“Confess Your Faults”

By Ron Halbrook

The Holy Spirit teaches us in James 5 to be patient and to pray in suffering or affliction of any kind (vv. 10, 13). In particular, the Christian who suffered physical sickness during the time that James wrote was instructed to call for the elders of the church to come and pray over him. In that age, such men had been empowered by the Spirit through the laying on of the Apostles’ hands to perform miracles, including the power to heal the sick (Acts 8:14‑181. Concerning the prayers of elders who had been empowered in that way, James wrote, “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up” (5:15). At this point, James mentions another prayer or petition–that for pardon of sins. “… and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” The letter closes with emphasis upon the importance of confession and prayer as conditions of pardon for the erring saint:


(16) Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (as is illustrated in vv. 17‑18 by the case of Elijah).

(19) Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

(20) Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death. and shall hide a multitude of sins (5:16‑20).

Confession One To Another

J.E. Huther observes in Meyer’s Commentary that verse 16 adds “a new thought” growing out of what precedes in the context:

From the special order James infers a general injunction, in which the intervening thought is to be conceived that the sick man confessed his sins to the presbyters for the purpose of their intercession; Christians generally are to practice the same duty of confession toward each other… allelois (“one to another,” RH) can only be referred to the relation of individual believers to each other … The passage treats not of human, but of the divine forgiveness; and thus of sins not as offences against our neighbor, but as violations of the law of God … among allelois are certainly to be understood not only the sick, and James indicates by nothing that his injunction refers only to them … the prayer of the presbyters does not exclude the common intercession of the members of the church, and … the efficacy attributed to the latter is not less than that attributed to the former (The General Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, pp. 159-60).

Verses 15‑16 assume but do not mention the conditions of repentance and confession to God, without which there can be no forgiveness, but the passage treats the blessings of open and “public confession of certain sins to one another,” as A.T. Robertson notes in Word Pictures of the New Testament (VI:65). Another Greek scholar, Henry Alford, points out that the sin to be forgiven in verse 15 “would of necessity have been confessed to the presbuteroi (elders, RH), before the prayer of faith could deal with it.” Expanding on the benefits which flow from confession in that specific situation, the Spirit offers a much broader injunction–“’generally,’ says the Apostle, in all similar cases, ‘and one to another universally, pursue the same salutary practice of confessing your sins … not only to the presbyters in the case supposed, but to one another generally'” (The Greek Testament, IV:327‑28). W.E. Oesterley in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, edited by W. Robertson Niccoli, views these verses in the larger context of intercessory prayer throughout the Bible “private as well as public confession was enjoined, and many forms of confession, both general and particular, exist … ” (IV:475).

The practice enjoined is broad enough to include a confession to one person, to a small group, or to the whole church in its assembly. The passage is not discussing the private confession of a heart to God, but our confession “one to another.”

[Guy N. Woods comments:] There is nothing in the word “confess” itself which indicates whether the confession is public or private; but the context in which it appears does, inasmuch as it is to one another; and this, by implication, means that the confession is to be as public as the sins committed. The reason for this is obvious. We are to pray one for another. We may, however, effectively do so, only when a brother confesses his sins and turns away from them … It is necessary in the nature of the case that those who have known of the sins should have equal knowledge of the penitence. But, this we can know only through a confession of the brother involved. It is, therefore, a practical rule that the confession should be as public as the sin (Guy N. Woods, The Epistle of James, p. 305).

The Assembly and “One Another”

Other duties performed one to another often include some expedient arrangement and provision in the assemblies of the church. The assembly provides us a wonderful opportunity to “edify” and “admonish” one another (Rom. 14:19; 15:14). The happy individual may “sing psalms” even in private, but especially do we come together in order to teach and admonish “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Jas. 5:13; Col. 3:16). In order to share the Lord’s Supper, there must be an assembly and that makes it necessary for us to “tarry one for another” (1 Cor. 11:33). When we “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works,” we will stedfastly join in “the assembling of ourselves together … exhorting one another” (Heb. 10:24‑25). The assembly is one important and essential provision for the practice of James 5:16– “confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another.”

