In recent years, I’ve come to terms with some parenting failures in raising my children when they were young. When I’ve shared with friends about my realized failures—when I’ve confessed sin, I’ve often gotten a response that goes something like this: “Don’t beat yourself up. Parenting is hard. You did the best you could at the time.”

They’re not completely wrong. There is a sense in which I did my best. I love my children. I did not intend to harm them. I thought I was doing right at the time. But I’ve since learned that I misunderstood some of my children’s needs. I took some actions that though well-intentioned, missed the mark. And I failed to take some action that was necessary. I sinned against my children.

The reason I share my failures is because I am grateful that God exposes sin and I want to proclaim God’s faithfulness to teach, guide, and forgive. I want to heed the encouragement of James 5:16:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be he healed…”

Minimizing Confessed Sin

As recipients of grace and forgiveness, Christians should be quick to be gracious and forgiving. But extending grace should include encouraging fellow believers to admit and confront sin so that they can experience the grace and forgiveness that only comes from Christ.

Yet we are often uncomfortable when people we love confess sin. Almost like a reflex, we want to reassure and comfort. How many times has someone apologized to you and your automatic response was: “It’s okay”? We minimize the sins of others because we minimize our own sin. While we should love and forgive the friend who comes to us in confession, it’s not okay. Sin is not okay.

In Genesis 3:7-10, we find Adam and Eve hiding from God:

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”  And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

In the Garden, when Adam and Eve sinned, their first instinct was to cover themselves. They weren’t driven to repent from sin, but to hide from it. When a friend comes to us in confession, and we respond with, “You did your best,” or if they apologize and we say, “It’s okay,” we serve as flimsy fig leaves. We help them to hide from sin instead of pointing them to the good news of the Gospel and to the Christ who offers true covering for sin.

Responding to Confession of Sin

When a friend comes to us in confession, how do we resist the urge to be fig leaves? How can we respond to confession of sin that encourages repentance, and points to the joy of forgiveness and grace of Jesus?

  • Weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). If a friend is sad over sin, don’t try to convince them not to be sad. Be sad with them and affirm that it is right to mourn over
  • Ask questions. Be curious. Find out more about how your friend is feeling about her sin. What have been the consequences? Is she experiencing forgiveness? What obstacles are there to embracing the freedom that comes from being forgiven? What is she learning?
  • If the sin being confessed is sin against you, offer forgiveness without excusing the offense.
  • Pray with your friend. Boldly approach the throne of grace together (Heb.4:15–16).
  • Remind them that conviction of sin is a gift from the Holy Spirit and assurance of salvation. Rejoice in the Gospel that offers a solution for our guilt and sin. (1 John 1:9)
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable. While sin shouldn’t be shocking, it should be upsetting. Confession of sin reminds us that things are not as they should be. Lean into the unsettling reality that this world is not our home.

The inadequate fig leaves of “don’t beat yourself up,” “you did your best,” or “It’s okay” pale in comparison to the robe that Christ puts on us:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;

my soul shall exult in my God,

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;

he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,

and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Is. 61:10)

I recently took part in a class at my church that included some challenging homework. One assignment required me to initiate conversations with two people by asking: “Am I safe to confess to?” As I’ve reflected more on that assignment, I’ve realized that part of being “safe” to confess to is to remember that sin isn’t safe. Honest repentant confession is one of the safest things a Christian can do. And we are called to be a safe place for confession.

When a friend comes to you struggling with sin and wanting to repent, don’t talk them out of it or minimize their sin. Don’t grab a fig leaf. Instead, marvel at God’s kindness in convicting of sin and remind your friend that Jesus shares His robe of righteousness with us.

Photo by Benigno Hoyuela on Unsplash

Kim Barnes

Kim has been married to Robert, a PCA teaching elder, for over 32 years. They have a daughter who is newly married and a son in college. After 20+ years of full-time homemaking and homeschooling, she enjoys mentoring women in the church and aspires to write more.