How much should be confessed to be forgiven?


This was an answer given to a question regarding adultery, and if the husband should be told about it. I am assuming he didn't know about it.

"Everyone sins, but the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that a Christian does not want to stay in sin. The Christian will go to the Father and confess his sins, knowing that God has promised to forgive him. This a part of faith -- trusting God to uphold His promises.

Marriage, too, is to be built on trust.
1) Will telling your husband give him more trust in you or less?
2) Will it strengthen your relationship or strain it?

Often times we want to tell everything in the mistaken notion that it will increase trust, but the reality is that trust is undermined."

I've often struggled with knowing just what all should be told in confessing sins. Often we want to tell everything, thinking that we will be forgiven only if everything is told. For example, in the question of adultery above, you brought out points about the loss in trust that would follow in telling her husband if he didn't already know.

Just how much should be told is hard to know sometimes, and will telling more depend on whether we are forgiven or not? For example, if one person lies to another, and no one knows about it but the one who told the lie, and obviously God, can forgiveness only be obtained if the sinner tells the one he lied to that he did lie, or would repentence (not lying anymore) and prayer to God be sufficient for a child of God? Do sins that are known only to the sinner and God need to be told to anyone else if that sin isn't known by anyone? This may all sound confusing, I hope not. It just seems like we do sometimes make our sins more public than we have to.

You do a good job on your web site!


"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. 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. 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" (James 5:16).

James was talking about asking elders to come when a person is ill to pray for him that he might be healed of his disease. But more important to James was that while there, the elders could talk to the person about his soul's condition and pray on his behalf that he might be forgiven of sins he might have committed. Thus the healing in verse 16 is concerned with spiritual healing from the disease of sin.

But notice how this expression of concern for a fellow brother has been turned around. The people to whom the confession is being made, the elders, are not necessarily the ones who were effected by the brother's sins. In truth James is not saying that confession of sins to a fellow man is required for the forgiveness of sins. He is saying that God will listen to the prayers of righteous men, including those made on behalf of sinful men (Genesis 20:17; Job 42:6-7; I John 5:16). What is absolutely required is that sinners acknowledge their sins to God (I John 1:9) because only God can remove the debt of sin against a person.

When a person sins, he is to repent. Repentance is well defined in II Corinthians 7:10-11, "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter." There is a change in the attitude in the person toward the sin so that he feels driven to change his behavior. Part of that change is clearing himself of the taint of the sin committed.

If I lied to a person and I know that they are making bad decisions based on trusting the lie I told them, don't you think that a part of repentance is let that person know so they can make better decisions? If a sin I committed harmed a person, should I not then tell the person that I'm no longer going to behave in that fashion? "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him"" (Luke 17:3-4). Problems, though, arise if you take this matter too far and claim that telling a person is required to gain forgiveness. One, it isn't so stated. Two, how do you handle the situations where a person is no longer living, no longer accessible, or refuses to deal with you anymore in any fashion? A sinner's forgiveness is not dependent on receiving the forgiveness of one he harmed. It is the other way around. The victim's forgiveness by God for the victim's own sins is dependent on his willingness to forgive the one who harmed him.

There are going to be times where the best solution to the fact that you sinned is to let go the knowledge of that sin. You won't forget that you blew it. But spreading the knowledge of your guilt won't help people who know nothing about your sin. That is why James 5:16 is followed by:

"Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).

Covering sin is the concept of burying the fact that sin had occurred now that it has been repented of. Does it help a child to know he was conceived by some man other than the man he has called "father" all his life? Does a parent need to tell his child that he was a drug user in his teens, though he became a Christian long before the child was born? Does a new member of the church need to know that the preacher had committed adultery ten years ago, though he repented of it soon after and has been living a exemplary life since then?

There may be times when a person might talk about his past to prove to someone that change is possible or to let them know he understands the dangers of a particular sin. But that will be the ex-sinner's choice, not the choice of those who happened to be aware of the sin. The effectiveness of the example comes from knowing who the person is now. People who met Paul in his later life would probably have had a hard time imagining that Paul once persecuted the church. It is the contrast between Paul's current life and his statements about his past life which makes the impact (I Timothy 1:12-16). Yet, at the same time, it was Paul's detractors, who would not bury his past sins, who caused Paul so much grief (Galatians 2:1-5) saying he wasn't truly an apostle.