Guy N. Woods
How widely must sins be acknowledged? Every sin, of whatever nature, must be confessed and acknowledged to God. Any sin, unrepented, creates a barrier between the guilty and the Lord, rendering fellowship impossible. The alienation resulting does not disappear with the passing of the years, nor does it cease to exist though the sin which produced it is no longer committed. It is, however, not a hopeless and irreversible situation; the remedy is available and effective: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The erring child, who turns from sin and returns to the Lord, in penitence, and with confession, the Lord in mercy and love gladly receives, restores, and forgives forevermore. Repentance and confession are conditions precedent to forgiveness. Without full acknowledgment, there can be no forgiveness.
But, to what extent should sins be confessed to others? That there is an obligation to this end follows from the clear and unmistakable charge of the Lord’s brother, James: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (Jam. 5:16). The implication is clear and the reason why such is to be done is obvious: that we may be able to pray “one for another” to the end that we “may be healed.” This is necessary if we are to have the assistance of our brothers and sisters in restoring us to spiritual health. It is not possible to pray for another’s forgiveness unless we know the one for whom the supplication is being made is penitent since we are forbidden to pray for those who are not (1 John 5:16). He that does not reveal to others his sorrow for sin and his sincere repentance for all such, renders powerless his brethren to intercede with the Father in his behalf.
The sins contemplated by James are faults, defections from the right way known to others. There is no rule of reason nor revelation, making it obligatory to publicize every type of transgression nor establish a confessional after the Catholic order in which every weakness or imperfection is specified and described. There is no indication that the Lord wants His people to confess to others sins known only to Him, but John’s clear teaching in 1 John 5:16 forbids it. The principle is that the acknowledgement should be as public as the sin. Sins of public nature and known to the church must be confessed to the church; sins known to one or a few must be confessed to the one or the few. Sins known only to God should be confessed only to God. He that truly repents will desire that all, who know of his defection, be informed of his penitence, but he will avoid any action which would extend the influence of his wrong to those not involved. Where this sound and fundamental principle of New Testament teaching has been disregarded, the cause of Christ has suffered greatly from the circulation of such information among those not involved but who experienced discouragement and doubt from the sin and fall of a fellow disciple, the tragic fact of which they need never have known.
The wondrous blessing of forgiveness manifests the divine favor beyond description. By it is heaven made possible—a realization that should stir the hearts of us all and prompt every disciple to the utmost effort in conforming to the will of God. A brother, not a preacher, asked to speak to an audience, said: “If I were a preacher, one text would be enough, but seeing I am not skilled in this work, I shall take three texts.” First, he read 1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Pausing, for a moment, to allow this verse to find its way into the hearts of his hearers, he then quickly said, “That’s my sins away.” Then he read his second text, Philippians 4:6-7: “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus” (ASV). He said, “That’s my cares away.” Turning to his third text, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, he read: “then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (ASV). Looking at the audience with a happy smile, he said, “That’s myself away!”