Secret Sin Will Devour You

I am convinced that sin takes its most vigorous and incapacitating form as it festers in secrecy. When a Christian shields his sins from others and outwardly portrays himself to be more whole and stable than he truly is—this Christian is in the direst of predicaments. You would never know it because he won’t let you see his true state. He may not even really know it himself, because he may be so caught up in his charade that he actually believes his polished exterior is an accurate representation of his true condition. But despite its lack of visibility or his unawareness of it, his private iniquity is eating away at his soul, slowly devouring his joy in Christ and love for God and others. Will it consume his faith entirely? Maybe. I know too many “ex-Christians” whose apostasy followed years of spiritual pretense and concealment of sin.

Living in secret sin is no trivial thing—it always hinders the outworking of a person’s faith and always possesses the power to destroy a person’s faith. However, God has given us the practice of confession to protect us from these hindrances and endangerments. When I say “confession,” please resist envisioning a person sitting in a confessional box and spilling all their deepest, darkest secrets to a non-visible priest sitting on the other side of the wall. Though I see how that can and does serve a purpose, such practice is not the primary mode of biblical confession. When the Bible talks about confession, it’s talking about 1) personally confessing our sins to God and 2) confessing our sins to a trusted brother or sister in Christ.

Do all sins need to be confessed both to God and to a fellow believer? I don’t think so. There is not enough time in the world to disclose all of our evil intentions, white lies, and lustful entertainments to other Christians. Every single trespass of which we are aware should be confessed to God, but not every sin we commit warrants a horizontal, face-to-face confession. However, if we have been or are currently entangled in a pattern of sin, or if we have committed some large-scale sin, or if we have personally trespassed against another believer, I believe face-to-face confession is biblically mandated.

In his letter, James commands us to confess our sins to one another, adding that “healing” is attainable through this practice (James 5:16). Does he mean physical healing? Perhaps. I tend to think, though, that he is using “healing” in a more holistic sense—including spiritual, emotional, and relational healing. John likewise teaches that confession is a necessary component of walking in the light (1 John 1:5-10). Some may argue that this “confession” to which John refers is the initial, one-time confession of sin made at the moment of conversion. However, I don’t think John is describing a moment-in-time occurrence but rather a way of life. I believe John is saying that an earmark of genuine faith is a willingness to consistently walk in humble transparency before Christ and His Body.

Most of us know and agree with all that, don’t we? Yet even still, so many of us continue to conceal our truest, sin-ridden self from the eyes of even our closest friends in Christ. I receive scores of emails from people who have for years been secretly dominated by various sinful behaviors, yet they’ve never told a soul (other than me, but sending an email to a stranger doesn’t count). They justify their concealment by telling themselves that their confession to God was sufficient. And sometimes, that’s a valid justification. Like I have already argued, not every single sin merits horizontal confession.

However, many do.

There are some trespasses for which we need forgiveness not only from God but also from the one against whom we’ve sinned. In fact, Jesus commands that we seek forgiveness from those we’ve offended before we even approach his altar (Matthew 5:23-24). If we have committed adultery against our spouse, walking in the light demands a face-to-face confession. If we have stolen from someone, walking in the light demands a face-to-face confession. If we have slandered or gossiped about a brother or sister, walking in the light demands a face-to-face confession.

And then there are trespasses we commit only against God and ourselves. While we may not need to seek the forgiveness of others for these kinds of sins, I believe confessing some of them to a trusted brother or sister in Christ is of the utmost necessity. The degree to which we are willing to be horizontally forthcoming about the true condition of our lives is always indicative of how humble and submissive our hearts really are before God. When we confess our sins to one another, we 1) protect ourselves from the inevitable pitfalls of prideful, hypocritical living, and 2) we gain access to the wisdom, prayers, and accountability that our Christian friends can provide. If we have been drinking ourselves into oblivion or snorting coke or shooting up, we should be horizontally forthcoming with a trusted Christian. If we have been overtaken by pornography for weeks or months or years, we should be horizontally forthcoming with a trusted Christian. If we have been consumed by internalized bitterness or envy or anger, we should be horizontally forthcoming with a trusted Christian.

