In the last few years, the idea of a “safe space” on university campuses has been practiced and debated. The idea is to have a space on campus where a person is safe from being silenced or bullied by those who have more power, where someone could be insulated from ridicule or pain. In safe spaces, there is no shaming because a student is protected, both ideologically and emotionally, from anything that disrupts their good feelings. Leaving the debate about university safe spaces aside, I suggest that local churches ought to be the “safest space” for Christians to confess sins in general and sins tied to pornography in particular.
James commands us to “confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). Confession to others weakens temptation (John 3:19–21; 1 John 1:5–10). It’s not burdensome (1 John 5:3), but burden-sharing and burden-relieving.
Yet people don’t naturally confess their sins. Instead we work to please and impress others. This is true in the world, and it’s true in our churches. As a result, our churches don’t feel safe for confession. I’ve felt the barrage of sin and secrecy among my own church family.
Yet, by God’s grace, my church is learning to cultivate a culture of grace and confession. Here are two steps that have helped to cultivate a culture in which members more readily confess the sin of pornography use.
Step 1: Recognize and Articulate the Church as a Safe Space
Your church won’t be safe if your idea of safe is being “safe” from the danger of being offended, reproved, corrected or having your feelings hurt.
Christians should seek safety from a far greater danger: unrepentant sin. Because of this, our churches must be a place where saints wage war together against the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12–13). Confession should be normal, while rejection, gossip and self-righteousness aren’t.
Why? Because (1) the church is a group of self-conscious sinners, (2) the church is a group of redeemed sinners, and (3) Christ structured the church for the Christian’s growth.
The church is the safest space for confession because the church is a group of self-conscious sinners who cannot condemn you.
A church shouldn’t be surprised that Christians sin. On the contrary, we’re taught to expect it and to remove the log from our own eye—seeing our sin as the bigger problem—before removing the speck out of a confessor’s eye (Matt 7:1–5).
The church is the safest space for confession because the church is a group of redeemed sinners who experience growth in grace.
The Lord Jesus blessed and recreated the church. He filled it with those who are poor in spirit, who mourn their sin and the sins of others, who are compassionate to the needy, and who are purified in heart by the new covenant (Ezek 36:25–27; Matt 5:3–8).
God’s people expect to bear each other’s burdens because others have borne theirs. Because they’re sinners who have been redeemed only by grace, self-righteous judgment and shame don’t make sense. Christians focus on heart change and transformation, not behavior modification—which means Christians renew their faith in Jesus constantly, understanding that strengthening others comes through brokenness, repentance and faith in Christ (Luke 22:31–32).
But let’s be honest. Are churches really like this? Though imperfect and in progress, churches ought to be.
The church is the safest space for confession because Christ structured the church for the Christian’s growth.
Jesus commands the church to share responsibility over one another as a body of believers who exercise the keys of the kingdom (Matt 18:15–17). He intends for redeemed sinners to live amid other self-consciously redeemed sinners, who take responsibility for one another’s discipleship and growth. Simply put, every Christian needs his or her fellow church members. And they need him or her, too.
Furthermore, Jesus gives elders to local churches as gifts to model Christian maturity (Eph 4:11–16; 1 Tim 3:1–7). Christians need elders, just like sheep need shepherds.
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