Authentic Confession

I’m thinking tonight about authentic confession. In particular, I’m thinking that authentic confession and defensiveness are mutually exclusive.

Defensiveness–excessively concerned with guarding against the real or imagined threat of criticism, injury to one’s ego, or exposure of one’s shortcomings. (

Defensiveness and authentic confession are incompatible. Yet, I’ve done it many times myself. “I’m sorry for [whatever], but you [did it first] …”.

Instead of stopping with a simple confession, I add a justification of my actions at the end. To be frank—that simply is NOT repentance. Instead, I’m trying to give a reason for my anger/bitterness/insensitivity or whatever it was that I did. But repentance is recognizing that my hurtful statements/actions were wrong. Period.

C. J. Mahaney discussed this on his blog a while back.

“When I have sinned against someone, a sincere confession is required. A confession that is sincere and pleasing to God will be specific and brief. I have learned to be suspicious of my confession if it’s general and lengthy. A sincere confession of sin should be specific (“I was arrogant and angry when I made that statement; will you please forgive me for sinning against you in this way?”) and brief (this shouldn’t take long). When I find myself adding an explanation to my confession, I’m not asking forgiveness but instead appealing for understanding.”

The thing that most often undermines sincere confession is the “yes, but” mentality. Especially when it’s “Yes I did that, but you said this about me.” But confession and repentance are solely about acknowledging OUR OWN personal sin. It stops being confession and repentance the moment we get distracted from our own personal sins and focus on what was done TO us or said ABOUT us. Those things likely need to be dealt with at some point. But don’t confuse them with authentic confession or let them interfere with repentance.

Our first instinct will always be to feel more woe over others sins against us than we do of ours against them. But it is a good gospel day when we shed defensiveness (as the gospel equips us to do) and face OUR sins head on with sincere apologies with no BUT’s attached.

Psalm 32:5
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

10 Responses to Authentic Confession

  1. kferguson16 April 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    Thanks Wendy. Defensiveness seems to be our default but it doesn't have to be. The gospel frees us from defensiveness because we can UNCOVER the sin that Christ died for. Self righteousness drives us to “explain” why we sinned–we are uncomfortable in having our shortcomings exposed. Sort of defies the whole meaning of the word confession…..”to agree with God”.

  2. Joanne April 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    We have been talking about this in our family recently – the idea that if I truly believe that Jesus has justified me, I don't need to justify myself! I can sincerely and humbly ask forgiveness, knowing God has forgiven me in Jesus, and move on.

  3. Eliz. K April 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    Thank you for posting!!

  4. strengthfortoday April 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Excellent point, Wendy. I began to see this in myself as I began observing the same behavior in my kids. Being a parent is very instructive, isn't it?

  5. Jen April 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    Joanne, well said!

  6. Sarah R April 13, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    Do you read these comments? Anyway, I just read your post on and I had to tell you that God just used your post in a huge way in my heart…thank you for being obedient to sharing what He's already done in your life….I'm 25, single (dumped by my ex-fiance last year) and feel like I'm beating my head against the wall…my Pastor taught out of 2 Corinthians 12 Sunday and I realized I have asked God to remove this thorn in my flesh not 3 times but 3,000 times in the last few years…but I'm ready to accept what God wants to do in my life and let Him teach me how to respond to my life the way it is. Anyway, thanks for the encouragement.

  7. Wendy April 13, 2011 at 2:57 am #

    Sarah, I do read every comment. 🙂 Thank you for sharing that. God bless you as you wait on Him to move.

  8. Sandi April 13, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    great words. I just had a moment with my daughter this morning. It was too lengthy on my part. :o( I love that thought of being suspicious of my confession. Will remember that.


  9. Jeff April 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    “Never use the word 'but' when making an apology.” That's our house rule. Because I can never switch the apology over to focusing on another person's faults if I can't use that little coordinating conjunction.

  10. Terry Riegel April 15, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    One such defense mechanism goes like this…

    I was angry. I am glad I'm not the only one that gets angry.

    See how my anger is mitigated. The general format is: I sinned but everybody sins.