confession and healing

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In a culture where admission of wrong is rare and feeling remorse is old-fashioned, there’s bound to be great conflict with these words from James:

“So confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you will be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  — 5:16

We all know and believe that, if we confess our sins to God, he is faithful to forgive us.  And I’m not suggesting we’re experts at acknowledging our sins before God; I’m sure we attempt to explain away our shortcomings to him just as we do to our fellow Christians.

But this verse stands out to me.  It stands out because, while God is faithful to forgive us when we confess our sins to him, we only find healing after confessing our sins to one another. How many times have we disclosed our sins to God, but still shouldered the burden of those sins and the guilt associated with them?  In those cases, I’d argue, we’ve received forgiveness but not healing.

[Warning:  I’m about to speculate and hypothesize concerning ideas about which I can’t be certain.  I am not speaking for God, but for myself — out of my own thoughts and experiences.  And before I go there, I should explain something.  Clearly the context of this James passage demonstrates that prayer to God is powerful.  And when we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, these prayers are answered and we find healing.  This passage is first and foremost about the power of intercessory prayer.  I do not want to diminish that.]

Here are my thoughts:

I believe there’s something special about Christians offering one another God-like forgiveness, caring, and concern.  And I believe this something special is important in the healing process.  We can know in our heads that God has forgiven us, but we don’t feel that forgiveness in our hearts.  That’s where other Christians come in.  The church extends to us in tangible human form the forgiveness God has already granted.  And we heal.

I believe much of the purpose of the church is to make tangible to humanity the love of God. And one way in which we demonstrate this love is to show our brothers and sisters the same forgiveness God offers.  In doing so the forgiver speaks and acts on behalf of God, the sinner finds healing, and the church more clearly represents Christ to the world.  A cycle is begun.  Others will confess and be prayed for, receiving both forgiveness and healing from their church family.  And that church family becomes a beautiful picture of God in a terribly ugly world.

Sadly, though, the converse is also true — and entirely too commonplace. When Christians fail (or refuse) to display God’s forgiveness to another, he finds no healing and the church looks less and less like Christ.  Soon no one will confess his sins for fear of being judged harshly and viewed as a criminal.  And so, another cycle is begun.  No one confesses, no one prays for him, no one demonstrates God’s forgiveness, no one finds healing, and no one represents Christ to the ugly world in which we live.  One more beautiful picture of God is lost.

And when some brave individual attempts to break that mold by walking forward after a sermon to confess his recent sins, he’s beaten down by the whispering in the pews and the Sunday lunch gossip.  And what everyone knew is confirmed yet again — there is no healing in confession, and the Spirit of God is not present in this church.



Filed under forgiveness, musings on the Word

13 responses to “confession and healing

  1. leeleegirl4

    I agree with what you wrote. It is sad to see churches who forget that caring for each other includes confessing sins and seeking healing. I know I don’t want to miss any of God’s blessings. If I find myself surrounded by so-called Christians who aren’t really interested in the things of God, then I going to leave to find ones that are. My opinion, but one I think has some merit in it.

    • it is sad, leelee. i’ve been thinking lately about how it comes to this — by “this” i mean a church not confessing sins and finding healing. you used the word “forget,” not that you meant they just woke up one day and didn’t remember how to care for one another. but that was the funny picture i got in my head (or not so funny).

      anyway, what i’m getting at is that there must have been a really slow shift to get where these churches are now. or have most of our churches never witnessed confessions and forgiveness as they should have? now i’m starting to ramble…

  2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a short book, *Life Together,* which is a meditation on the nature of Christian community. His thoughts on confession and forgiveness in the community of faith came to mind as I read this post.

    Thanks for your article. I recommend *Life Together.*

    • haven’t read it, but i think i brought it with me. all our books are still in boxes, though. i’m having a couple of bookcases made this week, so before friday we’ll unpack all those boxes (and our guest room will be a guest room again — just in time for our visitors).

  3. Kim

    Wow. That is good stuff Brett. I completely agree.

    The saddest thing in our church culture is the part where other Christians forget to not judge and as a result people who are hurting and seeking forgiveness and healing feel there is none to be had.

    I’m not sure how to fix the church as a whole in regards to this, but I can at least make sure to fix myself and remind myself to forgive others as I have been forgiven.

    Great post!

    • forgive as i’ve been forgiven. yeah, we have a tendency to forget our sins when we’re busy pointing out others.’ you know that’s pretty well covered in the new testament — splinters and logs in our eyes, he who’s without sin throwing the first stone, etc.

