Public Confession of Sin

Public Confession of SinText: Acts 8:18-24

Public confession of sin is often assumed by brethren to be necessary without much thought. But is it necessary? Is it authorized? Is it expedient? We will consider this topic in our lesson.

Related Passages

  • Acts 8:18-24 – this passage is often the “prooftext” brethren use in discussing public confession of sin; however, this passage says nothing about an assembly of the church; this was an acknowledgement of sin after it was pointed out by Peter
  • 1 John 1:9 – this is about confession to God; context is about forgiveness; to be forgiven, we confess our sin to the one who can forgive, God (cf. Psalm 32:5)
  • James 5:16 – this is certainly about confessing sins to one another; but nothing is said about an assembly; could be done there, but not limited to there
  • 1 Timothy 6:12 – this is public; but it is a confession of faith (cf. Romans 10:9-10), not of sin

Ways in which Sin Can Be Confessed

  • To God through prayer (1 John 1:9) – this is primary; always necessary
  • To the one sinned against (Matthew 5:23-24) – they should then forgive us (Luke 17:3)
  • To a trusted individual (Acts 8:24)
  • To a small group – if we can confess to one, we can confess to two, three, etc.
  • To the assembly of the church – if we can confess to a group, we can confess to an assembly

Be Careful of Elevating the Commandments of Men

  • Jesus warned about “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:9)
  • Public confession of sin is an authorized expedient – it is never bound by God
  • We couldn’t publicly confess every sin – impractical
  • Which sins should we publicly confess? – no specifications in NT
  • We cannot bind what God has not bound (Matthew 15:9; Colossians 2:22-23)

Why This Might Be Done

  • If this is not required, but is authorized, why might someone make a public confession of sins?
  • To request prayers (Acts 8:24) – there is value in a church praying for someone (cf. Acts 12:12; Ephesians 6:18-19); if we want others to pray for us, we need to ask them to do so (cf. James 5:14-16)
  • To ask for help – we are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2); we can only do this if we know what the burdens are; this could be a public sin, but often will be private
  • To acknowledge sin / affirm repentance – so brethren know what’s past is in the past (Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:12-13); the sin may be known to others, so repentance should be known to the church; sin cannot be condoned (1 Corinthians 5:1-2), but the penitent must be welcomed back (2 Corinthians 2:6-8)

How to Make This Effective

  • Confess a specific sin/struggle – if we want brethren to help, they need to know how to provide it
  • Indicate when repentance happened – so others can vouch for your change when you’re charged of sin
  • Accompany confession with sorrow – we mourn over sin (2 Corinthians 7:9-10), not boast over it
  • Must have brethren willing to forgive/help – those “who are spiritual” (Galatians 6:1); brethren who are unforgiving can drive a penitent brother back to sin (2 Corinthians 2:6-8)

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