“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” ~James 5:16
Confession of sins to one another has always been part of the Christian tradition. In centuries past those who were training for the priesthood were required to prostrate themselves before their superiors and begin their confession by saying, “I condemn myself for the sin of…”
The first question to ask is “What am I to confess?” The answer is twofold.
First, Christians are to confess what is clearly taught to be wrong in the Scriptures. The Bible tells us to put off all these: “anger [anger which seeth], wrath [boiling rage], malice [a spirit of wanting to hurt those who hurt you], blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.”
By the grace of God, the Lord does not let His children go unchallenged or unpunished. It is foolish not to think that what is spoken in private will be shouted from the housetop. As a word of exhortation, I would counsel that more prayer be asked for temperate tongues.
On the positive side, it is also part of the rich Christian tradition that redeeming grace can transform individuals, so everyone can take hope in God’s grace coming to the soul, sooner rather than later.
Very few individuals go through the painful process of being confronted and challenged with their faults without being fundamentally different on the other side. That too, is part of redeeming grace.
Beyond confessing what the Scriptures plainly reveals to be wrong, is the tender movement of the Holy Spirit upon the conscience. The Spirit of God is holy and, in His holiness, there is a divine sensitivity to what is right and what is wrong. This sensitivity is also a gift of God. A heart of stone does not feel when touched, but a heart of flesh does.
In this matter of confession, faults are to be acknowledged one to another. Somehow God knows that usually what one person is accused of doing, and is indeed guilty of – there is a mirror effect in the life of the accuser. And that is a point that is often not admitted.
Writing to the Church of Rome the apostle Paul addressed this issue in Romans 2:19-24 “If you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth- 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
The story is told that the Prussian king Frederick the Great was once touring a Berlin prison. The prisoners fell on their knees before him to proclaim their innocence – except for one man, who remained silent. Frederick called to him, “Why are you here?” “Armed robbery, Your Majesty,” was the reply. “And are you guilty?” “Yes indeed, Your Majesty, I deserve my punishment.”
Frederick then summoned the jailer and ordered him, “Release this guilty wretch at once. I will not have him kept in this prison where he will corrupt all the fine innocent people who occupy it.”
It does seem logical. The innocent should be separated from the guilty. In the world the guilty are banished. In the kingdom of God the banished are still wanted for there is a Savior for such sorry souls. Jesus said, “I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9:13).
The third command in the passage is that those who confess their faults one to another should pray for one another. It is hard to hurt those who are the objects of genuine prayer and spiritual affection. When Robert Louis Stevenson was a boy, he once remarked to his mother, “Momma, you can’t be good without praying.” “How do you know, Robert?” she asked. “Because I’ve tried!” he answered.
This brings to mind a story about another little fellow – one who had been sent to his room because he had been bad. A short time later he came out and said to his mother, “I’ve been thinking about what I did and I said a prayer.” “That’s fine,” she said, “if you ask God to make you good, He will help you.” “Oh, I didn’t ask Him to help me be good,” replied the boy. “I asked Him to help you put up with me.”
The Apostle John who was known to speak out of turn, and had to be rebuked for his violent temper, was put up with by the Lord until he was transformed by grace. Later in life he was known as the Apostle of Love, and wrote these words. 1 John 4:7 “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.”
The reason why Christians are to confess their faults one to another, and to pray for one another is to enable healing to take place (James 5:16). There are many reasons why a person may need healing. A person may be in need of healing because they have been wounded physically by the striking of a physical blow, or the ravages of a disease.
A person may be in need of healing because they have been wounded spiritually in their heart and find it challenging to forgive. There is a root of bitterness, according to Hebrews 12:15 which can then in turn want to find a way to hurt another. The Lord understands this, and has taught His people how to find healing. Healing is found in the physical body and in the spiritual body by self-examination, acceptance of the repentance of another and by joining together in mutual prayer. Any other course of action will not bring the desired healing that is sought.
Christianity is not true because it is easy; Christianity is true because it is hard. And, from time to time, God will give us a chance to die to self, to be long suffering to the undeserving – which is called grace – and to live out authentic Christianity.
Let us find forgiveness in the body of Christ and enjoy the fellowship of the Lord with those elements which speak of His body and His blood—shed, not for the righteous, but for those who are fallen. There are still the gifts of God for the people of God.