Jesus once told his followers, and in having told them also tells us, "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." That's a high standard, one that taken literally is too high for most of us to meet. It helps, therefore, to know that the word translated "perfect" doesn't so much refer to moral perfection as it does "wholeness." That said, we're still obligated to live up to a high standard. Those of us who follow Jesus are probably quite aware that "all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory," and, in fact, that a life of holiness is one of gradual, incremental progress. We make our way along the path of discipleship in fits and starts; and this we do only by the power of God working in and through us. All this to say that as Christians we are still called to a life of repentance, contrition, and confession. Perhaps perfection lies partly in our willingness to be repentant, express contrition, and make confession.
Acknowledging our sins and failures, in many cases, can only happen in the closet of the individual believer or within the confines of a close-knit community or small-group. Confession even to another believer, a fellow brother or sister in Christ, needs to be done with discretion; not everyone can be trusted with the secrets of our hearts. That said, public confession, even if of a more general kind, should be a regular part of our worship. Failing to do so means both disregarding our proclivity for wrongdoing and our desperate need for grace.
Even I need to make confession. Pastors are hardly exempt from the need for a repentant life. Though Scripture does have a high standard for Christian leaders, this doesn't mean that we do not struggle with sin, temptation, and therefore need to avail ourselves often of God's mercy and willingness to heal and forgive, love and restore. Each day is a journey of faith, one fraught with potential downfalls and possible victories; and only with God's Spirit can we hope to have more of the latter than the former. This is as true of me as it is of any other person who confesses Christ as Lord.
I find that there are moments and occasions when I am very much aware of my own sinfulness and of all the ways that I fall short of God's glory. And I'm not speaking of moral failure necessarily, but mostly of all the ways that I experience brokenness through my relationships and in how I treat and live with those around me.
And so . . .
I confess that I fall short when it comes to my relationship with Christ. This happens when I fail to give sufficient time and energy to prayer. Instead, I opt to do other things. I will avoid reading Scripture on occasion and, worse, will avoid obeying Scripture. There are times when I only relectantly trust in Christ. Basically, I know that I am still very much in the process of being made whole in Christ, and that I am the one who inhibits this growth.
I confess that I fall short in my relationship with my wife. Even my best moments are still tainted by selfishness and pride. I sometimes want my wife to conform to my unrealistic expectations. I wrongly judge her by these expectations. Sometimes I fail to see her for who she is and love her for that.
I confess that I fall short in my relationship with my daughter. At times I can be impatient with her childishness, with behaviour on her part that is natural to her age, but is sometimes irritating to me. I forget sometimes, too, that the reason I am irritated is not because of her but because I am overtired or in a bad mood. But I still take it out on her by being short with her.
I confess that I fall short in my relationship with people in my church. As a pastor, I will disappoint and perhaps even fail people in my church. It's harder to pinpoint my failures here, but I think that sometimes I look at my church as a homogenous whole rather than a collection of unique individuals. I also know that I don't always manage to get around and connect with people consistently enough.
Truthfully, none of what I've said comes close to portraying my propensity for putting myself ahead of others. That's partly so because some of my sin I will only confess to God and those closest to me. But it's also so because my words will always be insufficient to describe my own sin and its effects on those around me. But I say all of this anyway, because I too am in need of forgiveness. I too need Christ to make me new. I too need the power of the Spirit because I cannot live by my own strength.
Wholeness in Christ only happens over time and, this side of glory, will always be incomplete. And so in the meantime, we confess. We confess our lack of holiness, our tendency to sin, how we are, head to foot, selfish creatures too thinly veiled with cultural goodness. But, of course, thankfully we can do so expectantly, hopefully, prayerfully, knowing full-well that our God is gracious and quick to forgive us when come to him with hearts of contrition. It is this -- God's immeasurable goodness and infinite power to provide healing and reconciliation -- that propels us to confess, both to him and to one another.