Part 6 of the series:
When Faith Doesn’t Work
by Don Enevoldsen
Changing a core belief, in its simplest form, means replacing a false perception, embedded in our deepest subconscious, with the truth. If a child is constantly belittled and shamed by his parents from the time he is born, and told repeatedly in both word and action that he is worthless, he will develop the core belief that he is worthless. Worthlessness will dictate his behavior. To change his behavior, the flawed core belief has to be replaced with the truth: He does have intrinsic value.
I’ve given a couple of personal examples of this dynamic—being late and my fear of bees. The greatest obstacle to understanding this process, ironically, is the number of times we have heard the solution. “Take every thought captive” is an example. That is a significant part of the solution, but we have heard it so many times, it has become a meaningless cliché, along with a host of other true but meaningless clichés. One such solution of great import is the directive to practice positive confession, or more specifically, to confess the Word.
I spent the better part of two decades in a Word of Faith church, where confession is everything. We found Bible verses that described the deliverance or healing that we needed—or whatever it was we wanted—and we repeated them over and over, writing them on sticky notes and plastering them all over our computer screens.
Beyond giving me the feeling that I was doing something spiritual, confession hasn’t helped much. I have counseled people for many years who secretly sought explanations for why their constant confession wasn’t working. It is difficult to get to the root of the problem when every question elicits a string of Bible verses, but no actual information or answers. A person might be unable to hold his hand steady because of stress. He might be perspiring uncontrollably from worry. He might be completely unwilling to even look me in the eye, nervously glancing around at every sound. It might be obvious to me that we need to identify the source of the fear so that we can deal with it. But the conversation still goes nowhere.
“What are you afraid of?”
“I can do all things through Christ.”
“But do you feel afraid?”
“I have not been given a spirit of fear.”
“But do you feel afraid?”
“Why isn’t God answering my prayers?”
Such people never seem to overcome. I know the process. I always pretended—actually, it would be more accurate to say that I always convinced myself, in spite of evidence to the contrary—that my constant confession actually did make a difference. When you belong to a church culture, there are certain rules. You have to act the part or you won’t be included in the club.
1. The standard party line says that following the formula, any formula (10 steps to wholeness, 7 keys to deliverance, 3 secrets for healing) will change your life. (Christians love steps, keys and secrets, especially if they come in sets of 3, 7, or 10.)
2. Everyone around you acts as though they followed the formula and it worked.
3. You begin to believe there is something wrong with you because you haven’t experienced the same success that you hear everyone else talk about. Maybe you aren’t spiritual enough. Maybe you don’t have enough faith. Maybe you have some secret sin.
4. Recognizing that if you admit any of the above possibilities or express the slightest doubt, you will be exposed for your lack of faith and looked upon as a spiritual leper by all those people in your church circle who appear more spiritual, you hide your frustrations and learn to speak the language of Christian cliché. When asked, “How are you today?” instead of answering honestly, “I’m frustrated,” you say, “I’m a blessed and highly favored child of God.” The one time you tried to answer honestly, because you felt such pain and frustration that you had to let it out, you were scolded for allowing negative confession to come out of your mouth. It became clear you must never do that again, not if you want to continue being accepted in that congregation.
5. You rigorously practice confession of the Scriptures, as much to hide your frustrations from other people as to actually change your core beliefs. You memorize them, say them out loud every morning and every evening, write them on sticky notes and plaster them all over your computer screen.
Understand that I am not opposed to the idea of positive confession and the repeated declaration of Bible promises. I do both regularly. I want you to realize, however, that confession does not work like a magical incantation. I want you to understand the mechanics of the process, beginning with knowing what confession does not do.
Confession does not convince God. He already knows everything there is to know about you. He isn’t fooled by the front you put up. He already wants you to change. However, he does not respond to confession, he responds to faith. What do you really believe, at the core of your belief system? The words coming out of your mouth might very well be different from what you believe.
