Practicing Confession, Guidance, and Service

Summary: We don’t like to practice the spiritual disciplines of confession, guidance, and service, but there is freedom in practicing them. We practice them out of obedience to Jesus.


In my last post, I talked about becoming a lifelong learner as a disciple of Jesus. In this post, I will finish the spiritual disciplines by talking about three: confession, guidance, and service.

I often shy away from confession to other people of my sins. For one, I am a minister is extra selective of who I confess to. Since I am a leader in the church, I cannot confess to just anyone. It must be someone I trust who has the maturity to handle such confession.

But we can all use guidance and service. We often seek guidance from others, but we must first ask Jesus for guidance. And we may not like to serve, but Jesus commands and teaches us that service is one of the high priorities of His Kingdom.

In this post, we will talk about these three final spiritual disciplines I wish to discuss as part of our growth as Jesus’ disciples. If we will be conformed to Christ, we must learn to do these disciplines well. So, let’s get started.

Public Participation in Spiritual Disciplines

All three of these disciplines are public disciplines. We don’t want to confess in any public way, but confession must be public to be effective. I will get to that in the next section. Guidance is also a public discipline. We turn to others for guidance.

Service is the most public of the three. Our service is visible to those around us. You cannot serve others without someone noticing. So most of the authors who write about spiritual disciplines labeled these public disciplines.

Of course, confession and guidance can be private matters. We would rather they be private. But partial aspects of them must be public. We can involve mature Christians in confession and guidance. So, all three have public aspects to them.

Practicing Confession

Confession can refer to professing Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives. But most people think of confession as a negative thing. They don’t want their sins exposed to anyone. Sometimes people struggle to confess their sins to Jesus.

The largest aspect of confession people reject is exposing their private sins in public ways. We don’t want other people to know how we have failed Jesus, violated other people, or failed to look like saints. We don’t want people to think the worst of us.

We also don’t want our sins and faults to be gossiped about or spoken to anyone else in public. We are prime people. Yet, we would gladly proclaim our good deeds to anyone who will listen. We are fickle that way.

Interestingly, the Bible talks about hiding our good deeds away from people. Jesus says our Father who is in secret will reward us (Matthew 6:18). James tells us to confess to one another that we may be healed (James 5:15-16). So, we have it backwards.

The Bible tells us these things because we have it backwards. We want to hide away our faults and sins. And we want people to know that we do good things. But the way of humility calls us to hide the good things and expose the bad.

Jesus provides the most freedom for confession, for if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9). This verse seems to mean confessing our sins to Him. In this sense, confession can remain a private discipline, as long as we do it instead of continuing in sin.

James 5:15-16 calls us to make confession a public matter. But we must have wisdom. We should not confess to just anyone. Jesus tells us to reconcile with our brother or sister before we offer our gift at the altar in worship (Matthew5:23-24). This means our first act of public confession is to the person we sin against or wrong.

So, public confession as a discipline is more private than public. We confess to those we sin against. Confession has the goal of receiving forgiveness from those we have offended. This is the case with Jesus, who promises to be faithful to forgive us when we confess to Him.

But we can’t guarantee that humans with faults like us will always accept our confession to them. Their reasoning for not accepting it can range. Perhaps they want to hold our sin over our heads. Maybe they refuse so we feel bad. Jesus says if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). John has the same principle (John 20:23).

Either way, Jesus requires us to confess to those we have wronged out of obedience to Him. What they do with our confession is under their obligation to Christ. We have done our part. So, is this the only form of public confession we must make?

Richard Foster shows our confession to others has benefits. Sometimes our heart will not believe we are truly forgiven by Jesus. So, hearing it from another person seems more concrete to us. Our emotions may put us at ease.

One thing is for sure: sins have power over us if we leave them in the dark. They’ll lose their power when exposed to the light through confession. If you want to break sin’s power, exposed it to the light. It will be painful, but less painful than allowing it to rule over you.

Confession leads to repentance, and confessing our sins requires godly sorrow (). Repentance means we turn away from sin and don’t continue to commit it. When you confess, do it to the right person. People who hear confession must be mature Christians, compassionate with empathy, wisdom, and the ability to hear the worst of sins.

Practicing Guidance

We must also practice the spiritual discipline of guidance. First, guidance must come from the Holy Spirit. There is a powerful example of the Church yielding itself to the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit tells the church to set aside Paul and Barnabas for ministry, and the church agrees (Acts 13:1-3). We must listen to the guidance of the Spirit. He knows what’s best for us. We must know how to hear the voice of the Spirit.

We can also follow guidance from wise, mature Christians. These should be the pastors and elders of the Church. This is sadly not always so. But many times they are wise. When we have a perplexing matter before us, it is good to get a second opinion.

We can also receive guidance from the Bible. We call the Bible God’s Word because He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit as we read Scripture. And God has the best guidance because He is all-wise. We gain wisdom by reading His words.

God has redeemed our reason, so it also provides guidance. Our circumstances can also provide guidance to us. But not always. This is why we have these other avenues of guidance. God provides wisdom and guidance through dreams and visions. Joseph received God’s guidance through his dreams (Matthew 1:21-22; 2:19-21). When you don’t know which way to go or what to choose, ask God and mature Christians.

Practicing Service

We must all serve the Lord in some way to be obedient to Him. Jesus led the way as our example. The last night He was with the disciples, he served then by washing their feet (John 13:12-16). He was teaching by example as He often did.

We serve one another and those around us. It’s a discipline because we don’t always want to serve. We don’t mind being served, but we don’t like to be the one serving others. But Jesus taught that the greatest person in His Kingdom is the least of us and the servant among us (Matthew 18:4).

There are many ways to serve in God’s Kingdom. We need to look for ways to serve others. Our leaders serve us out of love for us and Jesus. Leadership isn’t the only way to serve. Sometimes the lowliest things present themselves as a way to serve others.

It’s harder for us to do these little things. But we cannot argue if our service is a menial task. The Lord will bless us for our obedience. We show our love for one another by serving one another (Galatians 5:13).

Growth Challenge

If you sin against the Lord and against others, confess your sins to Jesus. You have offended someone else, confess to them also. Seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and mature Christians when you cannot find your way. Find ways to serve the Lord and others to show your love.

Up Next

I conclude my discussion and teaching on the spiritual disciplines with this post. Next, we will begin talking about developing Christian character through the Sermon on the Mount.

Image by Holger Detje from Pixabay

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