you imagine closely following someone you don’t agree with? It would not be possible to live in harmony or peace with that person if you were always at odds about ideas, actions and concepts.
Repentance is the biblical term for agreeing with God that our way is the wrong way and his way is the right way. But it is more than sorrow for getting caught. And it is deeper than grieving for the consequences of what we have done. The ‘re’ in repentance means to ‘turn back’ and ‘pent’ refers to ‘that which is highest.’ We are to turn back to God’s way of living, which is the highest and best way of living. According to that definition, we may even be called to repent for actions that seem to have a positive outcome.
While requiring full disclosure, God also reminds us that nothing we have done will separate us when we repent and follow him. From the smallest to the largest of sins, Micah 7:19 reminds us that “you will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” God so deeply desires an intimate relationship with you that he will ‘hurl’ your sin into the sea! And he does it for his sake, so that he can be close to you. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers them no more.” Isaiah 43:25
Confess to Another
Confessing to another person is an often-overlooked important step. Sometimes it is deliberately overlooked because it is difficult to admit our failures to another person. Sometimes it is overlooked because we do not realize God tells us to confess to each other. Or perhaps we simply do not realize the benefits of doing so. We often experience a break-through that can only be received by confessing to another person. James 5:16 says to ‘confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’ Confessing to God brings forgiveness. Confessing to another person brings healing. In his book Soul Detox, Craig Groescel, says it this way:
“You might be tempted to think, ‘I can just confess my sin to God – that’s all I need to do.’ If your goal is forgiveness only, then you are right. But if you’d like strength and encouragement to overcome falling into the same sinful trap, remember our loving God loves to work through his people. As I implied earlier, if you are trapped in a habitual sin, chances are good you need God’s help through his people.”
Take some time to decide exactly what you need to confess. Not every little detail of every action requires confession. If this step is especially difficult for you, write out your confession and simply read it aloud. Choose a quiet, private place where you will not worry about being overheard. You can also set some ground rules, such as asking the person to whom you are confessing to refrain from making comments or asking questions. This is your confession. Confess in a way that makes you feel most comfortable.
Most important, be discerning in who you decide to confide in. Not everyone needs to know everything. For your own well-being, prayerfully consider your options. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- It this person judgmental and critical or empathetic and caring?
- Has he/she gone through the process of confession themselves?
- Are they safe and able to keep confidences?
- Would confessing harm them in any way?
You may also be prompted to apologize to someone who was harmed from your actions. In this instance, it is especially important to consider the well-being of that person. If further harm will come to them from your confession – do not ask for their forgiveness. Seek Godly counsel and be especially diligent in prayer about this situation. Remember, ultimately your actions are between you and God. He has forgiven you. You do not need the forgiveness of the person you have harmed. Seek it only when clearly directed by God to do so and when doing so will bring a benefit to them.
If you feel stuck in a destructive behavior and have not gone through the process of confessing to yourself, to God and to another person, consider doing so now. God’s Word says that you won’t regret it!
“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but he one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Proverbs 28:13
- Discuss a time when you made a mistake or sinned and didn’t want anyone to find out. What did you do to try to hide it?
- Discuss your primary reason for staying in denial: (1) you simply want to continue in your sin (2) you do not want to feel the underlying pain your sin is numbing (3) you are ashamed of who it will reveal you to be or (4) other.
- How do you typically handle constructive criticism? Are you open to it or resistant? Explain.
- Is there someone you need to confront with a destructive pattern in their life? What steps will you take in preparation for that discussion?
- What value do you see in confessing your sins? Discuss any resistance you may have to confessing your sins to another person.
- Is there someone you need to ask forgiveness from? Are you willing to do so?