Jim Keller is a Teaching Minister at Summit Church.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” — James 5:16 (NIV)
One of the most difficult calls for a believer in Jesus is the call to confession. We are called to confess our sins to God to assure that we have unbroken fellowship and communication with him. There is a cleansing that comes with confession that is necessary for our growth as Christians. The Apostle John says that if we confess, then the Father will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And then James, in the fifth chapter of his epistle, gives us an additional but equally profound encouragement: we are to confess our sins to our fellow believers. This, I believe, takes confession to a whole new level, and is probably one of the more neglected commands of the New Testament.
Corporate confession is not an easy task. In fact, it’s extremely difficult. This exhortation raises serious and legitimate questions: to whom do we confess? What do we confess? What happens after the confession is made? What is the ultimate goal of the confession of our sins to each other?
The first question is easy but complicated… we are to confess to fellow believers, but how do we select those people? This command compels me to do two things: first, I need to spend time with believers, and second, I need to be with believers that I can trust and who can also trust me. This necessitates small groups, what we call Connect groups at Summit, but it also means that there needs to be an increasing and healthy vulnerability in the group to allow there to be a free and honest confession of your shortcomings.
Once we have the people to whom we confess, we now must determine what to share in terms of our personal struggles and sins. Certainly we do not share every sin, but I would suggest that the ones we do share are the ones that are seriously and habitually tripping us up and blocking our fellowship with God. Addictions, inappropriate relationships, chronic lying/cheating… all these and more are important to confess corporately so as to expose the secret and hidden nature of our worst impulses.
What happens afterward can be lumped into two primary categories: sharing and prayer. The sharing part takes place when the confessor receives encouraging words from those to whom the confession is made. That encouragement can make all the difference. The knowledge that we are not alone is sometimes critical in the healing process. The other activity is praying together. It is a way that Jesus is brought into the midst of the group (Matthew 18:20). Prayer unites us as well as moves us in the same direction as we see God work in each other’s lives.
I’m in a Connect group consisting of four men and myself that meets weekly. We take time to share our struggles, and to confess our sins to each other on a regular basis. I have to admit that as the leader of that group, I struggle with being vulnerable and honest when it comes to my sinfulness… after all, I am the leader! But when I share about my pride or jealousy or covetousness, I am reminded of the freedom and peace that comes with confession. And my brothers’ compassion and support mean everything to me!
The final question is what is the ultimate goal of corporate confession? The goal is illuminated by the passage: it is healing. That healing is not just physical, it is spiritual, relational, emotional, and psychological. We were made for relationships with God and with each other and those relationships need attention, communication, admission of guilt, forgiveness, and assisting each other to grow in our knowledge of God and of each other. And that healing ultimately leads to a righteous life, a life that glorifies and honors God.
How did James 5 impact you today?
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