In my last blog I talked about the importance of accountability questions in Discipleship. We looked at a number of honest questions we could ask each other regularly to become accountable to one another.
Last time I looked briefly at James 5:16 which says “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” In this blog I want to look at what it means to confess our sins to one another.
When we talk about confession you might, if you have a Roman Catholic background, think of the confessional booth and having to recount the weeks’ wrongdoings to the priest. Should we do this? Do we confess to each other and then to God, or the other way round? It can all get very confusing. We can sometimes come to some wrong conclusions which I will address later.
Firstly let’s look at this word ‘confess’ and its biblical meaning. It is mostly used in the bible as the Greek word ‘Homologeo’ which means to “speak the same thing” or to “agree with” (see 1 Timothy 6:12, 1 John 1:9, Romans 10:9). But this passage enhances that meaning, using the stronger form ‘Exomologeo’ meaning to” confess freely”, openly as a public acknowledgment and confession of sins.
When we confess our sins we are agreeing with what God says about them (not trivialising them) and we are speaking this out to other Christians. We do this because we honour God, we want to be reconciled to God and others, and we want to receive help.
Before I look at the benefits that God has designed for confession, I first want to clear up a few misconceptions caused by a misunderstanding of scripture:
Misconception No.1 – We confess to others to gain God’s acceptance.
If we have been saved by God, all our sins, past, present and future, are fully dealt with. There is nothing more (i.e. confession) that we need to do. God accepts us because our salvation is by grace, through faith and not by works (otherwise we would have a reason to boast). When we know this and are secure in this, we can confess for the right reasons, being honest with Him and other people.
Misconception No.2 – Since it is God who forgives, we have no need to mention our sins to other people.
To use God’s forgiveness as an excuse not to confess means we are misunderstanding God’s grace and ignoring bible passages such as the one we are looking at today.
This passage also corrects the following misconception:
Misconception No.3 – It should only be professional Christians who hear confession.
We can sometimes be persuaded by false doctrine or culture into thinking that we need to see ‘the church leader’ or a professional counsellor in order to confess our sins, but it is quite unbiblical to think like this. The reality is that as Christians, we are all ‘ministers’ of God’s grace and so we can confess to one another. It is part of being in the church, the community of God. The depth of relationship we have with one another and the honesty with which we share our lives, is a good gauge as to how biblical we are as a community. This is why discipleship and accountability are so important.
God is such a gracious, giving God. He doesn’t need our confession, he already knows all our sins (even the ones we haven’t committed yet!) and He has already dealt with them (if you are in Christ!). Confession is entirely for our benefit and is a means of God’s grace. I’m now going to look at a number of reasons why:
- Confession can be an opportunity to learn more about God
Some Christians have not fully grasped that all they need to do is receive forgiveness. They may have tried to ‘earn’ it, not understanding God’s character properly. Confession will help them
- Confession can help you understand more of God’s word
If you confess your sins to somebody who has more experience in their Christian walk, they may be able to teach you more about the bible so you do not so easily fall again.
- Confession can help you experience God’s forgiveness
Sometimes we can know about God’s forgiveness in our heads but not always feel it. By speaking it out to somebody, there is a deeper sense of release than when we bottle it all up, and the feeling of forgiveness is greater.
- Confession breaks the power of sin
Keeping a sin hidden and ‘in the dark’ is exactly what the enemy wants; that way it has more power over you. When we bring it into the light its power is broken:
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
- Confession can restore a broken relationship
The classic example in the bible is of the prodigal son being restored to his father. Confession and seeking forgiveness is vital to healthy relationships in the church.
- Confession reveals common sins
When we confess our sins to one another we realise we are all experiencing similar struggles. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (I Corinthians 10:13) We come to the realisation that we are not on our own.
- Confession releases others to confess
If you confess to somebody, it can release them to confess their sins. I have seen this time and again where the bravery of one person confessing can lead others to take the step of confession too.
- Confession releases spiritual gifts
When you confess your sin to somebody it can release their spiritual gift and give them the joy of ministering to you. They may have the gift of mercy or serving, or administration, or many others that they can use to help you. You are helped and they are released in their gifting. It’s a ‘win win’ situation.
As you can see, there are many reasons to confess our sins to one another. If you have found somebody that you can become accountable to, why not start to share your burdens a little? I don’t think you should just unload everything as this may be too much, and also it is not always wise to overdo it. Sometimes you simply need to confess it to God, receive His peace and move on, but other times it is important to share with one another. This can require wisdom, but the good news is that God has plenty of wisdom in supply – “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)
Please feel free to add any comments or any other observations that have helped you.