What does confession really need to include to truly be a confession? Here are CJ Mahaney’s thoughts from his blog dated February 22, 2008 (See Sovereign Grace Blog for a full list of subjects) :
Andy Pettitte and My Confession of Sin
2/22/2008 10:53:00 AM
Over the past few years, sports fans have endured a steady diet of news about high-profile athletes who have been busted for using steroids. Though steroid use is not limited to baseball, most recently professional baseball has been the focus of criticism due to the Mitchell Report and the recent hearings on Capitol Hill.
As I’ve listened in, read the sports pages, and watched part of the hearings, I’ve listened carefully to the way athletes articulate their words. Sadly, as I listen to these confessions of drug use, I see no discernable difference between the professing Christian and the non-Christian athletes. Specifically, this has been obvious in the recent round of charges against and admissions by Andy Pettitte.
If you’ve followed major league baseball, you know pitcher Andy Pettitte was identified in the Mitchell Report and later acknowledged using human growth hormones (HGH), a substance banned by the league.
Sadly, though he has publicly admitted using HGH, Pettitte (a professing Christian) did not get off to a good start. His first public statement (Dec. 15, 2007) included some “if” statements like “If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize.” I don’t really even know what this sentence means. But I do know that confessions including the word “if” quickly move away from a truly biblical confession.
Monday at a press conference from spring training, Andy Pettitte was asked by a reporter, “Considering it [HGH] is illegal, do you consider yourself a cheater?” Pettitte responded by saying,
From the bottom of my heart, I know why I did this. I didn’t do it to try to get an edge on anyone, I didn’t do it to try to get stronger, faster or to throw harder. I did it because I was told that it might be able to help me. That’s for other people to decide. If people think I’m lying then they should call me a cheater. Do I think I’m a cheater? I don’t. God knows my heart.As I watched Pettitte, I noted how high-profile Christian athletes miss opportunities to present culture with a compelling alternative: someone who has been genuinely convicted of sin and confesses those specific sins. Instead, the norm for these athletes (who are professing Christians) is to conform to the evasive language so common when someone has been caught.
Reading these explicit references to God, I find it difficult to reconcile Pettitte’s statements with Scripture. He is a professing Christian, yet when it comes to his admitted use of HGH, we hear posturing and ambiguous language. And you see this throughout the process. The Mitchell Report named Pettitte, and Pettitte acknowledged the accuracy of the Report in regards to a personal use of HGH, but withheld specifics about his uses on other occasions. Then Pettitte later revealed more specifics about his use, when deposed by the congressional committee. And though he has (and only after he was caught) admitted to multiple uses of the drug, Pettitte refuses to see himself as a cheater.
Now Pettitte is claiming that his motives were pure, attempting to justify the steroid use by a desire to recover sooner from an injury. With this statement Pettitte presents himself as though what he did was admirable. He says he did it for the team. Please, does he think we’re all fools?
Tuesday morning I jogged on the treadmill while watching ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning. After clips from the Pettitte press conference on Monday, attention turned back to Mike and Mike. One of them, former professional football player Mike Golic, acknowledged that in 1987 he took steroids for five weeks to accelerate the healing process of shoulder surgery. After ridiculing Pettitte for using his faith in God, Christian beliefs, and personal feelings as justification for his actions, Golic went on to say, “I did it [steroids] for the same reason [as Pettitte]. But when I admitted that I did it, I never tried to come across as though I didn’t cheat. I did. It was wrong.”
Golic clearly acknowledged cheating. He did. And it’s disappointing to me that a guy who is (to my knowledge) not a Christian acknowledged he cheated and can easily discern the weaknesses of Pettitte’s “confession.”
As I watched the Pettitte press conference, I didn’t question the sincerity of his profession of faith. What I am questioning is his understanding of Scripture (specifically ethics as taught in Scripture). I wonder if he has a pastor. I wonder if he’s a part of a local church. I wonder if the Yankees have a chaplain who is a true pastor. Because I think Pettitte needs a pastor or chaplain who can meet with him to walk back through his confession and examine his heart in light of the holiness of God, the doctrine of sin, and (most importantly) the gospel.
It was disappointing because Andy Pettitte missed his moment. He had a moment where he could have articulated a clear confession that was theologically informed. Sadly, he didn’t, but others have; you just may not have heard of them. Meet Daniel Naulty.