Confession does not convince the devil. He looks at your behavior when no one else sees you, and he knows very well what you struggle with, in spite of what you say. He treats you according to your faith, too.
Confession does not convince other people, at least not if you want them to get close enough for real fellowship. Sooner or later they will see you fail or lose your temper or something. The real you will come out. Avoiding that is the biggest reason there is so little real fellowship in church and so much shallow conversation. It’s easier to keep the real you hidden if you don’t get too close to anyone. Ultimately, however, they will treat you according to your faith, often unconsciously. They will respond to the real you, that is, your belief system manifested through your everyday life, even when you try to hide it.
Confession does not really even convince you. You will act according to your faith, that is, according to what you actually believe. Regardless of what you confess.
Positive confession of the Word is a tool that will help you put the truth into your mind, but it is only a tool, and without some other components operating, the truth that you confess will not find its way into your core belief. It will remain an external confession that you want to believe, but really don’t. And the more you confess it without being able to believe it, the more likely it is that your confession will make you feel like a spiritual failure.
So why bother with confession at all? It does serve as a useful tool for establishing what the truth is, even if you cannot fully embrace it yet.
Once you have dug deep enough to find the flawed core belief that is the problem, you have to identify it for what it is, a false perception of life and of yourself. Productive confession begins with the confession of your weakness. You can’t deal with a problem if you continue to deny that you have it. Brutal honesty is absolutely required.
This kind of confession is painful. We don’t like anyone telling us that we are wrong about anything, not even ourselves, and the natural tendency is to jump into self-defense mode. But if you won’t confess the problem, no amount of confessing the solution will make the least bit of difference. Confession of your weaknesses is actually positive confession because it moves you forward toward health and freedom.
Once you’re ready to be genuine and honest with yourself, confession of the Word will still not automatically change you. It will, however, help you identify the truth that you should believe. Intellectual understanding of the truth will not set you free, but you will not be able to embrace the truth in a way that can set you free if you don’t know what the truth is.
These two aspects of confession work together to bring understanding. Confession of your flaws is an identification of the false perception that needs to be replaced. Confession of the truth helps clarify what needs to replace the falsehood.
The internalization of the truth is the next step. The internalized flaw was the problem; internalized truth is the solution. How do we internalize truth? That is the subject of the next couple of parts. For now, find the wrong core belief, identify it as wrong, confess it as wrong, and seek understanding of the truth with which to replace it. It might not immediately produce change, but it will help identify what you really do need to believe.
Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.
2 thoughts on “The Power of Cliché Confession”
I very much appreciated this piece. I would only add that unless one is born again, there will be no understanding of the scripture verses they use; nor will they even have any understanding of them in context. In my opinion, anyone who has been called by God will realize that He is not Santa Claus or the Magic Fairy. His job is not to make us happy; it is to make us holy. We learn to take the difficulties the Lord gives us and walk through them, not around them. Each trial burns away a bit more of our self sufficiency and teaches us to lean on Him in faith. So, just sayin’…
GG, you make several good points in a short space. I believe that biblical principles work, whether a person is a believer or not, but without a relationship with Jesus, our understanding of those principles only goes so far. For example, you will reap what you sow, regardless of your opinion of Jesus. People can observe that in life and realize that it is a spiritual law, but that doesn’t mean it will help them much. The problem with core beliefs is that they drive our behavior even when we know we will suffer later for our actions. My goal in this series is identify the mechanics of how it all works, but I honestly don’t know how anyone can get very far without having the Holy Spirit there to enlighten and encourage. I love your statement, “His job is not to make us happy; it is to make us holy. We learn to take the difficulties the Lord gives us and walk through them, not around them.” Too much of our effort in life is focused on getting away from pain. In reality, pain is not our enemy. It is an indicator that something is wrong and we need to do something about it. Yes, every trial does teach us to lean on him in faith. Very well said. Righteous life does not happen overnight. It is a process. But it is worth the journey.