How Not to Confess Your Sin

Unless you took your honeymoon in August, you’re probably aware that the United States did very well at the 31st Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro–with one glaring exception. 

Toward the end of the Games, celebrated American swimmer Ryan Lochte, 32, and three of his younger swimming buddies, gave America a black eye by some atrocious behavior outside the pool.

I was saddened by what happened, but even more troubled by the way Lochte handled it.

I’ve been in numerous settings where I’ve shared with others how to confess their sins. What gave me the authority to do it?  Being a sinner myself , making mistakes, learning from them, and also devouring quite a bit of literature on the power of confession and forgiveness.

One thing we can learn from Ryan Lochte is how not to confess your sin. 

Let me begin by saying that there are a number of angles to the Lochte saga. According to a recent USA Today, article, it’s probably true that the Brazilian police did a little editing of tape and also did not tell the full story. It’s also true that Mr. Lochte has lost much future endorsement money in the past few weeks when he was quickly dumped by former sponsors Speedo USA, Ralph Lauren and skin-care firm Syneron-Candela.

Bad actions have negative consequences. 

I will let columnist Steve Berman share his perspective on how Ryan Lochte and teammates Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz, and Jimmy Feigen brought shame to America late one night during the Rio Olympics.

“Ryan Lochte needs to man up and fly to Rio. I watched Matt Lauer‘s interview with Lochte and cringed at his statement, ‘I over-exaggerated that story.’ It’s not the regretful words of a 32-year-old man, it’s the excuse of a 21-year-old frat boy; the very frat boy Lochte claims he’s not.”

“These are the facts:

  • Lochte went to an all-night party held by the French team and got horribly drunk.
  • He and three teammates took a cab ride home around 6 a.m., and stopped for gas and to relieve themselves.
  • Unable to get into the rest room, at least one of them forced the restroom door open, or urinated in the bushes behind the station.
  • Confronted by security, Lochte pulled an advertising banner from the station’s wall.
  • The security guards would not let the swimmers leave until they’d paid, or the police arrived (it’s unclear if they were actually called).
  • When Lochte tried to leave, one of the guards drew his firearm and pointed it in the swimmers’ direction.
  • The swimmers paid the equivalent of $50 and left.”

“Here’s what Lochte told everyone, starting with his mother:

  • We were robbed at gunpoint at 3 a.m.
  • The robbers stopped our taxi, ordered us to get out, get down on the ground.
  • I resisted, and had a gun put to my forehead and cocked.
  • I gave the robbers my wallet.”

“This is not ‘over-exaggerating.’ It’s flat-out lying.”

“Laurer brought Lochte nearly to tears after asking if he realized what he’d done to his teammates. Lochte also admitted he could lose sponsors, and potentially be banned from competitive swimming. Almost certainly, his apology on Instagram was made mostly to keep himself from that fate.”

Lochte didn’t vary much from that statement in his interview with Laurer. But his problem isn’t with USA Swimming, or the USOC, or his teammates, or his sponsors. His problem is with America and Brazil.”

“Would anyone blame Brazilians for protecting the honor of their country as the host country of the Olympic Games?”

“As a Georgian for the past 24 years, I witnessed the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games. To me, they were a proud embarrassment. Proud because Atlanta, less than 2 hours from my home, pulled it off. They were a great games. Embarrassment, because of the transportation, ticketing, and security problems that were widely reported. And then there was the pipe bomb at Centennial Olympic Park. No effort was spared to capture Erick Rudolph. It took two years.”

“That was the last time the U.S. hosted the summer games. President Obama tried to get the games for Chicago, and made an unprecedented personal appeal. He failed. Ryan Lochte could cost America the summer games: Los Angeles has bid for 2024, along with Rome, Paris and Budapest.”

“Why would the IOC select Los Angeles when American athletes are perceived as lying about an Olympic host country, then fleeing home?”

‘It’s how you want to make it look like. Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like, we don’t know,’ Lochte responded. ‘All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.’

‘We just wanted to get out of there,’ Lochte said. ‘We were all frightened. And we wanted to get out of there as quick as possible. And the only way we knew is — this guy saying, ‘You have to give him money.’ So we gave him money, and we got out.’”

“Fortunately, there’s a solution here. Lochte should stop saying he ‘over-exaggerated’ his account in the press. He should tell the truth–he lied to make himself look better. He didn’t care about his teammates, or his country, or swimming at that point. He cared about Ryan.”

“He should get on an airplane–today–clear customs in Brazil, and let himself be taken into custody. He should pay whatever fine they hit him with. Then he should go on Brazilian television and confess his lie. They’re human. They’ll accept it if he gives it sincerely.”

If you have haven’t seen the Lauer interview, you can view it here. I must admit it’s painful to watch. It reminded me of the first time HIllary Clinton tried to explain her secret e-mail server. Both of them danced, swerved, lied, used carefully crafted excuses that meant nothing–and then showed a little contrition to make you feel sorry for them.

But that’s not enough. Here’s what I’ve learned from my own failures about how to confess your sins:

1. Begin by confessing to God. He is the main One you’re sinned against (Psalm 51:4) since all wrong actions are rebellion against His kingdom and ways. Do that in private, receive His forgiveness and ask for His empowering to help make the situation right.

1.  Go to the people you’ve harmed and be honest and transparent as quickly as possible (Matthew 5:23-26) . Tell exactly what you did and why you did it. Truth is important to God and has a ring of authority to it that can help to undo the damage (though it will never completely remove the stain).

2.  Be humble about your mistake (James 5:16). Don’t make any excuses or rationalize it in any way. Remember this: to rationalize is to tell yourself and the world a rational lie. But it’s still a lie–and adds a second wrong to your already bad behavior. In fact, oftentimes the cover up or justification is worse than the offense itself.

3.  Don’t use the cheap words “I’m sorry” when dealing with your guilt. Whenever you sin against someone, look them in the eye, state what you did without justification, and ask them if they will forgive you. Saying you’re sorry focuses on you and can be self-serving–just trying to clear your conscience. Asking their forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32) puts the rightful focus on them and your desire to honor and clear up the hurt. It also gives the other person the opportunity to exercise forgiveness–a beautiful God-quality.

4.  Make sure to confess your sin to all those you’ve harmed. If it’s one person, then go to the one. If it’s a group, then confess to the group. In Ryan Lochte’s case, I agree with Steve Berman that he needs to go to Brazil and ask forgiveness of the nation he trashed–also his Olympic teammates, the US Olympic committee, and the world at large that was negatively impacted by his actions. Always confess to the sphere of offense.

5.  Do what you can (for the rest of your life) to make restitution for your sin. Ryan Lochte may have lost millions of dollars in endorsement money, but he could spend many years talking to thousands of kids about the evils of drunkenness, vandalism, and lying that could save them from his fate. A great way to restore a reputation is to re-build it again through repentant actions.

Pray for Ryan Lochte to do the right thing. Don’t look down on him. You’ve down similar things–just on the same scale. We’re all sinners who need to learn humility and appropriate grace.

And some of us need a refresher course in confessing our sins.





  1. Ross Tooley on August 27, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    Well done Ron! I too found his confession hard to listen to.
    May your pointers be will listened to mate!
    Will I see you in Kansas City?

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