Do Christians Need to CONFESS Their Sin? (Pt 1 – James 5:16)

Just the pure mention of somebody questioning a topic like this, could offend and anger lots of people.

2 Weeks ago week we talked about “Repenting” – this week’s message is different and we’re discussing “Confessing”. If you wish to read the message about Repenting, simply click here:

The real question that we should ask when talking about confessing our sins is this: “When a Christian sins (makes a mistake), is their right standing with God lost, and can that right standing only be restored if the person confesses the sin?” If we can forget for a few minutes all the things we have heard people say, including the traditions of men that have been passed down to us, as well as the way we “think” we should react when we make a mistake, then let’s see what the Word says.

There are only 2 verses in the new covenant (1 John 1:9 and James 5:16) that deals with confessing sin, and both are mostly misunderstood. This week we will look at James 5:16 and next week at 1 John 1:9.

James 5:16 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.

There are no verses in the new covenant other than James 5:16 that tell believing Holy Spirit filled Christians we should confess our sins or trespasses. Furthermore this verse does not instruct us to confess to God. James 5:16 says we have to confess our faults to each other – NOT TO GOD.

Now some scholars have interpreted James 5:14-16 in the sense that God makes people sick because they have sin in their life. And these are also some of the verses in the Bible that have been misinterpreted to mean that people have to confess their sins to priests or to the elders of a church, and that they will subsequently be forgiven their sins and healed if they confess to a person. Let’s read the 2 verses preceding our key verse:

Jam 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

Under the new covenant, God has forgiven ALL our sins (past, present & future). Heb 10:17  “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” And also Col 3:13 … even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

The only sins (mistakes) that we as new covenant believers need still forgiveness for, is from the people we have sinned against (God has already forgiven us for these sins as well). Since none of us are perfect in all we do, we sometimes offend, hurt or harm people. And since people are not as gracious and merciful as God, we need to make amends with them. And that’s where James 5:16 comes in: Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed… Our right standing with God does not change, but our relationship with others can be damaged and needs to be restored – when we humbly confess to those we have wronged (and if they will receive us in humility) it opens the door for that restoration to happen.

Even David, when he had called for a ballot (census) of Israel, God gave him the option of choosing one of 3 punishments for doing such a thing (under the law God had to punish man, but under grace Jesus bore the punishment for our sins). But because David knew God’s true nature, he chose to be punished by God, and not by man:

[1 Chron 21:11 So Gad (the prophet) came to David and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Choose for yourself, 12 either three years of famine, or three months to be defeated by your foes with the sword of your enemies overtaking you, or else for three days the sword of the LORD—the plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now consider what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.” 13 And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man”].

To clench this, let’s read a few more verses from James 5, just a few verses up from our key verse of today: [James 5:4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts].
[James 5:9: Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned…].

In this context, where people have wronged and hurt each other, James is telling them to make amends, to be reconciled with each other, to confess their faults to each other, especially at beds of affliction where death and eternity “seem” to be near approaching.

Another interpretation is that James 5:16 does NOT mean that we should reveal every sin and trespass to everyone in the congregation. James implies that we should confide our problems to a close, trusted friend so that he or she can help us by praying to God for help in overcoming it.

Yours in Grace
Andre van der Merwe


  • Thank you for your comment Larissa :-)

    Yes the joy of new truth opening up to us can really be a gratifying experience – happy you took the time to comment.

    In Grace

  • Larissa

    Wow! So freeing. I was always confused about those Scriptures. I saw them in a legalistic mindset, but they didn’t seem quite line up with other scriptures the way I saw them, so it kind of created some dissonance in my mind. But when I read this, my heart burned within me, as it was like a weight was lifted off of my chest. Indeed, knowing the truth does set free.

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  • vasilee kibirige

    Thanks to the Spirit of Grace,for this revelation,it has added more on the research i having been making on this and confirming it.
    Thanks brother.
    vasilee Kibirige.

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  • Under the Old Covenant confession meant that a person had to admit that they are guilty and that they needed forgiveness. Under the New Covenant confessions means we need to admit that we are innocent and that we have already been forgiven.

    In both instances we are agreeing with God, but the terms of the covenants are vastly different.

    When it comes to PEOPLE, well they don’t see us as blameless and innocent after we have wronged them. So in order to maintain relationships with people we need to apologize to them when we’ve hurt or wronged them.

    Bless you!

  • A

    thank you for this. To be clear, because i have a bad habit of making everything into a law I’m subject to: this does not mean I have to confess every bad thing I’ve ever said or done against someone, but rather, when i have sinned against someone and my sin has hurt them or put a rift in our relationship, I can attempt to remedy the relationship thru confessing my sin to them ?

  • Hi Marco

    Do not be quick to cast the first stone. I don’t know about you but I have never heard of anybody who has delivered a person over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Yes we see that Paul commanded this in the Bible, but how do we know if a sin is “bad enough” to do this to a person? What about the following verse: Gal 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

    You also say that there is no such thing as the gospel of Grace, well I don’t know what you are going to do with the following verses:

    Acts 20:24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
    Gal 1:6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.
    Phil 1:7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.
    Acts 14:3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
    Acts 20:32 “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

    In Grace
    Andre van der Merwe

  • marco

    When a Christian sins (makes a mistake), is their right standing with God lost, and can that right standing only be restored if the person confesses the sin?” When a person sins there fellowship with God and other believers is disrupted. here is a NT example, and while it is extreme, it shows how importance confession of sin and repentance is to those who follow the NT and the gosple of grace of God, the gosple of Christ, the gosple of the kingdom of God (note: in the NT there is no such thing as the gosple of grace, the same way there is no gosple of love, or repentance):

    here is a guy who sins so badly he has to be tossed out of the church:

    It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife …I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

    Now is this guy condemned? Does he lose his salvation, of course not, but how is his fellowship with God and the church restored: Delivering a person unto Satan does not mean we are damning them to hell nor does it mean they are going to die physically. In this instance, we see by Paul’s instructions in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7, that this man didn’t die but repented and was restored back into the fellowship of the church.

    This is a withdrawal of our intercession on the behalf of another and a retaining of their sins to them. This means they start reaping what they’ve sown because we aren’t cancelling Satan’s activities through our prayers. This is done in the hope that these “hard knocks” will bring them to their senses. (Mt. 18:17).

    So it is clear that to those who follow the gosple of the Grace of God, when we sin, we know exactly what to do: we do what the bible tells us to do: confess those sins knowing we are forgive: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

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