The bible (1 John 1:9) advocates that all believers should make it a practice of confessing their sins to the Father, for “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.
However, how can believers confess their sins if they are not conscious of them in the first place?
Based on the experience of the late Chinese church leader Watchman Nee and his meditations of the scripture, there are by and large eight types of sin that a Christian may possess. These are detailed in the book The Overcoming Life:
1. Spiritual Sins
Pride is a spiritual sin. Jealousy is a spiritual sin. Unbelief is a spiritual sin. Picking out others’ mistakes is a spiritual sin. Lack of prayer is a spiritual sin. Doubting God is a spiritual sin, and failure to commit ourselves to God is also a spiritual sin. There are some who are victorious in spiritual matters, but there are more who are defeated in these matters.
I once was beset by pride. Any kind of pride is a spiritual sin. Any kind of pride that hinders you from going on is a spiritual sin. A proud person cannot stand to see others being better than himself. He cannot bear to see others being more advanced in worldly affairs, and he cannot bear others being more advanced in spiritual matters. If there is anyone who is more advanced spiritually, he will do anything to find his faults and put him down. Jealousy is a sin in our spiritual life as well as in the Lord’s work.
Some are filled with an evil heart of unbelief. If you ask whether or not they believe, they will answer that there is not one word or sentence in God’s Word that they do not believe. But if you ask whether or not they trust in God’s promises, they will admit that they are unable. As soon as they suffer a little trial, they panic beyond measure. They cannot trust in God’s Word at all. Martin Luther’s wife once put on a funeral dress and told him that he was in such distress that it seemed as if his God had died.
Many people do not have a proper living or fellowship with Him. Day by day, they live in a loose way. They spend their days without praying or reading the Bible. They spend their days without seeing God’s face or fellowshipping with Him. They even spend their days dreading the thought of fellowshipping with the Lord. This is a life of godlessness. We have sinned, we have failed, and we have not lived a spiritual life. Many of us have never been diligent to learn the proper lessons of dealing with the self. Many of us have never been diligent to learn the proper lessons of putting the self aside.
Once there were two brothers who were not on good terms with each other because of a very small matter. They ate meals together, taking their servings from the same plate. One always selected the few choice meats from the plate for himself. When the other saw this, he kept quiet for several days.
After two weeks, he could bear this behavior no longer, and he separated himself from the other brother. The kind of person you are is manifested in the small things you do. I love to read the biography of Mr. Hudson Taylor. When he traveled in his preaching itinerary, he almost always chose the worst room and the worst bed. Although these are small things, the way in which a person deals with them shows whether or not he lives before God.
2. Sins of the Flesh
Not only are there spiritual sins. There are also sins of the flesh. Adultery is a sin of the flesh, undisciplined eyes are a sin of the flesh, and improper relationships with others are also a sin of the flesh. Many have failed in these things. Many have sinned with their eyes because their eyes have not been disciplined. Many are improper in their relationship with friends. These are sins of the flesh. They are sins in one’s conduct. Some sins have nothing to do with the body. Other sins are related to the body.
Brothers and sisters, have your eyes been dealt with? I admit that today there are plenty of opportunities for the eyes to sin. You have to deal with this matter before the Lord. There are many Christians who will never experience God’s overcoming life unless their eyes are dealt with by the Lord.
Friendship is another thing that we have to watch carefully. A brother may build up an extraordinary friendship with an unbeliever. According to the world, this is not sin. But according to God’s ordained life for a Christian, this extraordinary friendship is a sin. This is true also with the sisters. A Western missionary once said that some unbelievers tried to develop extraordinary friendships with him. When he realized that it was a sin, he rejected the friendships.
3. Sins of the Mind
Not only are there spiritual sins and sins of the flesh. There are sins of the mind as well. Many do not have spiritual sins. To an extent, they have been dealt with in their flesh. But they cannot overcome their thoughts. Some have wandering thoughts. Others have circumventing thoughts.
