Public Confession

By Dennis C. Abernathy

“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy” (Prov. 28:13). According to this verse we can do one of two things: we can cover our sins and not prosper, or we can confess and forsake them and find mercy. When sin is of a private nature, i.e., no one knows about it but the individual and God, the person should repent and pray to God for forgiveness. If the transgression is public (generally well known) the individual needs to confess it publicly.

Some have the idea that a public confession of sin is not necessary, They ridicule the idea of one coming down the aisle and confessing his sins before all. They would liken this to a Catholic confessional. But it ought to be self-evident to the Bible believer that when one sins publicly he should confess the sin publicly. James say, “Confess yours faults one to another” (Jas. 5:16). John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Just here, I want to say a word to some who are claiming that God will forgive the Christian of “certain kinds” of sins without the guilty confessing those sins. There is no Bible for such an idea. All sin is washed away or cleansed (whether one be an alien or a Christian) by the blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5; 1 Jn. 1:7). But according to 1 John 1:9 God is faithful to forgive the Christian’s sin and to cleanse (by the blood of Christ) him from all unrighteousness, if he confesses his sin. Where is the passage that reveals God forgiving the erring Christian’s sins (any sins) without confessing and forsaking them? So, one is to confess before the Father in heaven and he is to acknowledge his sins before others, if they are of a public nature.

What does the confession of sin entail? It seems clear to this writer that the Bible teaches a public confession involves openly admitting the sin. If one is genuinely sorry to God for his sin and fully repents of that sin he will have no problem of confessing and forsaking the same. But some are teaching that the brother overtaken in public sin does not have to openly admit that he is wrong. He can just say, “I need the prayers of the church” or “I need the brethren to help me be a stronger Christian” or “if I have done wrong, I am sorry.” I ask you brethren, what has this person done? Wherein has he sinned? Actually, this person has not confessed in the Bible sense of the word. A thorough study of the word “confess” will show that it involves openly admitting the sin.

The individual who comes before the assembly to confess a public sin ought to confess his sin publicly. How can you pray for and help a brother if you don’t know that he has actually sinned publicly? If one is guilty of drinking he ought to confess the sin of drinking. If he is guilty of using dirty language, he ought to confess the use of filthy communication. Instead of encouraging erring brethren to confess they have “made mistakes” we ought to rather encourage them to confess the “mistakes they have made.” Instead of encouraging “if I have sinned” type confessions, we ought to rather encourage them to confess the “sin they have done.” Do you see the point? Listen friends, we all need the prayers of the church, we all make mistakes from time to time, and certainly we ought to be sorry when we sin. But in this article we are talking about specific acts of sin that need to be confessed publicly.

Perhaps one of the problems in this area is the desire for numbers in the church. Some live ungodly lives, but because of pride will not openly confess their sin. Brethren want them back in the fellowship so they accept them on the basis of a “if I have sinned, I am sorry” confession or “I want to be a worker again in the church. We had a problem in the past, but it was all just a misunderstanding, and I want to start over.” I ask you brethren, is that a public confession of sin or is it just slipping back into the fellowship without admitting sin? If one does not know whether or not he has sinned, he cannot publicly confess a sin. If one wants to be a worker in the church again, then let him clear up the problem and straighten out the misunderstanding and he can start over as God directs!

In Acts 19:18-19, we read: “And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.” It appears plain from this verse that “confessing” involves “telling their deeds” (admitting sin). Also, it involves clear evidence that one will do something about his sin.

I’m sure some would have told these poor misguided souls that they did not have to “tell their deeds,” just say “there has been a little misunderstanding. Burn your books if you want to, but do it in private, for if you openly confess what you have done and go too far with this thing it will cause people to talk.” Can’t we see this is not what the Bible teaches concerning public confession and forsaking of sin and that it weakens the force of the gospel? It covers over sin instead of confessing and forsaking it!

In conclusion, brother R.L. Whiteside wrote: “But if you good and faithful Christians feel that you must make public confession of sins, name the sins you are confessing. A blanket confession is really no confession of sins.” “Of course, to graciously make public amends would be considered very humiliating, but to do so would be such an outstanding example of Christian manhood at its best that every right-thinking person would applaud the deed; and such a deed would ease the conscience and make the one feel more content with himself.” Please remember, if sin is of such a nature that it calls forth a public confession then one needs to openly and humbly admit his wrong in confessing his sin.

Two examples will suffice to prove our point here. In the Old Testament, after the prophet Nathan pointed out to David his sin, David openly confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13). There were no “ifs, and, or buts” about the matter. What we do see is an open admittance of sin and a confession of the same. In the New Testament we have the blessed confession of the prodigal son. After he had messed up his life in the far country of sin, devouring his living with harlots, he came to himself, he woke up or came to his senses. He realized where he had been, where he was, and with a penitent heart, determined where he was going. With his mind fully persuaded and his course laid out, he openly confessed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son” (Lk. 13:21). Again, we do not see any “Ifs, ands, or buts”; rather, we see the open confession of wrong.

My brethren, a Christian will be willing to not only confess his transgressions, but to also forsake his sins as well.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 16, pp. 494-495
August 18, 1988