Image of someone writing a note in handcuffs“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” —Psalm 51:3

Beginning in Genesis, the Bible reminds us that we all experience sin that interferes with our relationship with God and damages our human relationships. Each of us can recall feeling condemned and weighed down by the guilt of our own sins. Verses such as “the wages of sin is death” (see Romans 6:23) drive home the seriousness with which God looks upon our transgressions.

The Bible also balances God's justice with his mercy and our guilt with God's grace. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster writes: “At the heart of God is this desire to give and to forgive. Because of this, he set into motion the entire redemptive process … Golgotha came as a result of God's great desire to forgive, not his reluctance.” God wants to forgive our sin—but to be forgiven, sin must first be confessed.

Our confession of sin is directed toward God, who alone can forgive sin. This is modelled for us by the psalmist who admitted to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4).

We do not need to confess every sin to someone else. Many issues can be settled between ourselves and God. However, like a child whose fear of the dark prompts him to call out for a parent because he needs someone “with skin on,” we sometimes benefit from the comfort that God offers through another Christian. At these times, the Scriptures encourage us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Before such a confession, we should ask God to direct us to one who is emotionally and spiritually mature, wise, compassionate and confidential. We need someone who has been gifted by God to hear and respond to the spiritual needs of others.

What does the discipline of confession involve?

  • Confession begins with inviting God to speak to us about our behaviour. This “examination of conscience” requires responsiveness to God's Spirit who reveals to us the areas in which we fall short of God's will. It includes an admission of sin, repentance and willingness to name specific sins so that they may be addressed.

  • Confession requires honesty and humility in the presence of another person. When we confess to someone, we become vulnerable to them and also become aware of the Holy Spirit's presence in them, showing us the reality of our sin and the immediacy of God's grace. That is a humbling experience.

  • Confession opens us to receive God's healing and forgiveness.  In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard notes that confiding in another about our struggles and hearing that person offer scriptural assurances of forgiveness can remind us that God's forgiveness is as real as the person with whom we are sharing. This can be a powerful means of hope and healing.

  • Confession helps us avoid sin. Through confession, we make ourselves accountable to another and receive needed support.

  • Confession breaks the bond of secrecy that has been the downfall of many souls. In Thirsting for God, Gary Thomas writes, “Secrets allow Satan to blackmail us.” Secrecy also isolates us from the people God has placed in our lives to encourage us and separates us from the spiritual resources that God offers us. When we confess our sins, we disarm Satan's campaign to discredit us both before God and our fellow believers.

  • Confession leads to joy in the forgiveness of sin and in the ongoing work of God in our lives through his Spirit and the support of God's people.

Major Gail Winsor ministers through the leadership development department at Canada and Bermuda's territorial headquarters. She is also a trained spiritual director.

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Practise the Discipline of Confession

  1. Examine your conscience, asking God to reveal to you anything that is not pleasing to him.

  2. If you sense that God is directing you to confess to another believer, ask God to direct you to one who is confidential, spiritually and emotionally mature, wise and compassionate.

  3. Explore your feelings about the honesty, humility and vulnerability needed to engage in confession, and about the possibility of accountability that may come with it. Seek God's help in addressing any feelings that keep you bound in the kind of secrecy that Satan can use against you.

  4. Offer a prayer of praise to God for the ways in which you have experienced freedom and forgiveness though confession.

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