“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 5:16
While many of us may feel conflicted anytime a public confession of sin happens, the word commands confession in verses like James 5:16. The question emerges, when does the confession of sin need to take place publicly in a local body? James reminds us that we all stumble in many ways (James 3:1). Also, while the Bible teaches that all sins are equal before God (James 2:10), the consequence of sins are not equal in this world. For example, the sin we engage in the sin of hate, it is known by God and us but perhaps by no one else. If we shoot and kill the person we hate, what follows in the church and community will be much different. Both sins are ugly, and Jesus calls them both murder (Matthew 5:21-22), but the consequences and scope of what follows differ significantly in this world.
The same guiding principle applies to the public confession of sin. The scope of repentance must be as broad as the effect of the sin. So we should think of confession of sin through the lenses of the gospel but asking the following questions:
1. Do we agree with God that what we have done is sin?
o Simple but important. Many times we do not confess sin privately or publicly because we don’t agree with what the Bible says about our actions. We must overcome this first before we can move forward in forgiveness, healing, covering, and restoration.
2. What is the scope of the consequences of the sin?
o As noted before, the extent of the impacts are they public or private? In 1 Corinthians 5:2, Paul instructs the church to skip the first three steps of the Matthew 18 process and put him out of the church. Why would Paul skip those steps? Because the sin was well known as sin by believers and unbelievers alike, and it was publicly known. The principle emerges here that the sin must be addressed at the scope it is known and affecting others.
3. Do I understand that confession is a weapon to help me defeat sin?
o Ephesians 5:11 tells us to expose “unfruitful works of darkness.” God gave us a powerful weapon when he gave us the confession of sin. When we tell others that our actions or thinking were sinful and wrong, the sin's power weakens on us. Make no mistake sin is powerful, and we are all just seconds away from most any kind. We need to battle it with all God has given us. Not to mention it helps to defeat that same sin in others lives in the body when done publicly.
4. Following the confession, will my church now join in the covering for the sin?
o The gospel is always the model for how sin is handled. Once we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us (1 John 1:9). Once God forgives, He separates sin from us and Him as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Romans 4:7 says that our sins are “covered” following forgiveness. Anytime one of our precious saints confesses sin; the right response is for us to do as God does. To cover a sin means we don’t talk about it anymore. We should celebrate their courage and God’s work in their life! We don’t point out their sin anymore to others in the church or outside the church. We unite in grace, truth, and love to help and bless them. Depending on the sin they may have consequences they face with the local law, but as far as we are concerned the blood of Christ covers their sins.