We must never forget that sin is, above all else, an offense against God Himself. When the prophet Nathan forced David to face his sins, David did not send Nathan aside and offer a private confession which could be known to God alone, but David confessed in the presence of Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13). This does not mean that David treated Nathan as the “God” who forgives him. On the one hand, any effort by David to conceal admission of guilt from Nathan, who knew about the sin, would have been clear proof that David had not truly repented. On the other hand, David’s open confession is clear evidence of genuine penitence– without which there is no pardon. David had sinned against God and man, but in pleading divine mercy he recognized where the primary offense lay: “Have mercy upon me, a God . . . For I acknowledge my transgressions … Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psa. 51:1‑4). This confession does not nullify the fact of offenses against man any more than a confession in the presence of man nullifies the recognition by the penitent sinner that his every transgression is primarily against God.

Public Confession of All, Some, or No Sin?

Confession one to another is essential in all cases of sin, some cases of sin, or in no case. Which is it? The sin of looking on a woman with the desire to commit adultery should the opportunity arise may be known only by the sinner and God (Matt. 5:28). Nothing is necessary for pardon except confession to God alone and prayer for mercy, though no principle of truth precludes the privilege of asking others to join with us in prayer should we feel the need. Matthew 18: 15‑20 deals with a different kind of problem. Each one of us who feels that a brother has sinned against us is taught to “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” Acknowledgment by the sinner to his brother is absolutely essential in this case. If the admission is not made, the offended brother is to take witnesses and renew his plea for correction. If this fails, the Bible says, “Tell it unto the church.”

The sinner who decides that private confession to God is sufficient in all cases, that public confession is only a legalistic or pharisaical tradition, and that he does not need to confess this sin to any man blocks his own pardon by both God and the offender brother. Penitent confession in such cases, both to God and to man, are essential conditions for mercy:

Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.

And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him (Lk. 17:3‑4).

To pose the question, “What if the sinner dies before he completes the conditions of penitent confession to God and man, and of request for mercy?” is to venture into a realm reserved for God alone. The living must teach and practice the conditions of pardon precisely as God revealed them. “What if a man repented and wished to pray to God but could not immediately reach the brethren he had offended and rejected?” Then let him make whatever correction he can at the moment, trusting himself to God, and let him take every possible step until correction is completed. He may seek the grace of God immediately, but not without the determination to seek the pardon of his brethren as quickly as he can under God’s providential care.

Wherever we find the erring brother, we must urge him to begin by obedient faith to make whatever correction is needed. If we find him in the public assembly of the church, we should urge him to step forward to make the amends needed without delay. Whether the sinner requests pardon by God first or by man first, or by both at the same time as is done in the public assembly, does not matter. What matters is that every effort at correction be made toward God and man.

Other passages relate to this matter of public confession. When the church withdraws its fellowship from unruly members who refuse to repent, the necessary action includes a public statement of reproof’ “when ye are gathered together” (1 Cor. 5:4). This necessarily implies that a public confession of error is essential for such brethren to be restored to the grace and service of God. The godly sorrow which produces repentance and pardon includes a determination to clear away all the guilt and scandal resulting from sin (2 Cor. 2:1‑11; 7:8‑12). Public action is necessary both to the discipline and to the restoration processes.

Another instance requiring public confession is recorded in Galatians 2. When Peter temporarily compromised with the Judaizing teachers, Paul “withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed,” and rebuked “Peter before them all” (vv. 11, 14). Could Peter have remedied his public sin after this public rebuke by making only a private confession to God? Certainly not! Paul does not say explicitly whether Peter rectified his error, but what we know of his subsequent life positively proves that he did.

Acts 19: Purifying the Church at Ephesus

When Paul defeated the superstitious magicians at Ephesus, the whole community took notice and the number of the disciples continued to multiply. “Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices” (Acts 19: 18; New American Standard, which gives close attention to verb tenses). Not only did alien sinners obey the gospel and put away their evil deeds, but also “those who had believed kept coming”–one after another–to make “the fullest and most open confession” of their own superstitious errors (M.R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, p. 270).

