I sat awake, my face bathed in the cold glow of my phone. A blank text message lay on the screen. Excuses rushed to mind—did I really have to confess the ways I had failed last night?
Hey, my thumbs finally tapped out, I messed up. Can we talk soon? Stomach twisting, I pressed “send.”
The first time I reached out to confess my sin to a friend, it felt strange—even dangerous. But I had fallen, again, into a pattern of sin that I couldn’t seem to shake. It was time to reach for the help of my wise and loving friend. It was time to confess.
In the past decades, men in the American church have often been blessed with spaces to practice accountability: to confess sins to one another and to help each other grow in repentance.
Yet God’s command in James 5:16—“confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you might be healed”—applies to everyone, not just men. It’s encouraging to see the growing number of Christian women who are also actively looking to pursue the hard work of mutual confession.
Even so, whenever a Christian purposes to do a hard thing, lies and doubts can creep in to strangle our best intentions. Consider some common lies discouraging women from practicing confession—and the truths women need.
1. ‘My sin is just between God and me.’
It’s one of the earliest truths we learned when we first heard the gospel: forgiveness comes through Jesus, and Jesus alone. When we lay our sin before him, he is faithful to cleanse us from all wrongdoing (1 John 1:9). Why, then, would he tell us to confess our sin to anyone besides him?
Simply put, both forms of confession serve a different purpose. When we share our hidden darkness with our sisters, we aren’t aiming for redemption, but reflection. Each believer is a part of the body of Christ, and as we treat each other’s shame with grace and mercy, we bring each other to see his grace and mercy. When we assure one another of our unfading hope, we show his forgiveness in action.
As Dane Deatherage writes, confession is “opportunity to dynamically experience the forgivingness of God.”
2. ‘My sin isn’t big enough to confess.’
Each culture has a tendency to fixate on certain sins while minimizing others. In my current context, for example, indulging in pornography tends to breed a special kind of shame for women, while carrying envy in our hearts is often shrugged off, or ignored altogether. In contrast, Romans 1:29 reveals that a life marked by envy will ultimately face the same condemnation from the Lord.
We must remember that sin of any kind is a rot in our hearts, and each small speck, if left unaddressed, can eat our lives until they’re hollow. Regular confession to another person offers us the chance to regularly examine our hearts according to God’s standard and cut out the rot at its start.
Regular confession to another person offers us the chance to cut out rot at its start.
3. ‘Confession will ruin how others think of me.’
There’s no doubt that confessing your sins to another person will make you vulnerable. Confession leaves us open to godly correction, or even necessary consequences. Though these are painful to face, God’s Word assures us that a loving callout from another sister is a kindness—even an honor (Ps. 141:5).
Yet the greatest single barrier that keeps women from confession seems to be the very real fear that another sister might dishonor our openness. We wonder if our secrets, placed in the wrong hands, will become fodder for gossip. Some of us may have already faced this bitter reality, and it may feel reckless to try again.
It’s true that some Christian sisters might not be mature enough to handle our words in a trustworthy way, so it’s good to choose our confessors wisely (and Erik Raymond has a helpful article on how to do this).
Nevertheless, at each moment of risk in our lives, our only goal must be to follow and fear God. Every act of humility, however misused by others, will one day be vindicated by him (Ps. 7:8). Don’t be afraid to lose your reputation at the risk of losing your soul.
Be encouraged that when we seek out a mature hearer, we can rest in the fact that the Spirit is growing fruit in her so she knows how to keep appropriate confidence (Prov. 11:13). Further, a mature listener knows that her nature is no less sinful than yours. Nothing confessed in humble repentance should shock her into loving you less. If it does, she had the wrong image of you—and of herself—in the first place.
Most important, a wise hearer won’t let either of you dwell on your sin for too long. Instead, she’ll bounce your focus away to Jesus, the one who gave away his good name so that ours might be cleared. He is the One who bore the fullness of our shame on his own back. We are set free from fearing others’ view of us when we remember that confession isn’t ultimately about our story—it’s about his.
Confession isn’t ultimately about our story—it’s about God’s.
The End of Confession
Some of us may not struggle with any of these barriers—in fact, we might have the opposite problem of oversharing, pouring out the fine-grained details of our sins to anyone who will listen. We may have the false impression that it’s only when a certain number of people know our failures that we can truly feel “forgiven.”
If that’s our habit, perhaps we don’t yet understand the core need behind confession. It’s true that unburdening ourselves of sin can bring a wave of relief, but we have to remember that pain management isn’t our ultimate goal.
Indeed, the Greek word that’s translated “that you may be healed” (James 5:16), sometimes refers to physical healing. Just as often, however, the word refers to a total restoration of relationship. James leans into the double meaning, offering a wondrous hope: when we participate in the body of Christ, acknowledging the depth of our sin and courageously baring our hearts to each other, the sickness that has stunted our walk with Christ is removed, and we are freed to walk again in the ways of our only Healer.