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Speaker: Olivier Banza


Not the easiest of topics to tackle in our current Sunday morning series on the ‘one anothers’ found in the New Testament: ‘confess your sins to each other and pray for each other’. Especially when we can tend, as followers of Jesus, to shy away from sharing anything about our lives which might tarnish our ‘reputation’ as a Christian.

Focusing on James 5:14-16, with emphasis on verse 16, we're encouraged, ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.’

James emphasises the power of prayer in the life of believers but also reminds us that, even if we truly know and love the Lord, we still sin. While we remain in these earthly bodies, we will continue to battle with sin, whether it be lying, cheating, slander, gossip, anger, or a host of other things.

This verse highlights James’ solution to the need for restoration and fixing of what was broken in the church, where people were getting impatient with one another, judging one another, speaking against one another, quarrelling and fighting.

Church is not a place where saints or perfect people come to gather, but rather a place of safety for imperfect individuals who have accepted their incapacity to deal with their imperfections and now lay down their lives for Jesus to make them perfect. It’s a place for imperfect people who believe that Jesus is the only one who can turn their lives around, a place to be open with God and with one another so that our lives can be transformed.


Unresolved guilt and secret sin within our churches can cause harm, not only to the individual, but also to the whole church. Sometimes that harm may manifest itself in physical symptoms. In his letter, James writes about this and we may wonder, how can this be?

In Psalm 32:3 David says, ‘When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long’, and then later in verse 5, ‘Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin.’

Drawing on my experience and knowledge as a doctor, and a number of scientific studies, I know that unresolved feelings of guilt can weaken us physically and make us susceptible to all kinds of sickness and illness, as well as decreasing our mental health capacity. Further studies have also shown that confession of unresolved guilt, shame and secrets can have a positive effect on health outcomes.

Confession can bring both physical and spiritual healing, not only to the individual, but to the whole church. So we can conclude from James 5:16 that forgiveness of sin and confession is a community project, even though we know that forgiveness of sin is primarily something between me and God, leading to a new life in Christ.

As evidence of this community project, we need only look at Mark 2:1-5, where the four friends brought the paralysed man to Jesus, even digging through the roof to ensure that their friend could be healed. Jesus saw their faith and healed their friend.

Our faith can make a big difference between one of us being forgiven or not. How? Because in times of trouble we can find ourselves feeling weak, and can move away from Christ when we sin. If our friends, our family of faith, are there for us, they can bring us back to Jesus. Their faith can lead to our forgiveness.

James 5:15 tells us that ‘if they have sinned, they will be forgiven.’ The phrase ‘they will be forgiven’ is found many times in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, forgiveness being the consequence of a priest’s offering of a sacrifice for someone’s sin. By using such a familiar phrase, James is saying that, just as the priest interceded with God to bring forgiveness to broken sinners, so we too, as the body of Christ, the priesthood of believers, can do the same thing, performing the same priestly function to embody God’s forgiveness to any among us who have fallen into sin.

We do so, not by bringing the sacrifices of animals, as in Old Testament times, but by encouraging brothers and sisters, through the example of our faith, to have faith and believe for themselves. The faith which we exercise can make a difference in a person’s restoration, healing, and forgiveness.


James 5:15-16 may be seen by some as among the scariest verses in the Bible. We are all aware of our shortcomings and perhaps even shame in our lives, and the thought of full transparency is very scary. But James is not suggesting either that we go around confessing our sins to everyone, or that we can pick and choose what to confess and to whom. So what is the purpose of the confession that James is talking about here?

There are two main purposes of confessing sins to one another and praying for one another as found in James 5:15-16, two purposes which will determine what nature of the sins we confess and to whom: firstly, to restore a broken relationship, and secondly, for personal restoration.

When we’ve sinned against someone but then want to restore that broken relationship, we need only to confess the sin to that person. The purpose of that confession is to make reconciliation and restore a relationship that was broken. It would be a mistake to think that I would just need to confess my sin to God and not to the person I’ve hurt. I would need to speak to the person, confess my wrong words or actions, ask for forgiveness and see the relationship restored.

Confession for personal restoration is when we constantly struggle with sins over perhaps many years, whether gossiping, lying, losing our temper, lust, outbursts of anger etc. As Christians we do not automatically become perfect and sinless when we are saved, and we can come to a time when we can’t cope any more with the feelings of guilt and shame that may follow these ‘besetting’ sins. This could be what James is talking about, a situation where someone has been struggling in this way. The answer is to seek help, counsel and prayer from someone who can be trusted: a pastor, elder, or a respected fellow believer.

‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.’ (Jas 5:16 NIV)


There are some principles to help us put into practice this concept of confession and prayer for one another:

1. Address any confession to the one, or to those, affected by your sin, not to everyone, regardless of their non-involvement. The purpose of confession is to restore broken relationships.

2. Avoid ‘if’, ‘but’, and ‘maybe’. For example, we may say, ‘I’m sorry ‘if’ I’ve hurt you.’ It’s not a true confession when we start to make excuses for ourselves with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ which only serve to deflect responsibility for our words/actions. When we are really sorry it won’t be, ‘I’m sorry but...’, turning a confession into an accusation, but rather, ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong, please forgive me.’ Being truly sorry involves admitting and confessing what we have done so that restoration of a broken relationship can take place.

3. Sometimes we may harbour bitterness or anger against a brother or sister in Christ for some reason, but don’t do anything about it, only to confront them with our feelings perhaps months or years later, asking them for forgiveness for something they know nothing about. This can cause real hurt for the one confronted in this way, and can lead to bitterness, anger, and resentment in their lives too. If there is no sinful action involved, we should confess to the Lord and resolve things with Him only. If there is a sinful action involved, go to the brother/sister and be reconciled through mutual forgiveness.

If we can learn to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, we can become a community of people who really care for and look after each other. Confession is a community project. If we accept that, we will be blessed as a church.

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