Do sins from childhood need to be confessed?
Probably because it seems unlikely, or trivial, or perhaps to ease the discomfort of finding they know a serial offender, some people laugh when I tell them that my otherwise happy childhood in the 1980s was marred by a brief crime spree. You see, we weren’t allowed to have candy bars, so I stole them sometimes. It wasn’t for lack of money—at the height of my financial success I had $420 under the mattress. I just liked the thrill. I stole other things too, like stationery items and rocket parts. Unfortunately, I was never chased or caught, and for all I know, I was never even suspected.
Living in Torment
The torment of guilt that ensued shortly after my shoplifting escapades was the most prominent feature of my heart as a child. For years, I thought about my sin every single day. I lived an intolerable contradiction. On one hand, the Holy Spirit tugged at my spirit to confess and make things right because I clung to this iniquity. On the other hand, the enemy did his best to work up fears of how confession would destroy my reputation.
God’s requirement of internal honesty is so great that without it we can shipwreck our faith. (See Psalms 15:2, 51:6, and 1 Timothy 1:19.) In the years that followed my offenses, I began to experience this destruction as I fell to moral temptations. Though I yearned for freedom, I knew I was preventing God from freeing me because I was clinging to unconfessed sin. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18).
In 1996, I heard a message by Otto Koning. He said you can either go with Plan “A”—God’s way, or Plan “B”—your way. In the end, you will see that God’s way is better. At this point I was finally convicted enough to decide I needed to confess my sin. While this conviction was progress in the right direction, I did not have the courage to confess. I hoped my parents would probe into my heart, but they didn’t. God wanted to teach me to be directly responsible before Him, and I also gained insights into how little parents might really know about what their children have gotten into. Four more years of torment went by.
Reaching the Point of Surrender
In August of 2000, God set up several events to get my attention and prepare my heart for obedience. First, my endearing parakeet, an energetic creation of astounding delicacy and beauty, died a horrible death of lead poisoning. I had never known how grief-stricken one’s heart could be made by the death of one of God’s four-ounce creatures. Second, I had a non-refundable airline ticket to an out-of-state conference, but decided instead to try and teach at a local Children’s Institute (CI). The ticketing agency made an incredible one-time exception and refunded my money, allowing me to teach at the CI. My heart was softened from grief, and God was now able to speak to me through circumstances at the CI.
Halfway through the CI, I had to teach the kids about having a clear conscience. Such intolerable hypocrisy! Before that session began, staff leader Aaron Baker took us aside and exhorted us to get rid of anything standing between us and our parents.
I surrendered. I told Dad that evening that we needed to talk.
Experiencing the Gift of Grace
After I took that step, it was easy. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (See I Peter 5:5.) I had to tell Dad about a few ugly things, and I had to go back and make restitution to make sure that no one could say I didn’t try to make it right. But this process wasn’t nearly as hard as the enemy had made it seem it was going to be. It was the opposite.
Creation sings with an overwhelming bounty of delights available to us in the mountains, in the skies, in orchards, in the water, and so on. However, the richest moment I have ever experienced is immersion in the indescribably rich state of repentance, confession, forgiveness, and mercy. Now that the Holy Sprit was no longer quenched in my life, a great weight lifted off my heart and I experienced great moral freedom.
As I went back to the stores to make restitution, each manager was gracious and appreciative. A couple of them told me to give the money to charity. One smiled broadly and recalled how he had gone through the exact same thing and knew how I felt.
A merciful bonus God often gives youth is consequence-free forgiveness. You can “go make up” and a day later everybody forgets. Children can retain much of their created perfection. Later in life however, consequences get more serious and mistakes leave lasting impressions.
Today, I rarely find a consequence–free way to resolve an offense. Christ still bears the nail-prints in His hands and feet and the wound in His side. Why has God allowed such a tragedy? Perhaps the highest beauty is not in unmarred perfection, but in His sacrifice of love and our response of repentance and trust.
“The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:17–18). “Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off” (Psalm 138:6).
Related Command of Christ
This testimony illustrates the command of Christ to Repent. (See Matthew 4:17.) When Christopher humbled himself, confessed the shoplifting to his father, and made restitution to those involved, he turned from the habits of pride and resistance toward God that had been fostered by hiding his sins.