Some writers such as J.W. McGarvey in his New Commentary on Acts (1892) cannot bring themselves to think that Christians could have countenanced such sins, but he himself said in his original Commentary on Acts (1863), “The believers who ‘came and confessed anddeclared their practices’ had not, till now, realized the impropriety of those arts, which their heathen education had taught them to regard with reverence.” McGarvey respected H.A.W. Meyer’s works, a writer who could not reconcile the idea of penitent, baptized believers being entangled in magic (Meyer, Acts, p. 371). But the Holy Spirit guided Luke as he described that deplorable situation and even today experience verifies the reality of such weaknesses among saints, as noted by many commentators like Greek scholar Henry Alford, R.J. Knowling in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, R. Tuck and others in The Pulpit Commentary, R.B. Rackham, B.W. Johnson, and others. Some commentaries side step the need to clarify whether erring saints or alien sinners are referred to in verse 18.

The following observations underscore the certainty of the sad condition of many saints at Ephesus:

[A.T. Robertson comments:] Even some of the believers were secretly under the spell of these false spiritualists just as some Christians today cherish private contacts with so‑called occult powers … It was time to make a clean breast of it all, to turn on the light, to unbosom their secret habits… Judgment was beginning at the house of God. The dupes (professing believers, alas) of these jugglers or exorcists now had their eyes opened … (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 3:319).

[Lenski comments:] (Luke, RH) turns to the most wholesome effect on the believers themselves and by using the perfect participle describes them as those who have believed and thus continue to do so. Driven by their consciences, they kept coming to the Christian assembly in order to confess and report their practices, namely that they still kept practicing magical arts of all kinds.

We still have the exact counterpart today: Christians who still resort to witchcraft for healing, for warding off evil, for directing their lives in difficulties, and the like.

Another point to notice is this: all this was done publicly. Note that Luke uses two participles in v. 18 to emphasize the idea ‘confessing and reporting’; and in v. 19 the phrase ‘before them all'” (R.C.H. Lenski, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 796‑98).

[Shaeffer comments:] Those to whom the word pepisteukotes (“those who had believed,” RH) is applied, were certainly not persons who now only were converted, in consequence of the impression which that event had made on them (Meyer), but as the perfect tense shows, who had been previously converted and had remained believers …

It is the opinion of Meyer that they could not possibly have been converts of an earlier period … But philological considerations…do not sanction any other interpretation than that converts of an earlier period are meant. They had, to a certain extent, retained their heathenish superstition; their repentance and conversion had not thoroughly influenced all their opinions, feelings, and actions … There can be no doubt that those who confessed had been believers for a considerable time (C.S. Schaeffer, The Acts of the Apostles in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scripture, transl. Philip Schaff, pp. 354‑55).

Christians at Ephesus kept stepping forward to confess and repudiate the sinful superstitions which they had tolerated in their lives, until the church was purified. 1 [See note 1 at end of article.]

Preach and Practice Public Confession of Sins

The Bible plainly teaches that we are to confess our sins to one another and to pray for one another. We cannot be ashamed to teach and to practice this. As with everything taught in the Bible, expediencies and details may differ from case to case and from situation to situation.

The thing itself is lawful. Whatever the arrangements and particulars, we must obey the command if we walk by faith in God. The Bible does not say how specific a confession of sin is to be, nor that we must enumerate and explain every minute occasion of sin. The expression or wording as found in Scripture is sometimes general and sometimes more particular. But, when we have sinned and need to confess it to correct a situation, the generic escape clause “If I have sinned … ” is a poor substitute for a hearty and genuine acceptance of guilt.

We need to teach that all Christians are priests unto God and may offer the sacrifices of prayer and praise at any time (1 Pet. 2:9). A public confession is not a confession to a preacher as though he were a special priest who mediates God’s grace to us. But it is right for preachers to call on erring brethren to come forward and to make confession of sin in the public assembly, as one means of fulfilling James 5: 16, in order that we may all pray together. The man who needs to make such correction and refuses to do so has not truly repented and cannot be forgiven by God or the people of God.


