James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
This is a familiar Scripture to perhaps most Christians, but we tend to hang up on a couple of points in it. The first is the matter of confession of sins. The Catholic church has institutionalized confession, which has a few advantages but also some real drawbacks. The biggest drawback is that it requires confession to a priest, when this verse clearly says “to one another.” The more we accentuate a clergy/laity divide, the less full discipleship we see. There are, indeed, different functions and different offices in the Body of Christ, but translating those into rank is, in general, a harmful thing. However, the Catholic church at least does have confession! Most Protestants find the whole idea distasteful, because we like to hide our failures as much as possible. The most famous verse on this subject is 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” That is, of course, speaking of confessing to God, and that is certainly the foundation of confession. However, confessing to a brother or sister in Christ brings a measure of accountability that we often don’t feel in relation to God, since we can’t see Him with our physical eyes. If we are walking in close fellowship with the Holy Spirit, then He will help us keep check on “besetting sins.” However, if we’re busily grieving Him, then we aren’t going to be listening to Him anyway. Confession to another human being takes real courage, but it brings release, and yes, healing, like nothing else.
The other part of this verse where we hang up is the matter of “a righteous man.” Even though we don’t like to confess our sins, at the same time we don’t like to claim righteousness. The thing is, as John said, if we confess our sins then God indeed cleanses us from all unrighteousness. I don’t think there’s any question that we would have more assurance of our righteousness in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21) if we would be less hesitant to confess our sins as soon as we are aware of them.
This has certainly been my experience. At one point I was having problems with a particular temptation and I confided in a Christian brother, and it was a very real help to me. I think a major reason why so many pastors fall disastrously is that they don’t feel they have anyone they can confess to. Accountability structure is vital! This isn’t a matter of rank, it’s peer to peer. We are all equally human, and the moment we forget that, we are in real trouble. However, we are all equally cleansed by the blood of Christ, so we must not let the devil deceive us into thinking we are “beyond the pale.” I know that I am what I am only by the grace of God, and that grace is equally available to anyone who will receive it by faith.
Father, this is a huge issue. As You are having us focus on being disciples who do the works of Christ, we’ve got to keep this in our foundation. Help me guide the flock accurately so that we won’t get sidetracked by anything, but move forward steadily as You intend, to be and do all that You desire for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!