They say confession is good for the soul. Usually when I think of confession, though, I picture a scene from a crime drama. I’ve never really studied the idea in its Christian context until writing this post.
Recently during a small group meeting, a friend made the statement that holding in our mess can prevent healing. I quickly scribbled it down in my notes since that’s an idea I’ve been championing since I started talking more openly about my anxiety. To give you some context for this comment, we’d just read this verse:
Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective. (James 5:16, WEB)
Given James’ word choices here, we can say for certain that he’s telling us there’s a connection between healing and openly acknowledging the ways we slip into error. The Greek words are specifically about confessing faults, offences, and trespasses. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch, though, to extend this principle to other struggles as well including those that are not, strictly speaking, sinful.
To share a personal example, trying to hide my mental health struggles only made them worse. I felt shame and guilt around my anxiety and depression. I worried that others would find out about them, which just increased my levels of anxiety. I didn’t start to find healing until I opened up about my struggles to friends, family, a counselor, and even publicly here on this blog.
Bringing Dark Things To Light
God has a habit of shining light into dark places. Jesus even went so far as to say “nothing is hidden that will not be revealed; nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17, WEB). While God works in ways that are mysterious and sometimes hidden from us, there is no darkness in Him. He is all light and those who love Him want to walk in that light.
For everyone who does evil hates the light, and doesn’t come to the light, lest his works would be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his works may be revealed, that they have been done in God. (John 3:20-21, WEB)
Confession fits into the larger principle of bringing darkness to light. Interestingly, both Greek words for confess (exomologeo and humologeo) are used of professing faith in the one true God (Matt 10:32; Rom. 10:9-10; Phil. 2:11) as well as for confessing sin. Walking in light involves openly acknowledging the Light-source whom we follow as well as turning away from things that are incompatible with His light.
This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7, WEB)
Confession and Forgiveness
The way we walk must match the One we profess to follow. That means walking “in the light, as he is in the light.” We’re human, though. We make mistakes and do things that God’s light and law reveal are dark and ugly. This leaves is with a question. What do we do when we find something in us that is not light?
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10, WEB)
Confession accompanies baptism (Matt. 3:6) and is a product of belief in Jesus (Acts 19:17-18). It’s also an ongoing part of our Christian walk. All our sins must be confessed to God if we seek repentance, healing, and oneness with Him. Jesus’ sacrifice cleanses us from sin, but only if we ask Him to. He can’t work in people who think they don’t need Him (Rev. 3:15-20). God deeply desires a relationship with us and He’s eager to make that happen by helping move from darkness into Light.
A Time To Cover, A Time To Confess
We confess everything to God, but confessing to another person must be done a little more carefully. People don’t need to know everything, especially if what you’re thinking of confessing involves another person’s struggles. Love doesn’t stir up sin and spread it around. It covers (Prov. 10:12; 17:9).
This does not, however, mean we should hide our struggles from each other. Remember James said, “Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). There is a time to cover and a time to bring things to light. Being honest about your struggles and shortcomings in the right setting and at the right time can be a powerful healing tool.
All of our darkness will be brought to light. At minimum we must bring it to God that He might shine His Light into us, forgive us, and point us in the right direction. If appropriate, we may also bring it to others like counselors and friends. In some cases you might even share in public, as I’ve done with certain things on this blog.
You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, (1 Thes. 5:5, WEB)
We Need To Be There For Others
Paul tells us over and over in his letters that we are to help each other. “We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak” (Rom. 15:1). “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). “Encourage the fainthearted; support the weak; be patient toward all” (1 Thes. 5:14). None of this is going to happen, though, if we aren’t talking with and listening to each other.
You can’t help me bear my burdens and weaknesses unless I tell you what they are. I can’t encourage your heart or support you where you’re struggling if you haven’t let me know what’s going on. Confession is an essential part of building the kind of supportive church family that God wants us to be.
We need to get our messiness out into God’s Light so He can heal us. This is something that happens between you and God, but in many cases He also wants to use other people to aid in the healing process.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power]. (James 5:16, AMP)