James 5:16

Read Introduction to James


"Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."
Verse sixteen springs from verse fifteen
The word “confess” means to confess or admit openly or fully. “Confess” comes from three Greek words: to say, same, and out. The idea is to speak out about something you agree is wrong. The readers of James needed to confess their sins of rebellion (5:15) openly to one another; otherwise, they would end in divine discipline. 
your trespasses
A “trespass” is not the same as a sin. A trespass is a violation of the rights of someone else. It means to cross the rights of someone else. Hatred will root in the souls of others if we do not deal with wrongs we did against them. There is danger of people developing irreconcilable attitudes in this. This believer committed the sin unto death (5:20). 
to one another,
We do not have to confess our sins to an intermediary or priest. We do, however, have the right to confess sins to mature Christian leaders (elders). 
Confession of sin keeps spirit, soul and body healthy. 
Protracted, unconfessed sin will eventually undermine the soul and even cause physical illness. We need mature leaders to help us get out of this spiral. Sometimes confession of sin will heal physical illness, especially sin that is directly related to sin. In this case, the issue is primarily spiritual, not physical. 
Confession of sin can keep spirit, soul and body healthy. This is no absolute guarantee for physical healing because sin can cause permanent ravaging of the body. Sometimes God chooses not to heal physical illnesses. 
Acknowledging our sin is the first step in spiritual restoration. Confession is not penance. Jesus did the penance for us on the cross (1 Jn 1:7). His blood keeps on cleansing us from sin, not our self-punishment. It is Christ-punishment, not self-punishment that sets us right with God. 
Our part is simply to acknowledge our part in what took Jesus to the cross. We cannot have forgiveness without the shedding of the blood of Christ (He 9:22). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

23 Responses to “James 5:16”

  • Thank you for writing this.
    I was struggling whether or not I should confess my sins
    to my friend whom I feel I am doing something spiritually wrong.
    I have put her up on a pedestal and now I do not know how to approach her or be myself around her.

    Three people have told me not to confront her, but I kept feeling that I need to confess what is tormenting me for so long. Not for her sake entirely, but for my own healing. My only question is, what will she do with the information? Will I hurt her?

  • Natalie,

    I appreciate your concern for your friend.

    There is no way to anticipate how your friend will react (unless you know her very well). However, that is not the issue. It may be that she needs to be hurt, however, not from a legalistic or harsh point of view. Read my studies on Galatians 6:1f in Verse-by-Verse Commentary. We need to approach people needing rebuff with a sense of grace, that but for the grace of God, we could find ourselves in this situation. If she understands your attitude she may respond properly. If she does not respond properly, the onus is on her, not you.

    Sorry for the delay, I was in Bangladesh last week.


  • Hi, when it says confess your sins, does it mean to the one who you have wronged or to any christians? thanks

  • Sam, I believe it means to the one you wronged.

  • Hi Grant,
    It doesn’t specify in this verse that we must confess to just the elders of the church, yet I noticed you intentionally singled out that we “have the right to confess sins to mature Christian leaders [“elders:]. ”

    The verse says ‘one another’, so if I trust my best friend or husband with this information (sin I’m struggling with) and we hold each other accountable, wouldn’t that also be obedient to this scripture?

  • Nette, yes it would be obedient. It is not necessary to confess private sin publicly. The Scriptural principle is confess private sin privately and public sin publicly. It is definitely not necessary to go to the elders if this is something between husband and wife.

  • Interesting…what is the difference between private and public sin? I haven’t really thought about sin in those terms before. Thanks for writing back so quickly!

  • (I realize the Bible talks about private and public sin), but I think I usually attribute public sin to those who are in leadership in churches…is it possible for a regular parishioner to have a need to ask for forgiveness ‘publicly’?

  • Nette, if a person in the pew commits a sin that violates standards expected of the community and it becomes known publicly, then that person is to confess it publicly. The standard is confess at the knowledge level of people. See my study on Matthew 18.

  • Hi Grant,

    Im in a serious relationship with a man headed towards marriage. I fell into sexual sin quite a few times while Ive been a believer during about a year long period of time, but have repented of this sin to the Lord and turned away from it. Then I met this man that Im now in a relationship with. He knows that I fell into this sin but he doesnt know how recent it was. I only told him the time frame when it started. Do James 5:16 teach that I need to tell him how recent it was?

