Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. [Jas 5:16 ESV]
As we read in James, confession is a vital aspect of a Christian’s walk. Confession, in the Bible, means to “say the same thing” or to “agree” about something. In the context of confession of sins, it’s a way for us to unequivocally agree with God that we have sinned. We often want to give excuses for our sins or cheapen its severity, but confession lays it all bare before God and our fellow man.
Confession is not just a one-time act that we do upon salvation, but the literal Greek translation renders it as be confessing, a continual act. So do we continually confess our sins like we should, or is it just for those rare occasions when we’ve gotten ourselves into a real mess? If we don’t confess our sins enough, then how can we encourage one another to fulfill this command? We don’t encourage confession to “air our dirty laundry” or to make a spectacle of ourselves, but rather that we might ultimately pray for and support one another in our walk together. If we are to do that effectively, we need to remove the obstacles that hinder us from this good work.
One obstacle that may prevent people from confessing sin is shame. If confession is rare or extraordinary, then it may give the impression that most of us don’t struggle with sin, which is obviously not true! John says:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [1Jo 1:8-9 ESV]
Acting as if we have no sin is deception. As the passage states, we deceive ourselves, but aren’t we also deceiving our brethren? When we don’t confess, we unwittingly send the false message to our church family that sin isn’t really a challenge for us, and our brothers and sisters who might otherwise confess their sins may feel exceptionally weak. As a consequence, they may bottle up their sins as well, project the same air of invincibility, and continue the vicious cycle. I’m confident that we don’t maintain this pretense of perfection on purpose. But when confession is rare, we could be heaping extra guilt upon those of us who would otherwise ask for help and prayers.
Another reason that people may not confess sins is because of fear. There’s a fear that others may not look at you the same way, when they know what you struggle with. Will you forever be scorned because of what you admit? Will you no longer be accepted as a brother or sister? Satan wants you to have these fears and doubts to hinder your confession, but we as children of God must assuage these fears by our attitude in receiving those who confess.
For all the ridicule that we see in the media about college campuses and “safe spaces,” the Church should absolutely be a safe space for confession of sin. The Bible talks about our attitude as a recipient of such a confession:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. [Gal 6:1 ESV]
For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. [2Co 2:6-8 ESV]
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. [Eph 4:32 ESV]
These verses describe our response as one of gentleness, forgiveness, comfort, and love. If our reaction is to embrace those who confess their sins to us, then who wouldn’t want to confess their sins? Our eagerness to confess our sins would lead to a healthier church, knit together in love and bearing one another’s burdens.
I hope this article encourages us to feel safe in confessing sin, because no one is immune to the wiles of the devil. A Christian is ready to love and forgive, following Christ’s example, and to strengthen the hands that are weak through prayer and encouragement. Let us never live in denial, but confess our sins to one another!