Bible Q&A: Do I Need to Confess My Sins to Other Believers?

Question: I need help. I want to confess my sins, but I don’t know who to confess them to. Do I just need to confess to God, or does he ask that we confess to others? I’m embarrassed of my sins, and I don’t know who to talk to about them.

Answer: The first thing to say is that confession is a normal part of a healthy Christian life. The Apostle John says, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). John wrote these words to Christians. Then he added, “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves” (v. 10).

The person who cannot see anything in his or her life that should be confessed as sin to God is a deceived person. That person is simply not seeing clearly. He or she is not in touch with reality.

Your desire to confess your sins is a good indicator of a normal, healthy Christian life. But how confession is to be done has been a matter of debate in history.

When to Confess Your Sins to Others

Many of us were brought up in a tradition where we were taught to confess our sins to a priest. There may be some value in that, but there is no place in the Bible where God says that you must confess your sins to a priest.

In the 16th century, there was a great movement to get behind the traditions that had built up in the church over the centuries, and to discover what the Bible actually said. The Reformers saw that we are confess our sins to God. They rediscovered the great Bible truth that in God’s eyes all believers are priests, and Jesus is our great high priest.

John Calvin, who was a wise pastor, said that we are to confess our sins to God, but that confessing a particular sin to another person could be helpful—especially if, having confessed it to God, you were still struggling to find peace in your heart about it.

In that situation, you can go to a pastor and tell him, or you can go to any other mature Christian and tell them. This is what is often called “the priesthood of all believers.” It means you can go to any priest, including the one sitting next to you!

If Someone Confesses to You

If someone comes to you looking for help, and tells you about a sin in their life, your job is to help them grasp the promises of the gospel in relation to that particular matter. Whatever else that person may have done is none of your business. Your job is to help them come before God and believe the gospel in relation to the matter they have shared with you.

There is great wisdom here. James says, “Confess your sins one to another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Confess your sins to God. And if you are still struggling to find peace, share it with a pastor or a trusted Christian brother or sister so that they can help you apply the promise of the gospel to this particular situation, and so you may find peace.

[This is an adapted excerpt from Pastor Colin’s sermon “Confess!” from I Almost Gave Up. Photo Credit: Lightstock]

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Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

Date Posted: Oct 2nd, 2017

  • Larry Geiger

    If we have sinned against someone, specifically, then Jesus recommends that we leave our gift at the altar, go and confess our sin to the person sinned against and then provide restitution.