Godly sorrow involves a hatred of sin, includes a fear of God, a longing for holiness, a zeal for the truth, and a willingness to receive appropriate punishment…Such confession and repentance could never be compelled. As Charles Spurgeon famously said when commenting on David’s confession in Psalm 51, “Honest penitents…come to the point, call a spade a spade, and make a clean breast of all.”
Coaxing a Confession
The desire is good. We all want to see people confess and repent and walk in newness of obedience before the Lord. But the execution can often be forced. We are so used to walking with people, coming alongside of counselees, and shepherding them in blessed directions, that we may fail to realize when we “do the work for them.” Never is this more problematic than when coaxing a confession and subsequent repentance out of someone.
The Scriptures are clear that repentance is the Holy Spirit’s business, as Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25 reveal. To compel an admission of guilt very well may be the jurisdiction of police detectives, but it is certainly unbecoming of biblical counselors. Far worse than mere admission of wrongdoing, however, would be coaching someone on what repentance would look like in a given situation, so much so that we find ourselves functionally “repenting for them,” as it were.
Forcing the Matter
A coerced confession is not repentance. Yet all one has to do is stop for a moment to consider how such a situation naturally happens. The counselee is having a hard time seeing his sin, though he can concede to some elements as the counselor points them out or asks good questions. So the counselor offers some additional coaching. There is resistance and vague concessions along the way. With a little more coaching and direction, the counselor has massaged the “confession” to a point where the counselor feels satisfied. It passes muster as far as the outward biblical forms are concerned. The counselor then coaches the person on how to go about repenting for such sins, and before long, the counselor is relieved. Repentance has been achieved. The only problem is that this is not biblical confession or biblical repentance. It is mere concession and a parroting back of the counselor’s understanding of the situation.