Do Christians Need to Confess Their Sins? (Pt1)

Just the pure mention of somebody questioning a topic like this, could offend and anger lots of people.


Previously we talked about “Repenting”, but this time we will be discussing “Confessing”. If you wish to read the message about Repenting, simply click here.


The real question that we should ask when talking about confessing our sins is this: When a Christian sins (makes a mistake), is their right standing with God lost, and can that right standing only be restored if the person confesses the sin? If we can forget for a few minutes all the things we have heard people say, including the traditions of men that have been passed down to us, as well as the way we thinkwe should react when we make a mistake, then let’s see what the Word says.


There are only two verses in the new covenant (1 John 1:9 and James 5:16) which deal with confessing sin, and both are mostly misunderstood. In Part 1 we will look at James 5:16 and in Part 2 at 1 John 1:9.


James 5:16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (NKJV)


There are no verses in the new covenant other than James 5:16 which tell believing Holy Spirit filled Christians we should confess our sins or trespasses. Furthermore this verse does not instruct us to confess to God. James 5:16 says we have to confess our faults to each other – NOT TO GOD.


Now some scholars have interpreted James 5:14-16 in the sense that God makes people sick because they have sin in their life. And these are also some of the verses in the Bible that have been misinterpreted to mean that people have to confess their sins to priests or to the elders of a church, and that they will subsequently be forgiven their sins and healed if they confess to a person. Let’s read the 2 verses preceding our key verse:


Jam 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (NKJV)


Under the New Covenant, God has forgiven ALL our sins (past, present and future). 


Heb 10:17  Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. (NKJV)


And also: 


Col 3:13 … even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. (NKJV, emphasis added)


The only sins (mistakes) that we as new covenant believers need still forgiveness for, is from the people we have sinned against (God has already forgiven us for these sins as well). Since none of us are perfect in all we do, we sometimes offend, hurt or harm people. And since people are not as gracious and merciful as God, we need to make amends with them. And that’s where James 5:16 comes in: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed…”


Our right standing with God does not change, but our relationship with others can be damaged and needs to be restored when we humbly confess to those we have wronged (and if they will receive us in humility) it opens the door for that restoration to happen.


Even David, when he had called for a ballot (census) of Israel, God gave him the option of choosing one of three punishments for doing such a thing (under the law God had to punish man, but under grace Jesus bore the punishment for our sins). But because David knew God’s true nature, he chose to be punished by God, and not by man:


1 Chron 21:11 So Gad (the prophet) came to David and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Choose for yourself, 12 either three years of famine, or three months to be defeated by your foes with the sword of your enemies overtaking you, or else for three days the sword of the LORD the plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel. Now consider what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.’ 13 And David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man. (NKJV, annotations added)


To clench this, let’s read a few more verses from James 5, just a few verses up from our key verse of today: 


James 5:4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. (NKJV)

James 5:9: Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. (NKJV)


In this context, where people have wronged and hurt each other, James is telling them to make amends, to be reconciled with each other, to confess their faults to each other, especially at beds of affliction where death and eternity seem to be near approaching.


Another interpretation is that James 5:16 does NOT mean that we should reveal every sin and trespass to everyone in the congregation. James implies that we should confide our problems to a close, trusted friend so that he or she can help us by praying to God for help in overcoming it.