Some have unstable thoughts. Some thoughts are not wandering, circumventing, or unstable, but they are unclean or illusionary. Some are filled with doubts. Others are obsessed with a drive for knowledge. They want to know everything, and they will not stop until they do. Those who have these kinds of thoughts have not experienced the overcoming life. We should not think that there is nothing wrong with us. Few are actually victorious over their thoughts. Many have wandering, unstable, and drifting thoughts. Having drifting thoughts is serious, but having unclean thoughts is even worse. Some have unclean thoughts that tenaciously linger over them. I once met a sister who confessed that her thoughts were always wandering. I met another Christian who confessed that his thoughts were always unclean. This shows that we are not living out the life of God. We have to deal with all these matters.
Imaginations have damaged many Christians. Doubts have also damaged many Christians. For example, when we meet a brother on the street and he is not very friendly, we may think that he is angry with us or that he thinks unfavorably of us. But when we arrive home, we may learn that his unfriendly attitude was related to the fact that he did not sleep well the night before, that he had a headache, or that he was going through some terrible experience. We thought that it was a problem related to ourselves, but actually there was nothing wrong with us. Our imaginations often hurt us, yet we often think that we can discern the hearts of others. We must realize that only the Lord can search “the inward parts and the hearts” (Rev. 2:23). Many imagine that others are one way or another. We have sinned in our thoughts. We have made too many judgments. We have too many illusions. Brothers and sisters, we must come to the Lord and deal with these things. If our thoughts are not dealt with, we cannot enter into a life of victory in God.
There is a brother who has an obsession for knowledge. He has to know the reason for everything. He analyzes everything and wants to know everything. His mind is very active. He does not trust in God, yet he wants to know about every single thing around him. Brothers and sisters, this kind of drive for knowledge is also a sin. We must deal with this as well.
4. Sins in the Body
There are some sins that are related to the body. They may not necessarily be unclean things. Humanly speaking, they may not be big things. But to a Christian, these are sins. Some pay too much attention to eating. Others pay too much attention to sleeping. Some pay too much attention to health or to personal grooming. Some are bound by the habit of indulging in snacks. Some love their bodies too much. All of these are sins before the Lord.
Many Christians are bound by eating. They have never fasted as a Christian. It is possible to know the kind of person they are from the way they eat. The minute they pick up their chopsticks, others know the kind of person they are. A brother said, “I have a large appetite. My appetite is extraordinarily large.” Brothers and sisters, overindulgence in eating is also a sin. Those who cannot control themselves in the matter of eating are committing a sin.
Some have a terrible look on their face when they only lose a little sleep. They become impatient in handling things and talk incoherently. This also is a sin.
Some indulge in eating snacks. They spend a great deal of money on snack food. Others pay too much attention to their personal grooming. They always insist on good clothes. There are also some who are obsessed with health. Everything has to be just right for them. They consider this or that to be poisonous or bad for the body. They are confined and threatened by everything. Brothers and sisters, these are examples of being obsessed with our bodies. Too many people love their own body too much. They cannot suffer at all, and they cannot bear to even approach those who are sick.
They are bound by their body. Paul said, “I buffet my body and make it my slave” (1 Cor. 9:27). He put his body under his subjection. Failing to put one’s body under one’s subjection is a sin. The body should be put under our subjection. Many have sacrificed their prayer in the morning for sleep.
Many have sacrificed their time in the Word for food. Many are unable to serve the Lord because they pay too much attention to snack foods and outward appearance. Any negligence in bridling ourselves in these areas is a sin.
5. Sins in Disposition
Disposition is related to man’s character. It is his personal traits. Every person is born with a certain disposition. The Lord has not come to deliver us from sin only, but also from our disposition.
Some are born stubborn. Others are born very legalistic. For them, two plus two must be four. They are very proper, but at the same time, they are very rigid. What they regard as right is right, and what they regard as wrong is wrong. They are very unbending. Wherever they are and whatever they do, they are always the supreme judge. There is no doubt that they are often very righteous, but their righteousness has horns. They lack gentleness and sweetness toward the brothers. Their righteousness is hard and unbending. Brothers and sisters, this also is sin.