1 As mentioned above, the perfect participle pepisteukotes is properly translated “those who had believed,” i.e. “those who have believed and thus continue to do so.” Greek grammars show that “the perfect tense denotes the present state resultant upon a past action” (J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners, p. 1871). A bulletin article claims that the aorist participle in “practiced” – “And not a few of them that practiced magical arts brought their books together and burned them” (v. 19) – proves that they had used magic “in a point of time, but were not currently doing” so (Stand 18 [15 Aug. 1981; publ. by Annandale, Vir. Church of Christ]). But, “the aorist participle denotes action prior to the action denoted by the leading verb”

(Mechen, pp. 116‑17). The leading verb for the participles translated “practiced” and “brought together” is “burned.” The “practice” in verse 19 is thus located before the burning in the same verse, rather than before the believing back up in verse 18.

[Guardian of Truth XXVI, 17 (1 July 1982):391-394 (7-10)]

The Difference between the Basis and Conditions of Salvation

Failing to see this difference leads to confusion over salvation, especially when the question is raised, “What must I do to be saved?” “I believe we are saved by the blood of Jesus; you believe we are saved by baptism,” some say. The truth is, our salvation is not an “either/or” when it comes to the above.

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by Mike Willis

From ancient times, man has believed in life after death. When God created man, he placed him in the Garden of Eden with access to the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). Because of sin, Adam and Eve lost access to the tree of life which enabled them to live forever (Gen. 3:22). Ever since that time, man has lived in hope of regaining the paradise which he lost through sin.

Evidences of the hope of eternal life are seen in many cultures. The American Indians believed in a “happy hunting ground.” The ancient Egyptian pharaohs displayed their belief in life after death in the building of their pyramids which housed things they might need in life beyond death. The publishing of “after death” experiences of those who have “come back from the dead” shows that our modern world longs for information about life beyond death.

These subjective experiences can never replace what revelation has spoken about life after death. Jesus, who was raised from the dead, speaks authoritatively about life after death. He points us to the resurrection.

What Happens to Man at Death?

The Scriptures reveal that at death the body goes back to the dust from which it came and the spirit goes back to God who gave it (Eccl. 12:7). Jesus revealed the nature of the habitation of the immortal spirits of the dead in his discussion of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). The dead go to a place called hades (translated “hell” in the AV in Lk. 16:23). Hades is separated into two compartments: (a) Torment, the place of the wicked dead, is a place of anguish and suffering (Lk. 16:23-24); (b) Abraham’s bosom, the place of the righteous dead, is a place of comfort (Lk. 16:25). The two places are separated by a great gulf which makes crossing from one place to another impossible. Hence, the righteous cannot “fall from grace” after death nor can the wicked be saved.

Paul expressed his yearning to go home to be with God at the hour of his death in passages such as Philippians 1:21-24 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10. He understood that death is the gateway to the presence of God. Properly viewed, death can be a blessing to man; it takes him from a world of suffering (Lk. 16:23-24); (b) Abraham’s bosom, the place of the righteous dead, is a place of comfort.

What Shall Be Raised From the dead?

The Scriptures direct our hope to the resurrection. What shall be raised from the dead? Not the spirit, for the spirit does not die. That which shall be raised from the dead is that which dies – the body.

Men asked, “How shall the dead be raised” (1 Cor. 15:35). Perhaps they were thinking of the various things which can happen to the body. A body may be eaten by animals, burned in a fire, blown to bits in an explosion (as in the Challenger disaster), drowned in a sea and eaten by fish, or decay in a tomb. Men asked, “How shall the dead be raised?” How shall the various parts of the body be reassembled when the body has gone back to dust and may have blown a thousands different directions?