The Christian who refuses to confess his or her sins to those against whom they have sinned is a Christian walking in darkness. The Christian who refuses to confess his or her serious, non-relational sins to a trusted spiritual sibling is a Christian walking in darkness. And walking in darkness never ends well. Shielding our true condition from others’ sight and setting forth a pretty but inaccurate portrayal of ourselves is a hypocritical practice that poisons and potentially endangers our faith. “Saving face” is the work of the flesh, not the Spirit—it is indicative of a heart that is dominated by pride, not faith. And fleshly, prideful living always precedes a great and terrible fall (Proverbs 16:18).

If you are walking in the darkness today, honor God and protect yourself by stepping into the light—even if your legs tremble as you do. Make a way for reconciliation and restoration by confessing your sins to those you have offended. Invite others to help you and hold you accountable by being forthcoming about your most secretive battles against the flesh. You don’t have to tell everybody. You don’t even have to tell multiple people. Just tell somebody. It will be tremendously uncomfortable and your ego will be crushed—but the Spirit of Freedom will rise in its place. You will be free from guilt’s hauntings, unbound from the chains of hypocritical living, and be able to finally enjoy all the benefits of walking in light-filled fellowship with God and others.

  • I recently began talking with other in our church about these matters, and it does help. There are some who tied up in religion and I don’t discuss it with them. They are not prejudiced (contrary to the propaganda of the LGBT community) but are set in their ways. I understand this. But those who are faithful, who know their own hearts, these do not judge me. They are supportive and I have asked them to hold me accountable, so that I never go back into the lifestyle again. I wish I had been forthcoming with my wife on this issue, and have paid for it with marital strife. Thanks Matt!

    • Michael

      I believe it is wise to limit your discussions with those who are “tied up in religion”. Like you said, they may not be prejudice, but it has been my experience that they have less of a heart to sympathize with your situation and want to be more concerned with sharing the “sinfulness” of your behavior. Praying for your marriage.

  • Johann Venter

    Thank you, Matt! I feel that you really touched my soul – God speaks to me through His Spirit.

  • Lyle Nelson

    Matt, although you’ve mentioned it several times in your post, it cannot be overemphasized that you ought only to confess your sin to a TRUSTED Christian. Some people are simply not mature enough in the faith to appropriately handle sensitive information and if such things are gossiped to the wrong people, unexpected damages can occur. Also, a trusted, mature Christian is more likely to be able to give you the advice, support, and encouragement you need or direct you to someone who can.

    • I have to agree.

    • Michael

      Agree, but if I may also add. A trusted friend who you believe will listen, be willing to understand and hold you accountable.

    • Jacky Sullivan

      Celebrate Recovery was my outlet here, for you are correct telling the wrong person can be hurtful but confession has truly been freeing for me. It takes some of the hold off that Satan used against me.

  • a person of interest

    I once, many years ago, had an affair. I sat on it and tried to hide my sin from my spouse for decades. It nearly consumed me and it killed affection between us for more than two decades. Healing began only after I confessed it. From that point on I have truly been free and God has blessed us beyond all of my hopes. I feel clean and I feel free to love fully.

  • mike

    I wish this message was preached in church more often. The church (maybe just mine) doesn’t like to talk about sin very much. My neighbor refuses to go to any church even though he calls himself a Christian. He says they are all hypocrites there. I said not all of them. But as I thought more I wondered am I one of them? I think those of us who have been hurt as kids grow up with this self esteem problem and are more vulnerable to play this charade game with others. God help us to be more honest with Him and others. Good post Matt.

    • I viewed the church as being full of hypocrites due to a bad experience I had, one which left me bitter and angry for more than twenty years, I did not step foot back inside a church till after I had my stroke. While there will always be hypocrisy, I was using it as an excuse to not know God better, feeding my anger about being SSA and blaming God for it. I wish I had known about sin nature then.

      • mike

        It’s easy to get bitter after being injured. We expect that from society but not in the church. But not injury from a brother in Christ. Should we leave?
        I recall a friend telling me he left his church because as he called it “it was the church of the far away God”.
        I suppose like what happened to the Jewish Temple when God left God isn’t present in a church of non-Jesus followers! I suppose that’s harsh. None of us perfectly follow Jesus but I suppose it’s our attitude lacking meekness which is the problem. I like the definition of being meek as: enduring injury with patience and without resentment. After all that is what our Father is like.

