Countless times I have heard Christians confess to sinful acts they’ve committed or things they’ve said. I have heard personal portrayals of everything from abuses of substances to abuses of people. I have witnessed public professions of rebellion against God and listened to confidential admissions of immorality.
Yet only on the rarest occasions have I heard someone express a repentant heart about urges toward sinful behavior they have not yet acted upon. How many of our wicked decisions could have been addressed earlier if we were honest about answering the question, “What are you tempted to do that would be disobedient to God?” If we could learn to reveal our temptations, it would transform the way we fight against sin and put it to death before causing any further damage.
Imagine a Christian community honest enough to confess sinful actions along with the urge behind the sin, one committed to asking and answering the question, “What are you tempted to do that you do not want to do?” There’s a difference between saying, “I did not read my Bible as I had planned” and admitting, “I do not feel like reading my Bible. Please pray for me.” Think about how our conversations would change. Instead of simply confessing, “I berated and screamed at my coworker,” we would anticipate the urge and ask, “Pray for me because I want to berate and scream at my coworker.” Rather than only acting after the fact—“I looked at pornography”—we would preemptively invite support with awareness that says, “I will be alone this weekend and I may get the urge to seek out pornography.”
So, should you confess your urges?
In short, yes. If you can, you should address your sinful urges and here are three important reasons why:
Because repentance should never be postponed.
Believers should battle sin as soon as it rears its ugly head. Even when walking into situations that carry the potential for temptation, it is wise to arm ourselves preemptively. Before we speak or act we first experience a compulsion to do so. When we address sin at the level of temptation we may spare ourselves and others much of the collateral damage that comes from sin unhindered.
We often postpone repentance because it offers a semblance of control or victory. It is easier to say, “Last month I did something I should not have done,” as it implies that sin is in the past when the truth may be that we remain just as susceptible to it as before. Yet we should repent of our procrastination toward repentance of sin in addition to the sin we have delayed to mention.
Because your thought life matters to God.
Revealing your sinful urges does mean confessing to sins you have not yet committed. It is an act of bringing to light the ongoing reality of sin in your heart that needs to be realigned with God. Unholy thoughts and emotions are not “potential sins.” They are sins in and of themselves.
Christ addresses murder at the level of hatred and adultery at the level of lust, both of which begin in the heart. In Mark 7:20–23 Christ says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Our thoughts, fantasies and desires matter to God and we should fight for purity, even in our private thoughts.
Because urges lead to dangers to yourself and others.
I have counseled many victims of abuse and talked with many abusers. How often I’ve wished the perpetrators would have sought help at the point of temptation, at that first urge toward violence before intimidating, demeaning or striking a loved one.
The same goes for many of my friends who have struggled with addictions. How often I’ve wished they would have reached out at the point of temptation before they were neck-deep in another relapse.
I have spoken with many suicidal people and am always grateful to witness their bravery in sharing their dark thoughts about ending their life. Still, how often I’ve wished that those who took their lives would have done the same with someone who could have expressed concern and care in the midst of despair.
A Community of Repentance
I pray I am a man who fights sin well. I want to be a part of a church that fights sin well. And I want that fight to begin as soon as the urge appears. I want to belong to a Christian community known for the kind of repentance that starts with confessing at the point of temptation, that shares the unmanifested desires of the mind and uncovers the wicked motivations fueling our behaviors. I long to see Christians who not only confess sin in hindsight, but who also do so preemptively because they are eager for victory and committed to addressing sin at its ambitious roots.