Therefore, confess your sins to one another...

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Many object to the practice of confessing sins to one another, believing they need only confess their sins to God. Those who hold such a belief reason other brothers and sisters are not to be trusted with such confessions and, in the end, lack the power to do any good in the situation. Certainly all sins should be confessed to God. No one denies that. But categorical refusal to confess our sins before one another is a rejection of the gracious goads God uses to bring us to repentance and our brothers' effectual prayers. Only an unbeliever wouldn’t want those helps...

There are sins of such a serious character they should be confessed only in formal circumstances--before an elder board and/or the police. Yet, those sins with which we have made peace or we like to attribute to our personalities (outbursts of anger, grumbling, bitterness, anxiety, greed, lust, discontentment) should be confessed before brothers or sisters (not in mixed company) in more regular and casual settings. True humility and a godly desire for growth in holiness demand such confession from us. It is hard to do this, especially as our pride and love of sin prefer the cover of darkness, anonymity, and silence.

While preparing a sermon on James 5:16-18--a text reminding us of the power of our brothers' prayers in helping us overcome confessed sins--I found the following quotes in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. I hope they spur us on to greater faithfulness in confession of our sins.

To whom should we make a confession? According to Jesus’ promise every Christian believer can hear the confession of another [John 20:23]. But will the other understand us? Might not another believer be so far beyond us in the Christian life that she or he would only turn away from us without understanding our personal sins? Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and as discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar. Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus. Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin – and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy. Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ugliness of the human being. And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner. The psychologist must first search my heart, and yet can never probe its innermost recesses. Another Christian recognizes just this: here comes a sinner like myself, a godless person who wants to confess and longs for God’s forgiveness. The psychologist views me as if there were no God. Another believer views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ. When we are so pitiful and incapable of hearing the confession of one another, it is not due to a lack of psychological knowledge, but a lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ.

The root of all sin is pride… I want to be my own law, I have a right to my self, my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The mind and flesh of man are set on fire by pride; for it is precisely in his wickedness that man wants to be as God … In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death before the eyes of a brother. Because this humiliation is so hard we continually scheme to evade confessing to a brother. Our eyes are so blinded that they no longer see the promise and the glory in such abasement.

Andrew Dionne is the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Spartanburg, SC. He and his wife Sarah have six children. Read more from Andrew here.