        • It isn’t harsh, nor is the church above criticism. I should have persued God in a different church rather than let my own pride get in the way.

        • Bryan Matthews

          It is the most important bit of understanding about this subject of “hidden sin”, From whom do you imagine you are hiding it? Certainly one could not assure themselves that it is hidden from God. Speaking for myself, I don’t care what people know about me. They have no heaven or hell to send me, if they even had power to send me anywhere.
          I don’t go to a church, in the sense of one built by human hands, every often. I’m not bothered by the things people say about me, and I’ve had just about everything that people can conjure up, put to my account. I’m still going to keep on loving, praying for and helping all who ask, because my account is clean with God. If we want to be sure of any account we have let’s be sure of that one and if we stumble then we tell Jesus Christ, who with His blood put to it, can turn to our Father and that account reads, PAID!

  • Bryan Matthews

    Let’s go through this step by step. 1. “When a Christian shields his sin from others…” ( A person that is still, with foreknowledge, is continuing to sin, they are still in darkness and should never be called by that Holy Name of our Lord. An example would be if I kept stealing even though I say that I was and am saved. Paul asks a question about this type of “deliverance”, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” God’s answer, ” God forbid! How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?”
    Yes, every human will have times when we stumble, times when we just outright SIN! Does not Paul confess that he repented daily!? I think that this topic causes so much confusion and doubt in the church world today. Why? I can’t just stand up when a preacher tells the unsaved to do so and pray a prescribed prayer of salvation, and then be told, You’re saved now!”
    Hear me! NO! YOU ARE NOT SAVED! Jesus makes this clear when He said, “No man cometh to the Father except I call him first.” The “call” Christ is referring to is what used to be preached as CONVICTION. ( A person who is in this state of being will not need to be told what to pray! Believe me, since I’ve been in that condition before and I can tell you that I didn’t need anyone to whisper in my ears a prayer, like I was being read my 4th Amendment Rights!
    I felt like I would explode from the inside out if I didn’t find to an alter (a place to fall flat down on my face and call out to God) I didn’t know what I was going to say exactly except “I am SO, SO VERY SORRY LORD! I’m sorry that I have ignored, disobeyed, crucified You over and over again with my selfishness, my Great Big EGO,….” and so much other sin that for the sake of brevity on here, you get the point. It’s truly an eye opening, back breaking humbling knowledge to realize that without any doubt that I, Bryan Matthews, according to even the tiniest amount, of the simplest definition of justice, my sentence should be Death by Crucifixion! Now you can get mad, call me names that I will have to look up, swear by everything you know, and spit in my face after I finish but here’s a universal truth, You! Whoever you are, deserve to be taken out and be crucified! No pardon! No conversion to a life sentence! No appeals! Because you are wholly deserving of immediately being whipped with a razor laden whip, spit on, kicked, no crown, however should be fashioned to adorn your head, then affixed to that wooden structure with those huge nails driven into your hands and feet, to remain there until dead!
    Then why is this not done? Here’s where, even now some 16 years later, my eyes fill with tears and everything inside of me is broken….because a little over 2000 years ago a man named Jesus, with a body that felt pain and fear the same as we do, took the punishment we deserved on a cross! Yep! For everyone! How can I say that it was for everyone? Because while He, my wonderful Saviour, hung there He saw everyone that ever had or ever would live and we are told that He knew them. That means your name, your face, your life, YOU, went through His mind while those nails ripped through His body!
    Now how are you feeling about hiding some sin and calling yourself a follower of this Jesus? Are you still thinking that this Jesus is getting what He deserves from you? Especially since every time you commit that sin you are so desperate to keep, You, (Your Name Here) make Him feel those nails being driven in afresh! Finally, if you are committing sin on purpose, are you still believing that you love Jesus?
    “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” ~ Jesus

  • glynnis bugati

    If God know what everyone is thinking and doing every second of every day, this whole confession thing seems a bit redundant,

    Oh and “a horizontal, face-to-face confession”, also known as “knockin’ boots” might get you in more trouble.