What a True Confession Sounds Like
We need to know what a true confession sounds like for at least one important reason. A true apology is necessary to reestablish trust, because when one has been wronged it naturally creates a breech of trust.
Though we are commanded by Jesus to forgive those who wronged us – even if they never confess their wrong – we are not commanded to trust them.
This is essential to understand if you want to know how to thrive in healthy relationships. It’s especially important to discern when you have been sinned against sexually.
All of that said, when the sexual misconduct of comedian, John Crist, came to light in November of last year, it not only revealed how John had harassed and possibly abused many women – although that was grievous enough – but it broke trust with an entire fan base who enjoyed his roasting of the hypocrisy of others, while he concealed his own.
So in light of Crist’s video confession just last week, I thought it important to clarify what a true confession sounds like.
A True Confession says, “I am sorry”
Perhaps this should go without saying. How can I apologize without ever actually saying, “I’m sorry,” right?
And yet we hear so called “apologies” like this all the time. Particularly public apologies. Apologies which admit mistakes were made, but never express sorrow or regret for the damage done.
A confession without an apology is really just an admission. It’s admitting the reality that something unpleasant occurred.
That’s a step in the right direction, but when I have offended someone, they deserve to hear how sorry I am. And, to clarify, not sorry for what happened to me, but for what I did to them.
I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. – Psalm 38:18 (ESV)
A True Confession says, “I take full responsibility.”
Important note: no one sins in a vacuum. Instead, we find ourselves in a world of sinful sinners sinning sinfully, so there will always be excuses, justification, often even reasonable explanations behind why we make the bad choices we do.
However, a true confession will not seek to shift blame, excuse, justify, or explain my choices. There can be another time for explanations, but not when I’m apologizing.
As an example, when I lose my temper with my kids I try to take full responsibility for not controlling myself. After one such confession, I had one of my kids tell me they deserved to be yelled at. I thought that was an appropriate confession in it’s own right, but I had to respond, “Yes, you did, but that doesn’t justify my reaction. You’re responsible for your sin. I have to take responsibility for mine.”
My kids may have made me angry (many times), but they have never made me sin in my anger. That’s all on me.
Likewise, no one makes you sin. Your sin is all on you.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. – Psalm 51:3 (ESV)
A True Confession says, “What I did was wrong.”
It’s common today for people to confess making “poor choices,” but that is a vague, relative, amoral term. It means little more than “I could have done better.”
In contrast, wrong is not vague. It is precise. Wrong is not relative. It is absolute. It means we’re not talking about personal opinions which can be debated, but about moral law which has been broken.
In this light, let’s be clear here, if I were guilty of, “individually sexting multiple women during the same time period, initiating sexual relationships with married women and women in committed relationships, offering show tickets in exchange for sexual favors and repeatedly calling these women late at night while drunk,” I could never imagine summarizing my actions as “poor choices.” Not to anyone. Especially not to those I had actually sinned against.
Those choices were wrong. Dead wrong. More accurately, they are evil.
Of course, John is not alone in his evil choices. We’ve all made them. However, that doesn’t let us off the hook. As David writes after getting caught in adultery and murder:
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. – Psalm 51:4 (ESV)
A True Confession says, “I realize now how much I hurt you.”
It makes me feel better when someone simply apologizes for what they did to me.
It’s disarming when they take full responsibility for their actions.
It’s important to hear them admit they were actually wrong. That they sinned against God and me.
But what brings deep healing is when I realize the person who wronged me has attempted to put themselves in my shoes so they could see what they did to me from my perspective.
We’re talking about empathy. If I can empathize with the person I hurt I will say things like…
- “I can’t believe what I put you through.”
- “I know what I did hurt you by…”
- “I know discovering I had been deceiving you for all these years probably makes you feel…”
- “If I was in your shoes I would want…”
But instead of empathizing with the offended, what many confessions entail – particularly public confessions – is an effort to get the offended to empathize with the offender. So they will say things such as…
- “You got to understand what I was dealing with at the time.”
- “I was in a really unhealthy place.”
- “I was under a lot of pressure.”
- “I didn’t come out with the truth sooner, because I thought I would be judged.”
- “I had neglected my mental health”
- “I felt so alone.”
- “I was really struggling.”
All those statements may be true, but they are conveying the opposite message of what a true confession should communicate. Instead of expressing understanding for the feelings of the offended party, these statements ask the offended to understand the feelings of the guilty party. This basically turns the offender into another victim we need to empathize with.
As fellow humans who struggle with our own sin, we should empathize with our offender. However, as followers of Christ, we are also asked to empathize with the true victims. And not just empathize with them, but defend them!
In the case of John Crist’s offenses, I was not one of his victims. You probably weren’t either. But they were real human beings – as real as John – and far more concerning, there were many of them. Many.
For a stellar example of someone willing to come clean with their sin, check out the confession of the prodigal son. He understood the depth of his offense so well, he wouldn’t even dare consider asking his father to restore his former status. Instead, he returned to serve his father as a slave.
I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”– Luke 15:18-19 (ESV)
A True Confession says, “I hope you can forgive me.”
Truth is people apologize for many different reasons (and I share a few of them in another post), but a true apology will seek reconciliation. This means they will not seek to “be in the right,” but to be in right relationship with the offended party.
However, reconciliation is a two-way street. Without both confession and forgiveness there can be no reconciliation. So instead of seeking the empathy of the offended, the offender should seek their forgiveness.
“Will you forgive me?” is simple and sweet, but depending on the level of hurt and betrayal it may be too much too soon. “I want to ask you to forgive me,” applies less pressure, but when the betrayal is deep (like a pattern of sexual sin) it is reasonable to expect those offended (especially the victims themselves) may need more time to process.
That’s why I would recommend humbly stating, “I hope you can forgive me.” This does not demand an immediate response, but indicates the whole purpose of the confession: reconciliation.
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. – Psalm 32:5 (ESV)
We can’t judge the heart.
CLARIFICATION: the point of analyzing an apology is not to judge the heart of the person confessing. No one has the right (or even the ability) to judge anyone’s heart, but God.
But while only God can judge the heart, we are called to judge the fruit of a person’s life – that is their outward words and actions. This is especially true with someone in a position of influence, like John Crist. And that’s precisely what we need to discern as we consider whether or not we should reestablish trust with someone who has hurt or deceived us.
And if we’re talking about restoring trust with someone guilty of a lifestyle of secret sexual sin, surely we can agree the reestablishment of trust should be a process that takes time. Perhaps as much time as the duration of the deception. Even if the confession does sound genuine.
What if a confession doesn’t sound like this?
So how should we respond when we don’t sense a true confession? First, two things:
- We are commanded to forgive those who have offended us. Not asked, not encouraged, not strongly urged. Commanded.
- We should continue to pray for our offenders regardless of what they do.
All of that said, if a confession never really apologizes, if it doesn’t take full responsibility, if it doesn’t admit actual wrong, if it doesn’t express an appropriate depth of empathy, and if it doesn’t seek forgiveness, I would refrain from trusting that person. Further, I would urge others to be wary of trusting that person as well.
This is not to condemn that person. Instead it is to protect others from becoming their next victim. That’s actually in everyone’s best interest. If repentance is genuine, trust can be won back over time. This is as true of Crist as it is of you and me.
We hope this perspective empowers you to grow in life-giving relationships! We want that for John as well.
Did this post help clarify anything for you? Did it raise new questions? Let us know in the comment section below.
Incidentally, John Crist is not the only one to make public confessions. I have made a couple of my own. You can check them out below.
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