Why should we confess our sins to one another (James 5:16)?

James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." The previous verses in this section of James have demonstrated the importance and power of prayer, and the following verses will give the example of Elijah. This verse shows us that confession should be accompanied by prayer. Confession is when we admit to a sin or a wrongdoing. But why should we confess our sins? And to whom should we confess them?

When we confess our own sin, we are admitting that the sin is wrong and we are taking a step toward getting back in alignment with God's ways. Confession should be followed with repentance, changing our ways to live righteously. Admitting we have sinned without turning from that sin is not going to result in any real change.

As a first step, we should confess our sin to God who will purify us of that sin: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9; see also Matthew 5:23–24). Next, we should confess our sin to anyone who we have sinned against, whether that be an individual, our family, or a larger group. It somewhat depends on who was impacted by the sin. Finally, we should confess our sin to mature believers who can stand with us in prayer. This is especially helpful in areas where we have persistent sin struggles. It is helpful to have the accountability and prayer support of another believer or two who are mature in the faith and can be an encouragement to us.

Confession of sin can help to break the powerful hold that it has on us. Hidden sins keep us trapped: "When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, 'I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.' And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone" (Psalm 32:3–5, NLT).

There should be healthy boundaries and trust established before confessing our sins to one another. In general, there is no need to proudly proclaim our sin struggles to anyone who will listen, but when we have mature fellow believers in our lives, we can confess our sins to them and be confident that they will be able to listen, support, and pray for us in an appropriate and useful way. It's important to be discerning and use discretion. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom in this (James 1:5).

A healthy habit of confessing our sins to one another cultivates righteous living, honesty, trust, forgiveness, and freedom. It helps us to be a unified church, free to love each other and continue on in the ways of Christ: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).

Related Truth:

Is there danger in unconfessed sin?

Does my private, personal sin affect others?

Why is accountability important in the Christian life?

What is the power of prayer?

What types of prayer are mentioned in the Bible?

Return to:
Truth about Sin

Subscribe to the CompellingTruth.org Newsletter:

Preferred Bible Version:

CompellingTruth.org is part of Got Questions Ministries

For answers to your Bible questions, please visit