Others are too weak. They are afraid of bearing any responsibility. Everything is acceptable to them.
They are exactly the opposite of the stubborn ones just mentioned. Some are misled to think that a nice man is a holy man. But how many nice men has God used? Was the Son of God a nice man on earth? Brothers and sisters, this kind of disposition is also a sin and needs to be dealt with.
Some are not too hard and not too nice, but they like to exhibit themselves. Wherever they are, they want to be noticed. Wherever they go, they always want to speak. Even when they do not have the opportunity to do anything, they still want to walk around and greet everyone. Wherever they are, they are not satisfied until they let everyone else notice their presence. They make their presence conspicuous no matter where they go, and they can never be quiet.
Some brothers are very withdrawn. Wherever they go, they do not like to exhibit themselves. They always sit in a corner. This is also sin, and it should be dealt with.
Some brothers are very quick. Others are very slow. One brother said once, “Praise God! I have a quick disposition. I lose my temper quickly and I forget about it just as quickly. I can explode with a big temper in the morning, but in five minutes it is over. When I go to work I have forgotten about it.” However, his wife and children suffer for the whole day. When he comes back from work, his wife is still suffering. This is very strange to him. He even considers himself to be very good! This is a sin, and it needs to be dealt with also.
Some are slow in everything. A matter can go unattended for a day or for ten days. This is laziness. This disposition also needs to be dealt with.
Every person has his own peculiarity. Although some are saved, they are very severe towards others; they antagonize situations. Everything is important to them. They never take advantage of others, but they never allow others to take advantage of them either. They never hurt others, but if others hurt them, they will take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. They are very calculating and never let anything go.
Some are not severe to others. But they are very mean. They take advantage of others even when it is only a matter of a few pennies. They do not rob others, but they take advantage even of their servants or chauffeurs.
Some are very talkative. Wherever they go, there is never a dull moment. They gossip about this family and criticize that family. Some are glib about the truths. Whatever they know, they have to speak to others about them. Some like to speak words of exaggeration. They are not lying, but whatever they say, they exaggerate. All these dispositions have to do with our speaking. If we desire to overcome and live an overcoming life, we have to deal with all these things. If we are unable to rid ourselves of these things, we need to overcome.
I have to talk about these matters because the daily walk of Christians today is far from being godly.
Some brothers can only see the faults of others; they cannot appreciate the virtues of others. Only words of criticism come forth from their mouths. One time a brother from northern China had a breakthrough in overcoming. Formerly, he could never stop finding fault. When a person came to him, he would point out six or seven things wrong with him. When another came, he would point out six or seven more problems with the second one. I told this brother that he saw so many problems in others because he himself was the problem. This was his disposition, his nature.
Brothers and sisters, all of these are sins. Every overcoming Christian lives above these things, not under them.
6. No Willingness to Obey God’s Word
Not only do we have sins on the negative side. The Bible shows us that being negligent before God in our intention to obey His Word is also a sin. Brothers and sisters, how much of God’s commandments have you read, and how much have you obeyed? How many husbands love their wives, and how many wives submit to their husbands? A wife once said that she knew that she should submit to her husband; however, she always argued a little before submitting. She eventually realized that she has never had any true submission according to the standard of God’s commandment. This, of course, is sin.
How many Christians realize that being sorrowful is sin? The Bible says that we have to always rejoice. How many Christians have obeyed this commandment? We have to realize that being sorrowful is sin. Everyone who does not rejoice has sinned. God’s commandment is to be anxious in nothing. If we become anxious, we have sinned. According to God’s commandment, being sorrowful and anxious is to sin. Of course, according to man, being sorrowful and anxious is not sin. However, God’s Word says that sorrow and anxiety are sins.
We should give thanks in everything. It is God’s commandment that we give thanks in everything. In everything we should say, “God! I thank You and praise You!” Even when we encounter difficulties, we should still say, “God! I thank and praise You!” There is a story about a woman with nine children. She thought that the word on not being anxious must be very wrong. She argued that a mother has to be anxious. She thought that not being anxious was a sin. She had lost two children through anxiety, and she thought she had to raise up the other seven in anxiety. This sister did not see that anxiety is a sin. She thought that it was her duty to be anxious.
