If you grew up as a Protestant like me, when you heard the phrase "confession", most likely you thought it was probably a good thing but something done in private between you and God alone. The Roman Catholic idea of confessing to a priest was merely a papist false doctrine. After all, only God can forgive sins, so what would be the point in confessing your sins to another human being? John Wesley required four questions to be asked in his Methodist small groups. Confession was an integral part of being Methodist.
The early church practiced the act of confession openly in the congregation. They took the idea that their life was not their own very seriously. This is quite the opposite of our individualized American culture where everything we know of is private and nobody's business.
However, a serious reading of scripture will reveal that no sin is really private. In fact, sin not only impacts us, but it has consequences on those we love and the world we live in. If you want proof, read the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis.
So what then does the bible say about confession of sin?
*Proverbs 28:13 "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy."
* James 5:16 "Therefore confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed."
One of sin's biggest lies is that it only effects you and it will be your little secret. Can a Christian walk in darkness and with Jesus at the same time? 1 John 1:5-7 says, "This is the message we have received from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."
Living in the light and walking with Jesus requires us to live in the light. In the light, everything is exposed and nothing hidden. As children of light we must live with integrity. When we have blown it, we must own up to it to receive mercy and healing.
Who do we confess to? Of course, 1 John 1 goes on to say that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from unrighteousness. We are to confess to God. Absolutely. Yet, as James says, we confess to one another and find healing.
I have found that if I know I want to walk in the light, I must let it shine in the dark parts of my life as well. Even though it can be painfully humbling, it brings life. Below is an excellent guide found in the United Methodist Hymnal to confess one's sins.
Most merciful God,
I confess that I have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what I have done,
and by what I have left undone.
Especially troubling to me are the following sin:...
I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on me and forgive me;
that I may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your name. Amen.
Alternate Words of Assurance:
If I confess my sins,
God is faithful and just,
and will forgive my sins
and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.
Thanks be to God!