Paul reminds the Corinthians that the resurrection from the dead is not without analogy in nature. Even a seed does not produce a living plant except that it first die (1 Cor. 15:34-37). And the plant which grows from the quickened seed does not resemble the seed which was planted. If God is able to produce this natural event, he also will be able to raise the dead body of man. He is the Almighty God.

What Kind of Body?

What kind of body will man have? The answer is this: one fitted for eternal habitation. God has prepared a body fitted to every kind of life: he has prepared a body fitted for those birds which fly in the heavens, a body fitted for the animals of the sea, a body fitted for the various animals which is adapted to their peculiar habitations (1 Cor. 15:38-42). The same Lord is able to prepare a body fitted for heavenly dwelling.

The simplest answer to “what kind of body will man have at resurrection?” is this: the same kind of body which the resurrected Jesus had. Paul said, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). However, in teaching the nature of the resurrected body, Paul wrote, “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-43).

Just as surely as man has a natural body, he also will have a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44).

Man’s physical body cannot inherit heaven (1 Cor. 15:50). Consequently, those who are alive at the moment that Jesus returns to this earth will experience a change in their body. Paul wrote, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:51-54).

Who Shall Be Raised?

The resurrection shall not be confined to the righteous. Instead, both the wicked and the righteous shall be raised from the dead (Jn. 5:29; Acts 24:15). The wicked shall be raised to face eternal damnation; the righteous shall be raised to eternal life.

Jesus Christ: The Guarantor of the Resurrection

What assurance do I have that man shall be raised from the dead? Jesus Christ is the guarantee. He is the “first fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20). Thayer explains the image of Jesus as the first fruits: “Here the phrase seems also to signify that by his case the future resurrection of Christians is guaranteed; because the first-fruits forerun and are, as it were, a pledge and promise of the rest of the harvest” (p. 55). Even as God has given assurance that he will judge the world in righteousness by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, so also the resurrection is our proof that we too shall be raised from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). When the dead are raised, Jesus will have destroyed his last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26).

Consequences of the Resurrection

Belief in the resurrection should effect how we live. Rejection of the resurrection surely effects how the wicked live. The wicked push out of their minds the idea that God will raise them from the dead and call them to account for their wickedness; they say, “God hath forgotten: he hideth his face” (Psa. 10:4-11). If there is no resurrection of the dead, men may as well live the hedonistic lifestyle. Even Paul exclaimed, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us cat and drink for tomorrow we die'” (1 Cor. 15:32, RSV).

In contrast to the wicked, the righteous believe in the resurrection and judgment. This effects how they live. Paul exhorted, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Peter exhorted that, since we look for a new heavens and new earth, “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Pet. 3:11-14). Belief in the resurrection motivates one to godly living.

Belief in the resurrection provides comfort in the hour of death. Christians do not mourn in the face of death like those who have no hope. Paul expressed this faith as follows:

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:1318).

The sting of death is removed by the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:54-56).


Each person shall live forever in a resurrected body. That body will either be in an place of everlasting torment or everlasting bliss. Every individual has control of his own eternal destiny. Where shall you live eternally?

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 2, pp. 34, 42
January 17, 1991

The Crucifixion of Jesus

Mike Willis

Capital punishment is still practiced in America and that in compliance with the revealed will of God. The Lord revealed, “Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen. 9:6). Executing murderers in American society is done in as painless a manner as men can devise, and that without regard to how much suffering the criminal caused his victim. We use lethal injection, the electric chair, hanging, and the firing squad. All of these methods of executing a criminal result in virtually instant death and relatively little pain to the one put to death.

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The Conversion Of The 3,000 Jews (Acts 2)

Donnie V. Rader

In Acts 2 we find the beginning of the fulfillment of the great commission to carry the gospel to world beginning at Jerusalem (Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47). This chapter tells the story of the first converts under this commission. Peter later refers to this as "the beginning" (Acts 11:15).

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What Must I Do to be Saved?

HEAR God’s Word

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. – Romans 10:17
And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ – Acts 11:13,14

BELIEVE in Jesus as God’s Son and your Savior

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