Four months ago, I concluded my verse-by-verse study of the book of Genesis. At that time, I decided I wanted to share more of my personal story and how I have found healing through the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have since related a good deal about my addictions and path to recovery, as well as the principles that helped me along the way. I also shifted into my earlier format of picking a single gospel principle and studying it from every angle.
It has been a fruitful four months, and a much-needed change of perspective, but at this point I feel ready to shift back to other forms of study. To start things off, I have had ten little thoughts and mantras that occurred to me over the course of my most recent studies, and I’d like to share them with you, one each weekday for the next two weeks. After that, I would like to go back to my verse-by-verse Bible study. I will pick up where I left off, ready to begin the book of Exodus. The first of these verse-by-verse studies I expect to post on February 20th.
I’m sure that periodically I will have a spiritual experience that I feel is worth sharing here, at which point I will certainly interrupt my verse-by-verse study to relate it. In general, though, I’m excited to get back to examining the small details tucked away in the scriptures. I hope you’ll be able to find it fruitful as well!
Thus far I have appealed to the mind and to the heart for why the addict needs to bring his secret shame to light through confession. I have shared how my own self-delusions prevented me from confessing for a time and how I was saved after I finally broke through them.
My testimony would be incomplete, however, if I did not bring up what the words of scripture have said upon the matter. It is not only good philosophy and psychology to confess, it is good religion.
And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: - Leviticus 5:5
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. - Proverbs 28:13
And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God...we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: - Daniel 3:3-5
In Leviticus, the book of the law, the Israelites were commanded to confess. It was one of the key steps towards forgiveness, and it was meant to be understood that cleansing would not occur until this ritual had been observed. Thus, by doctrine itself we are shown that we must confess.
Then, in the book of Proverbs we are told that he who does not confess shall not prosper. The book of Proverbs is not a statue of law like Leviticus. It is a collection of wisdoms observed from Solomon’s life experience. Thus, by the words of wise counsel we are again told that we must confess.
And finally, in the book of Daniel, we see the prophet in a moment of personal spiritual practice. Daniel is not performing a formal ritual or giving an address to others, he is being compelled by his own conscience in a personal act. Something in his heart just tells him that he needs to be “confessing my sin and the sin of my people” (verse 20). Thus, by the example of righteous people we also see that we must confess.
By doctrine, by wisdom, and by example, the scriptures make clear that the sinner who wishes to be clean must make their confession.
“But,” one might say, “couldn’t this only mean confession to God? Do the scriptures really say that I have to bring imperfect human beings into the matter? I’ll just work things out with God and that should be enough.” Well, let’s see if the scriptures do have anything to say on that matter.
Confession to Others)
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. - Matthew 3:5-6
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. - James 5:16
Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. - Acts 19:18
Here we have three verses that speak to the need for confession to others is addition to God. The passage in Matthew definitely seems to be suggesting that those who were baptized of John the Baptist were making known to him exactly what wrongs they were having washed away by his baptism. The passages in James and Acts make even more explicit the fact that the early saints were confessing “one to another,” and doing so “openly.”
In my personal experience, the need to confess to another human soul is due to our misconception that our faults make us incapable of being loved by another person. We need to break that illusion, and the only way to do so is to confess to another and see how they respond. Some of the most powerful moments of my life have been sitting in a twelve-step group where I have shared the deepest, most vulnerable parts of myself, and then had my brothers look me in the eye and say “Abe, me too. I’ve been right there myself and I want you to know that I still love you. You may still be in the ugly parts of your journey, but I absolutely respect you for taking this step in the right direction.”
Yes, these are messages that we need to hear from God directly, and at special moments He does say them directly to us. But in my experience, He usually reminds me of these messages through His living angels, the brothers and sisters all around me. When I find a safe place, among godly people, and I make my confession to them, then they are flooded with the love of God and speak to me the words that He gives them.
The Promises of Christ)
We have looked at the words and examples of prophets and apostles, both in the Old Testament and in the New. We have considered my personal experiences as well. But what of the words of Christ, himself? What promises has he made to those who come forward and make confession?
Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. - Luke 17:33
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. - Ezekiel 36:26
No doubt these verses have several applications, but one of them is most certainly to this matter of confession. I have already mentioned how the addict tries to hide his shame because he is trying to preserve his sham life. Christ assures us that the preservation of the old will ironically end in its destruction. The only way forward is to give up the old life. Once we shine a light on the secret, then the secret life dies, replaced with one of authenticity. Lose your life of fearful self-management and give birth to a new one of faithful surrender. The stony heart comes out and one of flesh takes its place.
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. - Luke 9:23
What a fitting description for the addict who overcomes his fears and rationalizations and embraces confession! To do this he must overcome his every basic nature, the pattern he has lived his whole life by, the very reasoning of his own mind. He must “deny himself,” take up the cross of the thing he dreads most, confession, and follow Jesus into that crucible.
Paul communicated this same idea to the Galatians when he wrote “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:” (Galatians 2:20). Denying ourselves and taking up our cross leads to being “crucified with Christ.” Many the addict has said that he felt like making his confession would kill himself. That sounds like hyperbole until you consider it in this spiritual sense. They were actually right; it would kill them. The carnal them! But in that crucifixion, they discovered Christ living within them. Through and in and of him, they were saved.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. - Matthew 11:30
I mentioned in my last post that as terrible as the consequences of confession might seem, they end up being miraculously less than what we expect. First, because almost every addict finds that the world and nature are kinder and more forgiving than they had given them credit for. Their sins had made them cynical, and they had then projected that cynicism onto the world. And secondly, because even when a burden does come, it is tremendously alleviated by the sense of new life within.
And this is exactly what Christ promises us in this verse from Matthew. His yoke and his burden may have some weight, but they are easy and light, certainly far more so than the iron shackles we’ve been dragging around thus far!
In the end, I did not make the decision to confess because I was convinced of the promises in these scriptures. I had heard them, and at times they did stir something within me, but I was far beyond faith when I finally gave in to the truth. I did not unveil my shame because I expected salvation, I did it because I was finally willing to accept damnation.
But, as it turns out, these verses make no requirement for the disciple to have the right expectations when he makes his confession. I found out for myself that you can take this step for virtually none of the right reasons, and mercy will still swoop down and make its claim upon you. It was only in hindsight, after I had already had the reality of these promises come true in my life, that I read these verses and realized that I had engaged in a contract with God without ever realizing it. In hindsight I can testify with all my heart that these promises are true. They were true for me, right down to the smallest detail, and they will be true for you!
6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.
7 And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord slew him.
8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.
9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.
10 And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also
Things didn’t turn out very well for Judah’s first two sons. Each of them died prematurely, as a result of one wickedness or another. We do not know what Er’s crime was, but Onan’s had to do with not fulfilling his obligations under levirate law. This law stated that if a man was married, but died without children, then his brother would take his wife and have children with her. This was meant both as a respect to the prematurely deceased brother, as well as a boon to the widow, who would depend upon the care of her children in her elder years.
The details of this ritual will later be spelled out in the law given by Moses, but evidently it was already a custom many years prior. Certainly it seems a strange tradition today, one that is based on social constructs that we have long since distanced ourselves from. As such, I think it would be difficult for any of us today to fully appreciate all the feelings that would have been going through Tamar, Judah, and Onan at this time. It does that this was an intensely awkward situation for them, though, and surely it is an awkward passage for us to read through as well.
Which brings up an interesting point. The religious are often stereotyped as being stuffy and prudish, but the book that is the very bedrock of Christian and Jewish belief is an unapologetic and explicit record. The sexuality, violence, and depravity that affected these people was very real, and the book does not shy from recounting these details. Among all the other things that the Bible is, it is a very intimate look into both the best and worst of humanity.
13 And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.
14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.
15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Beth-el.
I find this passage confusing. In the previous verses we heard about Jacob making a new altar, speaking with God, having his name of Israel reaffirmed, and renaming the place from Beth-el to El-beth-el. But here we hear of him making another pillar, having another conversation, being called Jacob once more, and the place is called Beth-el again.
