Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16.
Sometimes we are greatly encouraged by the prayers of our faithful friends, and it is of great use to us to share our sins and temptations with one another. James points out that when a godly person prays for us, much is accomplished. If we act as though we don’t sin or we don’t need prayer, I John 1:8-10 says, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgiven us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
It is clear that we all need forgiveness, and we need to extend forgiveness to one another. These verses do not mean that we need someone (a priest) to forgive us. Christ forgives us. And in church when we confess our sins and the minister declares the absolution, it is not that he is forgiving us; he is declaring that Christ has forgiven us. So we do not need to go to weekly confession and tell our sins to a priest. But we need to confess our sins to God, who forgives us; and we need to confess our sins to one another. So far so good.
It is good to confess your sins to someone who is part of the problem (to seek their forgiveness) or part of the solution (who will counsel or pray for you). But what about just sharing your sins as a means of being “transparent” with your brothers or sisters in Christ? Is that what this verse is talking about? Are we to share our sins like we talk about the weather? I don’t think so.
First of all, it is good to consider if what you are sharing is actually profitable for the hearers. Are they going to be edified by what you are sharing with them? If not, then maybe you should keep quiet. Though confessing your sins and temptations may seem like it makes you feel better, it can also be a snare. Sometimes women over-share and make everyone else uncomfortable. They may do this because they are insecure and need reassurance that they really are forgiven. In this case they may need to quit confessing to their girlfriends and go visit their father, mother, husband, or pastor.
Once we heard of a group of young high-school aged men who would regularly meet together for accountability regarding internet porn. They would confess their sins to one another, and the group would pray together, and then they would go sin again the next week. My husband had a great idea for these guys if they really wanted accountability: they should tell their moms and see what their moms would do to help them with accountability! That introduces a whole new level of accountability, and it is doubtful any of them wanted that kind of accountability at all. They were far more comfortable sharing their failures, i.e. being transparent, with their peers who were failing right along with them.
If we are eager to confess our sins with those who can’t really help us or do anything about it, then we might consider whether we are motivated by something other than repentance. On the other hand, if we are not confessing our sins to the appropriate people, we may be prideful, muddled, or too disconnected and independent.
Some people like to confess their sins to show off. “Let me tell you the really awful thing I did!!!!” Others are needy and insecure and want to feel forgiven. These people need to be taught to confess their sins rightly and to confess the right sins. For example, they may need to confess the sin of unbelief, the sin of looking to people for forgiveness instead of looking to Christ. Others confess their sins willy-nilly as conversation starters. They need to consider whether they are simply looking for attention or are trying to look like they are super-spiritual.
In all these things, we are to take Scripture as our guide. We are to confess our sins and pray for one another. And the fervent prayer of a righteous man will get the deed done. Then we should move on to converse about other things, like the good things God has set before us to do.