I recently finished reading If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free. You can read my review of it here but suffice it to say that it’s a good book and you should read it. One thing about the book that has stayed with me is the idea of confessing sin to other believers. This is something I’ve pondered over the last couple of years.
I struggle with a great deal of fear and anxiety on a regular basis. These are the outworkings of my sinful heart, not a clinical diagnosis (which is a very real thing for many). I struggle with fear and anxiety because of a lack of belief in the truths of the gospel and in Christ as sufficient. And I repent of them to the Lord.
But I’ve also come to believe in the importance of confessing sin to other believers…except without really knowing why. So, thanks to Ivey’s book, I’ve been asking the question: Why should we confess our sins to one another?
It’s certainly not because it’s fun or easy. We don’t need an intercessor to confess our sins to God for us. Most importantly, it’s not because there’s something eternally redemptive about confessing to others—that only comes through repenting and believing in Christ. The Holy Spirit is certainly sufficient to convict us of our sin and help us believe the gospel.
There is, however, Biblical instruction that can apply to confessing sin to others. According to David Platt, James 5:16 is the only verse that explicitly tells us to confess sin to one another. Here are a few other reasons why I think confessing sins to other believers is a good practice.
We are told to bear each other’s burdens.
In Galatians 6:2, Paul tells us to bear one another’s burdens. Burdens come in all different forms, and the wrestle of sin should be included. We sin more times than we can count on a daily basis, and we all know what it’s like to consistently struggle with and fall into sinful patterns (worry, lying, pride, sexual sin, etc). I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel like my sin is a physical weight on my shoulders.
We need to be held accountable for our sin. Not only that, we need encouragement. The Lord has saved us into a body of believers and it is this body that can hold us accountable and encourage us towards Christlikeness. However, accountability necessitates confession. Our fellow believers cannot hold us accountable for the sin with which we struggle unless we tell them how we’re struggling. Confessing, and allowing others to confess to us, is one way we can bear each others’ burdens.
As an aside, we need to consider why we do not confess to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We already know from Scripture that we should bear each other’s burdens, so we shouldn’t be overly concerned about burdening each other. But if we don’t confess because we’re afraid of what others will think, we’re still acting sinfully—by placing our identity in something besides the gospel. We are defined by Christ’s death and resurrection, and that should free us to confess our sins to others without fear of how they will react.
We need to be reminded of the freedom we have in the gospel.
We live in an “already and not yet” state in terms of our sin. The Lord, in his grace, has already forgiven us. Jesus paid the price for our sin and secured our eternal future through his death and resurrection. But we are not yet fully restored, and won’t be, until Christ’s return. That means that we still war against sin in our lives.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember the truth of the gospel on our own, especially if we are deeply entrenched in a particular sin. This, again, illustrates our need for the church. Along with bearing each others burdens, we are told to encourage one another. We remind each other of the truths of the gospel, of the freedom we have from sin, and of the Lord who is abounding in steadfast love and mercy for us. The author of Hebrews specifically addresses this: “But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception” (Heb. 3:13, CSB).
Sin is a liar. The gospel is true. But because we are sinners, we are susceptible to the lies that sin tells us. We easily forget what the Lord has done for us. When we confess to others, we admit that we can’t always discern the truth by ourselves. We help each other remember that sin no longer reigns over us—Christ does.
Our sins are first against Christ, but also against others.
There are vertical consequences to the sins we commit against others, and these are the most grievous. We sin against Christ, who paid the ultimate price for it on the cross. But there are horizontal consequences as well. When we sin against another, we negatively affect our relationship with them. But confession and repentance help reconcile us to one another by opening a door for us to forgive each other. Jesus encourages this in Matthew 5:23-24: “So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (CSB).
We need look no further than recent SBC controversy to see the obvious horizontal effects of sin against others. Women have been hurt and dishonored; mudslinging and slander has become the norm against the SBC presidential candidates; anger and lashing out on social media between people who claim to be brothers and sisters in Christ has lead to vulgar comments unbecoming of a Christian. We are in desperate need of reconciliation with one another. Friends, we must be a people marked by humility in repentance and confession. We must seek forgiveness from each other.
Our broken relationships dishonor the Lord. When we “bite and devour” one another, we hinder the message of the gospel to the watching world. And the world is watching.
Sin is weighty, and it’s scary to confess it to God, much less others. Pride, guilt, fear, and a whole host of negative emotions can keep us from confessing. In addition, when we confess our sin to other sinners, there is a good chance of getting burned. We don’t always react well when we learn of another’s sin. In a follow-up article, I’ll address proper ways to react when others confess their sin to us. But for now, let us consider the benefits of confessing to others and be reminded of the gospel that has brought us freedom.