It is sometimes hard to know what is real in our society. We live in a world where we judge ourselves with comparisons to viral hashtags and perfect Instagram filters. Everyone’s best life is on full display 24/7. We all have our #SquadGoals and #RelationshipGoals.
Ironically, those Instagram and Facebook posts signal the presence of authenticity. “I’m being authentic by letting you in to what’s going on in my real life.” But we all know that’s a fake authenticity. There is a near-paralyzing fear that comes with true authenticity. The thoughts bombard us every time we start to grow in relationship with others. If people only knew . . .
· The things I have done in my past
· My shortcomings as a spouse
· My failures as a parent
· My private thoughts
· Sin based in my insecurities
The beautiful and freeing truth of true authenticity is that being open and vulnerable to a group of people doesn’t require walking in perfection; it requires walking in confession. Scripture lays it out this way in 1 John:
Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:5–9 hcsb)
Our natural reaction to sin is to run and hide in darkness, but the power of the gospel frees us to come out into the light. Because of the blood of Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid of confessing our sin—not because we don’t sin or our sin doesn’t have consequences, but because through the gospel, we know we are forgiven of our sins. That allows us to confess without self-justification. Now we can confess to one another not just so we will receive forgiveness from one another, but so that the forgiveness Jesus has already given to us can be pronounced again and again in our communities.
The picture is found in James 5:16: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect” (hcsb).
This verse is transparency at its best. It’s a picture of someone who, convinced of the limitless grace and promised forgiveness of Jesus, confesses their sin. They lay themselves open and bare before others, not expecting shame or guilt, but instead expecting healing. It’s a crucial step on the road to holiness, but that’s just the thing—it’s one step on the road. It’s not an end in itself.
The gospel both enables us to be truly transparent and compels us toward a greater end that lies beyond transparency. We confess to one another not so we can be real with one another; we confess to one another because we have a desire to be made holy. To be healed. To stop sinning. And we are responsible and even blessed for aiding one another on that journey. James continues on in verses 19 and 20:
My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins. (hcsb)
The work of Jesus makes confession and repentance more beautiful than burdensome. We can share “below the line of shame” because we already know we are so broken that Jesus had to die for us. But we also know we are so loved that He was willing to die for us.
The only way for a small group to embrace this power of healing is for the leader to model and practice it from the beginning. That is how our group can finally achieve #groupgoals.
Chris Surratt (@ChrisSurratt) is a ministry consultant and coach with more than twenty years of experience. He served on church staffs prior to becoming the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources. He is the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group, from which this is excerpted and adapted with permission from B&H Publishing Group. You can follow his blog at ChrisSurratt.com.