A man becomes convicted of his unethical business activity from two years earlier. At the time his sole ethic was profit, now it is to follow Jesus, so he reports himself to the relevant authorities and the cost to him and his family could be devastating.
That is so encouraging, so inspiring.
Another man is nursing an unquiet conscience because of some past business practices, which he stopped for fear of being caught. Recently, he was found out, and the cost to him and his family could be devastating.
That is embarrassing and shameful.
To sin is human; to disclose, divine
Whether it is a past business deal, sexual immorality, drug abuse or some other actions that have been covered up, there is a huge difference between disclosing and being exposed. The first man may suffer temporal consequences but the second man is in danger—eternal danger.
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecc. 12:13-14)
People who disclose sin, especially when they probably would not be caught, are inspiring because the Spirit is obvious in them. They are motivated by the Lord more than the praise and opinions of people, and that is a sight to behold. But we have to do more than admire the work of Christ in them—they will need help.
They will need help because as the consequences mount up they might begin to wonder if they did the right thing by confessing. They need the body of Christ to remind them that they did something all too rare: they obeyed the Lord by bringing their deeds into the light, even if it was going to hurt. That has eternal value.
As a general rule, we are more encouraged by the confession than we are discouraged by the sin.
Confession is more important than consequences
But that is easy to say when the sin is not against us. If a man confesses to adultery when no one was about to expose him, we might be encouraged, but the spouse is devastated. That, indeed, is the most difficult consequence of the sin. Yet, if the injured spouse is willing to pursue reconciliation, she has much more reason to believe her husband because he has already given evidence that he can speak the truth even though he might suffer consequences. For the person in the light, confession is more important than consequences.
Meanwhile those who are exposed might seem contrite and repentant but everyone still has reason to be suspicious. Only the circumstances have changed—they were exposed; nothing has necessarily changed within them. They have been dragged into the light; there is no reason to think that they will stay there. Consequences have been more important than confession. Can being exposed bring real repentance? Absolutely. But it is a repentance that, in most situations, should be accompanied by evidence.
Disclose rather than be exposed. We will be exposed anyway when we see Jesus face-to-face. We might as well do it now.
How to do that is also a little complicated. When in doubt, start by disclosing it to a wise friend or pastor.