One of our hopes in making disciples at Coggin is that we be a part of a culture where we don't have to pretend like we've got it all together. Living with an a polished veneer is a type of self-preservation that may lead others to think highly of us, but in the end it's a false image that breeds false hope in a false savior. Our efforts of self-preservation are a tendency of the flesh that we pray the Spirit breaks in us, because when we admit that we're not all put together and that we are desperately in need of the grace of God for our continual shaping into Christ's image, then and only then will we know what it means to walk in freedom.
However, if this is truly to become a part of our culture, then not only do we need to learn how to lay aside the polished veneer and confess our sins, but we also need to know how to respond when someone confesses sin to us. It's something you may not think about until the moment comes and you may end up feeling dumbstruck or respond with "Okay, Thanks for sharing." Here are a few things to keep in mind as we fight for one another's joy in Christ.
1. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make when hearing the confession of a brother or sister is to interject comments or questions too quickly. Confessing sin can be very difficult and finding the right words may take time, so we must always guard our tongues and allow the person confessing sin to lay out their heart on their terms. A sure fire way to stifle confession is to be impatient or chatty. In moments of silence you may feel the need to make a joke to lighten the mood or share one of your experiences to spur them on. Fight that urge and instead pray silently that the Spirit would empower them to obedience.
Not only should we be quick to listen and slow to speak, but we should also be slow to anger. Our anger can be kindled in several ways, but two include: 1) the sin being confessed is a direct offense to you. 2) Reoccurring sin that you know is destroying the joy of your brother or sister. Whatever the case, respond with grace.
2. Point them to the Gospel.
The way we respond with grace is by pointing our friends to the Gospel. The essence of the Gospel is not I obey, therefore I'm accepted, but I'm accepted, therefore I obey. So, our response should never resemble "Well, just try harder this week." Such a response is lacking of two major components to Christian confession that must be present. The first is assurance of pardon. Our knee jerk reaction can at times tend to be encouragement void of the Gospel, which amounts to spurring one another to good behavior. When someone confesses sin to you, this is an amazing opportunity to be obedient and share the Gospel with someone in need. The Gospel isn't just for those who are apart from Christ, but for those who belong to Him as well. This provides an opportunity for you to remind your brother or sister of the God who loved them so much that he sent his only Son to take their place on the cross where He absorbed the full wrath of God on their behalf and settled their debt. Now risen and securing their place in God's family, there is now no condemnation them because they are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)! Christian confession is only distinctly Christian when there is assurance of pardon. We all crave this assurance even when we don't realize it, because deep down we know that if we confess our sin, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Therefore, your responsibility as a brother or sister is to point your friend to the one who is faithful, just, and promises to cleanse. The second aspect our response often lacks is the power to go and sin no more. This is an extension of the assurance of pardon. In order for us to leave with any power for the upcoming fight, we need to be reminded of the indwelling Spirit who works in us both to will and to work for God's good pleasure (Philippians 2:16). Fuel for the fight will never be found in exhortations to behave ourselves, but only comes when we kill the flesh by the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:13). Remind your friend to humbly rely on the Spirit of God and the word of God.
3. Pray for them.
James 5:16 says, "Confess your sins one to another AND pray for one another that you may be healed. Pray for him or her on the spot and use that time to remind yourselves once again of the God who has cleansed us of sin, buried us with Christ in baptism, and raised us to live the resurrection life. Then, commit to pray for them and with them as they walk in repentance and faith.
Learning how to respond to those who confess sin is just as important as learning how to confess sin. Confession without assurance and empowering to walk in holiness puts us in danger of losing sight of our dependance on the Spirit and our redemption that's been won through Christ. Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Make the most of a person's confession by pointing them to the Gospel of Jesus. Pray for your brother or sister—that the Spirit of God would restore and empower them to walk in newness of life.