Are today’s verses calling back to Jacob’s original visit to this land, back when he was fleeing his father’s household? Are they saying that Jacob set up two different pillars in two parts of the land and called those regions by two different names? Is this a clerical error? Is it two separate accounts of the same event being blended together?
I’m really not sure, but I lean towards the last of those options. We have to remember that the Bible is a compiled book, the work of different prophets and scribes, written in isolation and later combined and translated into a single package. It is a work of divinely approved scripture, but also a product of human quirks. Thankfully, small moments of uncertainty like this don’t get in the way of us understanding Jacob’s story as a whole.
And the angel of the Lord appeared unto Gideon, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? And Gideon said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me. Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight. And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.
And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto Gideon, Throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father’s household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.
The Lord is with thee. Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel: have not I sent thee? Shew me a sign that thou talkest with me The entire account of Gideon, in Judges chapters 6-8, is well worth studying for how it shows the man moving from one great act to another, in each step being motivated by the remembrance of the last. Today I have shared snippets just from the very foundation of his campaign. Here we see God calling Gideon to free the Israelites, and Gideon asking for an assurance which is granted. A small miracle occurs, and it is enough to convince Gideon of his holy calling. The memory of that moment will be fundamental for him moving forward.
And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto Gideon, Throw down the altar of Baal Then did as the Lord had said unto him: and because he feared his father’s household he could not do it by day, that he did it by night That very same night, when the memory of the holy encounter would still be fresh in Gideon’s mind, the Lord gives Gideon his first test. Gideon is motivated enough to carry out the task, though he is also still weighed by the fear of the people. He performs the deed in the dead of night when none can witness it, but he does do it. This, I believe is a turning point for Gideon. Now he does not only have the memory of the angelic visitation, he also has the recollection of he, himself, acting for good, even when it was hard to do. God uses this same pattern numerous times throughout the scriptures. David faces a lion before Goliath, and Goliath before leading a nation. Abraham is commanded to sacrifice the home of his birth before sacrificing his son. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego hold to their principles of diet before holding to their principles in the furnace. God is very wise in this pattern of initiating us through a small test of faith. It isn’t just about building up our confidence in Him, it is building our confidence in ourselves. When we reach our hardest times we are preserved by two memories: 1) God is good 2) And so am I
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?
The Holy Ghost, shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you Did I not speak peace to your mind? What greater witness can you have? We have seen how many of us begin our path of discipleship by remembering the good that God has done for others, and by that having hope that He will do the same for us. But this is not to be the end of our journey. Each one of us is meant to join the scriptural records with some personal accounts of our own. Notice how Jesus left his disciples with the promise that they would be able to remember what he, himself, had said to them. All their lives they had had the story of Moses to reflect on, but that was not to be the only pillar of their faith any longer. Now they had their own personal experiences, words of the Savior spoken directly to them, to help sustain them as well. Peter, James, John and the others had forefathers who had lived by the manna that was sent from heaven. But now Jesus was pointing out to them that they had a manna of their own to take courage from as well. Each one of us must also come to see how God has nourished us directly, and then hold to the remembrance of that forever after.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold
Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race before us Since we have such a hope, we are very bold Yesterday we considered how Paul inspired the Hebrew saints with the memory of all the miracles that had been done to their ancestors. Immediately after this is his statement from Hebrews 12, that all of these examples of the faithful ought to empower them to be faithful themselves. Thus Paul used the stories of the Old Testament prophets to inspire those that were familiar with those legends, but to those that were not, such as the saints in Corinth, he instead recalled their own firsthand experience of gaining hope in the message of Christ, and tells them that such faith should make them bold. It is the same message as to the Hebrews, but it is rooted in a different set of memories. The point is that each of us is given something to start remembering the goodness of God by. For some of us it might be the words of the scriptures that we learned in our youth, for others it is the example of good men and women who pointed us in the right direction, and for others it is the first time that God spoke directly into our hearts. Whatever it is, each of us have something to think back to that inspires us to do great things.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. By faith Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac, By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down. And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God By faith Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house Hebrews 11 is a wonderful treatise on faith, and well worth an examination just for that. But today I actually wanted to take a step back, look at Paul’s methodology in the chapter as a whole, and glean what we can from his teaching style. What Paul is doing through this entire sequence is reminding the saints about miracles that have already occurred, even ones that occurred anciently and are only known because of the scriptural record that was kept of them. Which I do believe is one of the exact reasons why God has kept and preserved the scriptures: so that we can be reminded of the good that He has already done, and thus feel empowered to ask Him to do new good works in us. Which is exactly where most of us begin our path of discipleship. We didn’t have our own miracles to reflect on, so we had to reflect on the miracles of others instead. If He did all this for Noah, Sara, Abraham, Moses, and the Israelites, if He did all this for our pastor, our family member, our friend…then why not us as well? Paul understands that reflecting on these stories, even though they are not our own, will still generate greater faith in our hearts, which leads us to take our own leaps of faith, which finally allows us to have our own miracles to recall.