To always rejoice is a commandment of God. To be anxious for nothing is also a commandment of God. To give thanks in everything, even more, is a commandment of God. Victory and strength enable one to keep the commandment of God. Those who are unable to overcome cannot keep God’s commandments.
7. Failure to Render to God What He Requires
God requires that we consecrate ourselves absolutely to Him. He requires that we consecrate our wives and children to Him. He also requires that we consecrate our business entirely to Him. He requires that we consecrate all of our money to Him. Every Christian wants to save something for himself. But dear brothers and sisters, we have to realize that in the Old Testament there was the ordinance of tithing, the offering of one tenth; in the New Testament our consecration should be ten tenths. Our house, our land, our wife and children, and even ourselves must be fully consecrated to God.
Many Christians are afraid that God will trouble them. There was a Christian who was very afraid of consecrating himself to God. He said, “If I offer up myself to God, what will happen if He sends sufferings to me?” I said to him in a serious way, “What kind of God do you think our God is? If a disobedient child becomes yielding and tells his parents that he will be obedient to them from now on, do you think that the parents will purposely ask him to do what he cannot do? Do you think that the parents will make him suffer on purpose? If they do, they are no longer his parents but his judge. If they are truly his parents, they will surely care for their child. Do you think that God will give you sufferings on purpose? Do you think that God will play tricks on you on purpose? You have forgotten that He is your Father!”
Brothers and sisters, only those who are consecrated to God have real power. They can place their business in God’s hands. They can place their fathers, mothers, wives, and children in God’s hands.
They can place their money in God’s hands. They will not take what God has given to them and waste it in the world. They have consecrated even their own lives to the Lord. Those who are afraid of consecrating their belongings, their material goods, and their relationships with others to God have not yet overcome. The more one consecrates to God, the more strength one has. Those who willingly consecrate to God almost seem to encourage God to take more. They seem to say to God, “Please take more!” The life of consecration is a joyous life. It is a life of power. If a man does not consecrate himself, not only has he sinned, but he is also lacking in power.
8. Regarding Iniquity and Refusing to Repent of Sins That Should Be Confessed
Many people have dealt with many things, but in their heart they refuse to admit that the things they have dealt with are sins. According to Psalm 66:18, these ones “regard iniquity” in their heart.
Their heart loves these sins; they are unwilling to relinquish them. Not only is there a desiring, there is the loving, the regarding, and the unwillingness to relinquish these sins. There is a hidden love toward sin, a heart that refuses to acknowledge the sins as sins. Although we would never admit our love for these things and although our mouth would never say that we crave these things, our heart goes after them even before our feet follow after them. Many times, sin is not a matter of outward behavior, but a matter of love in the heart. If there are iniquities that we regard in our heart, we have to overcome them.
Many people not only have a heart for iniquity, but they also refuse to acknowledge many of their sins. A believer often offends a brother. When the matter is brought to his attention, he readily admits that he has offended the brother. Consequently, he makes some outward adjustments; he begins to treat the other brother better, shakes his hand in a warmer way, and receives him more affectionately. Brothers and sisters, the most we can do is change our attitude, but God does not recognize this. God does not recognize changes in our attitude. Many things require restitution. Money needs to be returned. Although many people do not have the time to listen to our long stories, we still have to confess our sins.
Concerning confession, the Bible never says that we should tell others of our sins in detail. The Bible never tells us to enumerate our sins like a novel. The Lord says, “If your brother sins…” (Matt. 18:15). It does not matter how many sins there are. When a brother comes to us and confesses, “Brother, I have sinned against you,” we have to forgive him. Many hidden stories need not be told. No ear on earth is worthy of listening to all these stories, and no ear on earth could bear them all.
Brothers and sisters, how many sins do our hearts still cherish? How many sins are left untouched? If there are any sins, we have to overcome them. Unless we overcome, we will not be able to prevail over these sins.