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And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 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 (James 5:15-16).
For many people—especially ex-Catholics—the idea that confession may be an integral part of the Christian life carries a lot of baggage.
Practically no one has any problem with confessing their sins to God. God already knows them anyway, right? So confessing sins to God is an important part of growing in Christ.
And it absolutely is. Never neglect to confess your sins to God.
But what does James say to do in James 5:16?
He doesn’t say confess your sins to God. He says to confess your sins to one another.
That is a much tougher cookie to chew.
The first objection: but there is only one mediator of forgiveness between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ!
Yes, absolutely! Yet James still commands Christians to confess their sins to one another. So the purpose of this confession must not be to absolve one another of sins.
What is the purpose of this confession?
The purpose is to take the things we keep in the dark—the secret sins of our lives—and drag them into the light. The holy light of God burns away the dark stains of sin. As long as we keep our sins secret, even just between us and God, they will retain some power in our lives.
When you are hiding sin, you live constantly on edge. You are always waiting for someone to find out, for the game to be over. It will happen eventually. Some people, who succeed in keeping secret sins for years, grow so frustrated they want it to be discovered just so the wait will be over.
Secrecy gives power to sin. Darkness and secrecy are a handhold in your soul that sins can latch onto. And no matter how hard you try to push them away, as long as you keep that handhold for them, they’ll keep holding on to you.
The solution is confession. You deny sin the handhold. Suddenly, sin doesn’t have anything to hold onto in your life, and it’s a lot easier to throw it away.
If you want to get rid of the garbage in your life, you need to take it to the curb.
And confession to one another has another purpose as well.
When an army faces an enemy it cannot defeat alone, it has two options. Either it can refuse to fight, which would allow the enemy to do whatever it pleased and ravage its homeland, or it can call in allies to fight the enemy with them.
Have you ever been bullied? Bullies pick on people they know they can beat. Bullies are often stopped when you bring your friends along to put an end to the bullying. A bully may be able to beat you when you’re alone, but he can’t beat five of you at the same time.
In confession, you call allies alongside you to fight the enemy of your soul. You get your friends to pitch in against the bully who’s keeping you defeated.
You confess to people—not so they will absolve you of sin, because only God can do that—but so they will fight with you against it.
With your friends, you hunt down your sin into the every hiding place of your soul. And you tear it out by the roots. And, together, you all bring it before God.
The enemy loves Lone Ranger Christians. Christians who do everything just between them and God are weak and easily defeated. In 1 Pet 5:8, Peter says “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And lions attack and take down the lone animal, the one that gets separated from the rest. Because when an animal is with the rest of the herd, it is strong and protected. It isn’t prey.
So, as a leader in Chi Alpha, don’t you dare keep your sins secret. Don’t give sin a handhold in your life. Don’t try to face the devil alone.
Christ created the Church, the community of God. Christians are never supposed to go it alone. We’re supposed to be together, to work together.
We’re supposed to encourage one another to righteousness. To help one another to fight sin in our lives.
This doesn’t mean you go around confessing your sins to everybody. That’s just unwise. And frankly, that can lead to a culture where people take pride in announcing their sins to everyone. Like all good things, it can easily be sidetracked—it stops being an act of humility to call people in to fight alongside you and becomes a prideful act, a competition. “Oh, you think that’s bad? Well I struggle with….”
Twisted, isn’t it? I’ve seen it happen.
Confess your sins to people you trust. People who you know will fight alongside you. People you know care about you.
And if you don’t have people like that in your life?
Don’t give the enemy power over you. Don’t keep your sins secret. Don’t give them life they shouldn’t have.
Confess your sins to one another. Pray for one another. Love one another and encourage one another to holiness. For the glory of Christ, who has overcome sin and death!