  4. Yep, the Good News is about grace, not about condemnation.

  5. Eagle

    This topic hits home for me, and was one of the factors in me becoming agnostic. Man where do you start…?

    I had an accountability partner from Campus Crusade for 8 years who I learned lived a double life. I confessed hard stuff, was dressed down, and hammered where as my accountability partner walked away from it unscathed.

    I also had a Pastor/ministry leader who took my previous confesion and did a good job of derailing my career which I took on faith.

    In my expereinces of hearing about confession of sin, etc.. I realized that the concept of sin is subjective. The evangelcial church has its hang ups on certain sins and doesn’t extend grace to those dealing with those issues. Yet if that sin invovles materialism, greed, gluttony, pride, anger, etc.. it is okay. I’ve seen guys get hammered for confessing certain sins, yet in the 10 years I was an evangelical in a men’s Bible study, church or Campus Crusade I never heard a guy come out and confess to God problems of anger, materialism, etc..

    The whole topic of how confessed sin is dealt with, combined with my expereinces taught me that if you want to be a Christian in the end you have to be deceptive. And that was part of the reason why I walked away. If being a part of an evangelical church, para-church ministry, personal relationship with God, etc.. is going to result in a loss of integrity and make you dishonest than faith, the church, and God is not healthy to begin with.

    I wish evangelicals could be candid about this and not behind a facade.

    • JMF


      I hear ya, bro. You are singing a tune that many have sung in the past. I heard a saying once that speaks to your post:

      “The problem with Christianity is the Christians.”

      As you traverse this difficult time in your faith, notice that everything you said above had to do with us humans. Jesus didn’t let you down — WE did.

    • eagle, i’m sorry you’ve been hurt by those wearing the name of Christ. it’s happened to far too many of us. and it’s really difficult to know how to deal with sin. because on one hand, it’s gross, destructive, and evil — and has tough consequences. but on the other hand, Jesus demonstrates an attitude of forgiveness, followed by “go and sin no more.” my opinion, we should always err on the side of grace.

      and i’m with you completely on how we have our pet sins and make distinctions that aren’t there. sins which a whole lot of christians participate in and don’t even bother to hide — like materialism and greed. then there are sins which many participate in, but hide and rarely discuss — like pornography. there there are the sins which maybe not as many are involved in, but if you confess them you’re shunned and even disliked — various addictions, etc.

      i’m sorry we’ve poorly represented our God to you, eagle.

  6. JMF

    Let me preface this by saying that I realize I am lucky to be part of a truly Spirit-led church with Godly leadership. I think God for that blessing every day.

    We are moving beyond this paradigm, Brett. In fact, we had an elder come forward several months ago and confess something unattractive, and since then, the floodgates have opened.

    A big part of this, I think, is due to our Celebrate Recovery ministry. That has truly made us a more sensitive church, and it has made created an atmosphere where we ENJOY confessing our sins and getting honest.

    I’m doing a 12-step program right now through CR, and the key to finally starting to get over your hang-ups is in step 4: The Inventory. This is where you write down every event/person/entity that has ever hurt you. You write down how you have hurt others. When others have hurt you, you acknowledge your part in it (if you had a part… most of us have a part unless it was a hurtful action taken upon you when you were a child — then you have ZERO responsibility).

    But, here is the key with the inventory: You must confess it to yourself (the original writing), to God, and finally, YOU CONFESS IT TO SOMEONE ELSE (per James 5:16). I just did that. It was the biggest emotional roller coaster I’ve ever ridden.

    Point is, you’ve gotta unload your burdens on another.

    I truly feel for those that are a part of a church body that doesn’t have this kind of an atmosphere. Because I’ve always attended those churches until now, and I know what it is like. There is hope — keep looking for a family where you fit in.

    • jmf, i’m really glad your church family models Christ and his forgiveness so well. and i praise God that celebrate recovery is helping many in your community — including yourself.

      having confessed my share of gross sins, i understand the emotional roller coaster you’re talking about. and i’ve also experienced the freedom and healing that comes as a result. i wish more of us belonged to faith communities that allowed us these opportunities — or, even better, encouraged us in them.

  7. Hello.

    We will obstruct it to your site.

    It is a good site.

    The mind is very healed. It is my this time site.

    Please come to the [nimo] play.

    Thank you.

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