The last page article of each issue of TRUTH all this year deals with What Christians Do.
What about a person when he/she becomes a Christian? Does that mean they will never sin? No, not at all. The Bible clearly teaches in a number of passages that a child of God can sin (see Galatians 6:1, James 5:19, 20, and 1 John 5:16 as examples). Furthermore, the Scriptures give an explicit example of a child of God who did sin (see Acts 8:13,18-24). When Simon, a child of God, sinned, what was he told to do? “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God . . .” (Acts 8:22).
James, writing to Christians, instructs them to
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed . . .” (James 5:16). The first epistle of John, written to Christians, has a great deal to say about sin and forgiveness. Note four verses in particular: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:7-10). So, What Christians Do when they sin is repent, confess and pray. As Christians, we need to do our best not to sin. However, we should not deny that we are sinful. We should not try to hide our sins. Rather than trying to hide them, we should repent of them, confess them, and ask God for forgiveness. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
Strong’s defines “confess” in 1 John 1:7 as “to say the same thing as another, i.e., to agree with, assent.” Guy N. Woods, in his commentary on First John, says that this word, “figuratively implies a dialogue between God and the sinner, in which the Father describes the condition of the sinner, and the sinner finally accedes to the correctness of the description and thus confesses that God is right!”
To whom should we confess sin? Should Christians confess sins to one another, or should we confess them only to God, or both?
How is a situation to be handled when a Christian has committed trespasses known only to him/her and God? Sins known only to God need to be confessed only to God.
For sake of space, we shall use one section of Scripture to illustrate how a sin that is known to others should be handled. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother (Matthew 18:15). Sins that are between two should be resolved “between you and him alone.” If that is unsuccessful, “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established’” (verse 16). If that is successful, it would be resolved between the parties involved and those who are “in the know”. If that is not successful, “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church” (verse 17). This is an example of a sin which is widely known by many and will require a public confession before the congregation. The manner in which the confession is made is a matter of judgment. The confession of sin is a commandment, but the manner in which a confession of sin is made known is an expedient.
Christians are encouraged to request help on their behalf. “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). This is the condition of the forgiveness just mentioned in verse 15. Christians are commanded to confess sins to each other and to pray for each other. The purpose is that “you may be healed.”
The word “healed” is used in Scripture to refer to physical healing (Matthew 15:28) and spiritual healing (1 Peter 2:24). James uses a present imperative verb form, which indicates the continuous, regular action of confession and prayer. In other words, confession and prayer are not once-and-for-all actions as an aorist tense would indicate. James is saying, in effect, “Make a practice of confessing trespasses with one another and praying for one another.” It is proper to ask brethren for aid in pleading your case before the Almighty. Once again, the place of confession and prayer is not mentioned, nor does it specify a set manner in which it is to occur.
— John Priola