The Bible seems to prescribe two different actions in dealing with sin. Here are a couple of verses to look at, from 1 John 1:9 and from James 5:16:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful.
Two different actions, both involving the same act: confession. The first is for forgiveness. The second is for healing. The first is done in isolation. The second is done in community. The first is between me and God. The second is between me, God, and my church.
Let’s be clear here—the Bible says that forgiveness comes from God. You and I are to confess our sins to the Lord, and we trust we will have forgiveness. He is the one who grants that, so it’s right for us to come to Him with our sin. But then there’s the aspect of healing. Forgiveness comes from God, but there is an aspect of healing that comes from confessing to one another.
I once thought that mean I should confess my sin to a group of guys so that they could, in a way, make me feel bad enough about doing it that I would never do it again. I was in an accountability relationship at one point where if we stumbled in specific ways, we would have to pay the other one money, run a set distance of miles, and do some other sort of physical challenge. You see the goal—the negative consequences were meant to ward us off of sin.
I’ve got to wonder if there was alot of healing that came from those days.
Now I don’t think you confess your sins to one another so that you will be ashamed. I think you confess your sins to each other because it is in times of sin when you start to doubt whether or not God really loves you. You wonder if you’ve fallen too far, if God has abandoned you because of your lifestyle. Maybe you confess your sins to each other because that offers the opportunity for someone to come alongside you and remind you, “God still loves you.”
Community is the place where the intangibles of God become tangible. It’s where the love of God finds hands, feet, and voices. That’s why, I believe, we confess first to God and then each other. First for forgiveness, then for healing.