“I am so afraid.”

Brian’s normally intimidating frame had been reduced to a puddle. The military captain stood in my office, having just confessed a string of adulterous affairs, and was trying to figure out how to tell his wife.

Leaning back with a sunken stare, he said: “I’ve flown over 60 missions in enemy territory. I’ve been in firefights and had missiles shot at me. But all that seems so much easier than telling her what I’ve done.”

The fear of confessing sin can be paralyzing, and sometimes seems even worse than dying.

I remember wanting to be free—by any means besides complete honesty. I fought it with every excuse imaginable. I thought, God, I’ve confessed everything to you. You know I love you. I’ll never do this again . . . but if I do, then I’ll confess to someone else.

Sin assures us that we’re safe behind the mask of lies, but we’re not. We scramble to disconnect being honest with God about our sin from the need to be honest with others, too. And in that dark void, we change. We start to tell lies, and eventually believe them. We resist the Spirit’s nudges and quench his convicting voice. Slowly, living with hidden lies becomes normal.

Confessing sin to another believer rips off the mask of hypocrisy so we can breathe the air of honesty. It enlivens our heart to feel again, and it removes the veil so we can see Christ afresh. Confession humbles us, which by nature uproots the pride that keeps immorality alive and attractive to our souls.

Our hope for change lies in seeing Christ, but we will never see him until we step into the light and confess our sin to others.

Confess Your Sin to Others

James 5:16 clearly says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” God assures us that while our relationship with him is personal, it’s not private. Because we’re a body, what we do in our personal lives affects our brothers and sisters in Christ. Knit together by the Holy Spirit, how we live affects the rest of the body. How, then, can we speak the truth to one another “in love” and “not lie to one another” if we don’t speak honestly about our sins (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9)?

Confession humbles us, which by nature uproots the pride that keeps immorality alive and attractive to our souls.

Some suggest that if we confess our sins to God, we don’t need to confess to others. While this may be true at times, the overwhelming witness of Scripture is plain:

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6–7)

Fellowship with God and others is founded on walking in the light with God and others.

Are you walking in the light? Who knows your intimate temptations and sins?

If no one in your life knows your weaknesses, temptations, and sin patterns, then you are in danger. If no believer hears your confession, then you remain alone in your sin, apart from God, which is a dreadful place to be. Fellow believers are God’s gifts to help you fight sin and endure in faith. As you pursue wise accountability in relationships, then, bear in mind the following principles.

1. Confess to a Small Circle of Friends

It’s both unwise and unnecessary to be fully and equally transparent with everyone, but we should be brutally honest with some trusted friends (Prov. 18:24). By sharing with a few close friends consistently, you provide a realistic picture of your pursuit of holiness. Their prayers can then be more informed and their counsel more specific.

It’s easy and dangerous to hide your sin in a crowd, but a close circle of trusted friends provides safety for your soul.

Discerning who should be privy to this most intimate part of your life is vital. Develop relationships with people you can see face to face. An old buddy in another town whom you Skype with once a month is not the answer. Face-to-face confessions personalize our sin, and freshly shock us with the reality that our sins are not abstract in nature, but personal. Choose someone who is mature in Christ, who can be trusted with life details, who will battle for you in prayer, and who preferably is in your church.

2. Share Temptations

Temptation is not sin, but it is dangerous. Learning to reach out to close friends when you’re tempted is an essential part of resisting. Secrecy strengthens sin; light saps it. Keeping your struggle quiet can seem attractive, since it lets you nibble a little longer before you flee. But sin is never satisfied. If you feed it, it only grows stronger. If you don’t want to fall off sin’s cliff, don’t walk along temptation’s edge.

Keeping your struggle quiet can seem attractive, since it lets you nibble a little longer before you flee. But sin is never satisfied.

3. Confess Sins Quickly

The longer you wait to confess, the more likely it becomes that you never will. In my accountability relationships I promise to confess any compromise within 24 hours, though I try to within minutes. Sin is a cancer—it must be rooted out as quickly as possible before it spreads.

4. Confess Sins Honestly

If you do sin, you will be tempted to lie about it. The command to speak the truth to one another demands that our confessions be honest (Eph. 4:15). We must learn to confess specific sins specifically. Don’t hover in generalities: “I’m struggling” or “I had a rough few days” or “I’ve been tempted recently.” Those are good introductions to the conversation; they’re not the substance. Honest confession is straightforward:

Last night I felt the temptation to look at sensual pictures on my phone, and I did not resist. I looked at soft and hardcore pornography on and off for about 45 minutes. I stopped several times but kept coming back. I ended up masturbating as well. I thought about reaching out for help, but I was afraid and wanted to sin.

Be honest enough to expose the sin in your heart, but general enough to not tempt your friend’s imagination by being unnecessarily graphic.

How God Uses Confession to Others

When Brian confessed his adulteries to me, sin lost a measure of power over him. This isn’t because the confession had power, but because God used it to draw Brian to brave trust in Jesus. The Lord honored his faith and granted freedom from the shame and lust that gripped him.

God uses humble, honest, and painful confession to help us see him more clearly.

Editors’ note: 

Content taken from Pure in Heart: Sexual Sin and the Promises of God by J. Garrett Kell, ©2021. Used by permission of Crossway.