Not only do we have the tendency to drink from empty wells, we also have the proclivity to live with unconfessed sin. In the woman at the well, we see our own foolish ability to deny the impact of our sin, hold on to our sin, and try to cover up our sin.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” (John 4:16–19 ESV)
With each of our kids, we have played the game “Hide and Seek.” We count to a certain number while they run off to “hide” in different places, then at the announced moment, we “seek” to find them. But all of our children have made a similar mistake over the years. They have simply plopped down under a blanket on the floor or under a chair that is fully exposed, closed their eyes, and assumed that because they couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see them. As fathers, of course, we play along and ask, “Where are you? Are you over here? Are you over there?” The truth is, however, they’re in plain sight and are hardly hidden at all.
We often make the same mistake with God. Most of us try to avoid the thought that God knows and sees everything about us. But like a reality show star, we don’t have any secrets. There is no place we can go, not even in our own thoughts, where He is not present. And to the natural-thinking mind, this is a problem. How are we supposed to react to this invasive, 24/7 nature of God’s knowledge about us? We don’t like it. We feel impinged by it. And therefore, we have this hot-and-cold relationship with God—all because we’ve lost sight of the gospel and have failed to understand its implications.
Sometimes being obedient to the commands of God seems fairly easy. Temptation is manageable. We don’t feel called upon to flex our faith muscles much at all. We just trust Him. Following His direction at times like these is not particularly difficult or weighty. But then there are other times—times when we feel like God is asking us to do the impossible, leading us to places we don’t want to go. So instead of trusting in His goodness and wisdom, we refuse like a strong-willed child. Instead of finding our security and comfort in His sovereign power, we run away from Him and try finding comfort in other things that don’t ask so much of us.
It’s important that you see the two-step movement here: running from Him while simultaneously running toward things that make matters worse—soothing the heat of conviction with accomplishments, food, movies, porn, whatever you think will give you temporary relief. Then when you feel like you’re doing better, you’ll run back to God, hoping He’s forgotten what He originally told you to do. This ends up being a sad cycle for many of us.
But this cycle can stop for you because . . . (read this next sentence slowly) . . . God has made provision for our sin in Christ. So when we struggle to believe and obey, we should run to Him, not from Him— the opposite of our pattern, in contradiction to our feelings. Why? Because He already knows!
See, the gospel just keeps changing everything.
The cross should continually testify to us that God fully knew we would need to be justified. Therefore, unconfessed sin is actually the foolish decision to run away from our healing and growth rather than toward it. We hang on to things we believe will satisfy us, thinking we need those more than what God offers to provide.
But how can we rejoice in and worship the majesty of a loving and forgiving God if in practice we don’t believe He loves and forgives, if in practice we don’t believe the gospel? How can our churches rejoice and worship corporately when our collective energy is expended carrying around the saddle of unconfessed sin and shame? When people walk in honesty about their fears, shortcomings, and needs—not in thoughtless disobedience but in grace-based freedom and forgiveness—they reveal a deep understanding of the gospel. To confess our sins to one another is to violently pursue our own joy and the glory of God . . . and to exponentially increase our rejoicing and worship, both individually and corporately.
Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and I are posting questions each month for church leaders to discuss with their teams. The content and questions are based on our book Creature of the Word. You can get the book here and access the monthly audit here.