Thus far we have defined trials only by a few categories that are very broad, because any attempt to limit the definition of trials to a few, specific situations is quickly refuted by the examples of the scriptures. Just consider how many different ways mankind has been tested in those records.
Noah was commanded to build a ship, Moses to lead a nation, Zerubbabel to rebuild a temple. Aaron contended with idolatry, Elijah with Baalism, Jesus with overzealous extensions to the law. Adam was commanded not to eat the fruit, Samson to never cut his hair, Lot to not look back at the destruction of a city. Abraham was required to sacrifice his son, Saul (later Paul) his misconception of theology, Joseph his country of origin. Esau chose between pottage and birthright, Solomon between two women that claimed to be a child’s mother, the Israelite mob between Jesus and Barabbas. David stood against a mighty giant, Gideon against a massive army, Jacob literally wrestled with God. Naaman obeyed the instruction to bathe in the river Jordan, the widow at Zarephath to feed the prophet her least meal, Ruth to lay at Boaz’s feet. Esther accepted the role of queen, Peter the leading of the church, Elisha the mantle of the prophet.
These are stories of people being put to the test. And not just any test, in each example the trial would become one of the defining moments in that person’s life, a critical junction that helped them decide who they would ultimately become. God knew just what circumstance they needed to bring out their true identity.
That each of these tests was so unique is a reflection on how unique we all are as well. The trial that is custom-designed to divide me right down the middle might have little effect on you. Or it might overwhelm you.
A friend of mine once said “no one else has had my trials. You weren’t overshadowed as a child by two ‘perfect’ sisters. And if you were, then you didn’t have that trial and lose your father while young. And if you did, then you didn’t have those trials and struggle with an addiction. And if you did have all of those trials, then you still didn’t have them the way that I did.”
Your trials are yours and yours alone, so take ownership of them. No one else has tasted them except for your Savior. You two are the experts here, the only ones that can find in them the person you were born to be.
And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images.
How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him It is very hard to live a life divided. When the ancient Israelites were seduced by the theology of Baalism, they went to great lengths to make it compatible with their Hebrew beliefs. No matter how much they tried to contort things, though, Baal was Baal and Jehovah was Jehovah, and the two of them were not the same. Today we also awkwardly try to combine the gospel with things that have no place in it. We do it as a society when we try to champion causes that make mockery of God, and we do it as individuals when we try to excuse our personal vices.
Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty These back-breaking acrobatics leave us faulty in the end. I have far more respect for one who sincerely and whole-heartedly believes a different philosophy than my own than I do for one who precariously tries to straddle both. In the end we need to ask ourselves the same question that Elijah posed to the Israelites. Is the Lord truly God? Because if He isn’t then we might as well cast that theology off entirely and fully embrace the ways of the world. I mean why not? But if the Lord is God then stop trying to make Him into what He is not. Accept that His commandments are what His commandments are, and that no amount of popular opinion is going to change them. Accept that even if you do not understand all the prescribed steps of His gospel, that they still are what they are, and need to be taken as such. If the Lord is God, then forsake the rest and follow Him.