The now infamous Mitchell Report on steroid use in major league baseball pointed a finger at high-profile players like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, and Gary Sheffield.
Long before the Mitchell Report was released, a lesser-known pitcher named Daniel Naulty was caught using steroids. Naulty pitched for the Twins (1996–98) and Yankees (1999), which put him in contact with a number of players later named in the Mitchell Report. Naulty not only is a professing Christian, but is now pursuing a Ph.D in theology with the hopes of one day becoming a seminary professor.
Naulty has repeatedly confessed publicly his use of steroids. He told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune,
I stole people’s jobs. That’s the part for me that was so wrong. I have to explain to my boys that I took people’s jobs by cheating, and that penetrated my soul a number of years ago and still haunts me today.And in reflecting on all the players behind the scenes he influenced to use steroids, he told USA Today,
I want to apologize to as many [fellow players] as I can. If they forgive me, great. But I need to be prepared to be declined and I’d understand if they didn’t. I took a piece of their life away from them that I could never give back. You reap what you sow and I might very well reap a lot of what I sowed.Let me tell you what he won’t reap. He won’t reap a perjury charge or a seared conscience or the ridicule of a world that easily discerns someone who is lying. And he will reap the love and respect of his sons.
Naulty embraced his moment to speak and he spoke clearly, specifically, and humbly. Pettitte missed his moment.
Now, what about your moment of confession? Your moment is coming, and so is mine. And this is what concerns me the most—that I will miss my moment.
My Confession of Sin
Though I’m seeking to grow in godliness (by God’s grace), I know indwelling sin remains, and that means I will sin against my wife, son, or friends at some point this week. I am the worst sinner I know, not Andy Pettitte. I am more familiar with my sin than I am with his sin. And I have my own moment fast approaching when I will need to acknowledge my sin.
Obviously I am not a high-profile athlete, and my words are not being recorded and evaluated by the press. But my words are being evaluated by God (Matthew 12:36). And at times, I am sorry to say, my confession can be all too Pettitte-like.
When I have sinned against someone, a sincere confession is required. A confession that is sincere and pleasing to God will be specific and brief. I have learned to be suspicious of my confession if it’s general and lengthy. A sincere confession of sin should be specific (“I was arrogant and angry when I made that statement; will you please forgive me for sinning against you in this way?”) and brief (this shouldn’t take long). When I find myself adding an explanation to my confession, I’m not asking forgiveness but instead appealing for understanding.
If my so-called confession extends beyond a very specific (acknowledgement of sin) sentence or two, then I am most likely excusing my sin, and requesting understanding for my sin, rather than sincerely asking forgiveness because of my sin. So I have learned to be suspicious of any confession of sin that is lengthy. Genuine conviction of sin is evidenced by a sincere, specific, and brief confession of sin, without any reference to circumstances or the participation of anyone else. When I sin, I am responsible for my sin, and the cause of my sin is always within my heart and never lies outside my heart.
Often after I sin, and even after I confess my sin—most importantly to God to receive the forgiveness I need from him for my sin through the death of his Son for my many sins—I experience a conflict in my soul about the confessing, when necessary, to the appropriate individuals. And whenever there is this conflict in my soul about specifically confessing my sin, I am aware that pride is actively at work in my soul, opposing the confession and seeking to persuade me that it wouldn’t be wise or even necessary for me to confess. But I have learned to ignore this noise from my arrogant heart, and instead weaken this noise by specifically confessing my sin to the appropriate individual as quickly as possible.
When I do confess, first and foremost to God and then (where and when appropriate) to others, I want my confession to be sincere and specific. I want my confession to express genuine sorrow and gratefulness to God for the mercy I experience because of the substitutionary sacrifice of his Son for my sins on the cross.
And when I confess my sin to others and ask their forgiveness when I have sinned against them, I don’t want my confession to resemble the press conference of a high-profile athlete, characterized by evasive language and the refusal to be specific. Instead, I hope my confession of sin is the sincere and specific confession of one genuinely convicted of his sin, sorrowful about his sin, and amazed at the grace of God provided for the forgiveness of sin.
What do you think of CJ’s comments? What can you add to the discussion? Write us, here, at the blog.