  • Brooke, replied by email.

  • Hi Grant,
    I've been study confession as a part of the study on prayer through the whole Bible & found a very interesting observation…
    I was surprise that in both Hebrew (word yadah & noun tadah) and in Greek (homologeio / exomologeo)primarely dealing with other meaning than confession for sins. Most of the meanings ( I counted only 19 out of 147 references in OT (mostly in Tora) & only 5 out of 42 in NT) That is 24/189 or less then 13% in the whole scripture?!
    Q: Why there are only a few verses in the Bible related to confession dealing with sin? (e.g. only 5 in NT: Matt3.6, Mark1.5, Acts 19.18, Jam 5.16 & 1John 1.9) and out of these 5 only last two are the most comprehensive and more spesific.

  • Jenia,

    Thanks for your comment. There are parallel concepts other than "confess" that challenge the believer to deal radically with sin. For example, the believer is to "examine" and "judge" their sin at the Lord's Supper (1 Co 11:17-32).

  • What if a person lied about a struggle with sin? Lets say a person has a drinking problem. They are asked by a friend or spouse how they are doing with the drinking and they say they are doing good but they actually had a drink two weeks ago but repented and they are not drinking now. Does that person have to confess to the one they lied to about the drinking problem, if they repented to God?

  • Al, the issue here is what was the context of the lie? Did the person perceive that you are still struggling but getting the over-all victory? In that case there is no need to confess. If, however, you gave them a different impression than what they received then you need to get that straight. One of the problems with drink is hiding the issue which causes protracted problems. It is best to be open and honest with others for your own or their own sake.

  • Hi all

    The word repent is "to change one mind", Could someone show me even ONE scripture in the bible that says : "Repent your sins for salvation". There is no such scripture, we have to believe that Jesus is the son of God he came died and was raised. Look at all scripture with the word believe over 200 example John 3:16 '..that whosoever believes in HIM should not perish but have eternal life " we are not required to ask forgiveness for our sins as God has taken them all Past Present and Future. Our belief is not even from us he gave us the believe to believe which means he has done all "it is finished" believe Jesus testimony not mans.

  • I agree Mario, for non-Christians, that is.

  • I did an unthinkable thing. I am a Christian. Now one lie has lead to another and another and so on. This is tearing me up! I have repented before God over and over, but feel no better. To confes to my family would cause much pain and I do not wish to do this. But if I must to be right with God then there is no question. I would rather them think bad of me by knowing the truth if it will retire my relationship with God. 

  • Debbie, I will email you privately.

  • I sin so much I constantly have dounts about my salvation.  I know that it is a sin not to take God at is Word that he saves us if we ask.  I've asked hundreds of times but still fell an overwhelming sense of condemnation.  I am severely depressed, have no joy and somehow just try to get through the day my anesthitizing myself with prescription drugs, alcohol, TV, and all kinds of other distractions.  I want to know God and to love him amd for my actions to me motivated by love for Jesus but somehow there seems to be a blockage and my prayers for deliverance get no higher than the sound of my voice.  I'm an active member of a prominent evangelical church and feel an incredible sense of shame at my hypocrisy.  I'm dying on the inside and killing myself with drugs, alcholol and laziness.  What am I to do?

  • ~~Tim, when a believer gets to the point of defeat as you are, it is important to know that there is no “one fell swoop” answer to your question. However, there is an answer. I am sure you know that the first step back to God is confession of sins, which I am sure you have done many times (1 Jn 1:9). However, assuming that, then secondly, it is important to “yield” yourself to God (Ro 12:1-2). I would suggest you study those verses on this site: http://versebyversecommentary.com/romans/romans-121-2/ Make sure you advance through each study.
    Thirdly, and the process that will take some time, is growth into maturity. I cannot go into all the details in this blog but I suggest that you first read this page: http://versebyversecommentary.com/articles/living-by-the-book/ Then having read that, go to his page: http://versebyversecommentary.com/articles/the-edification-construct-discussion-guide/ This last study has to do with building an edification construct of the soul. Spirituality is one thing but edification is another. Many Christians are in and out of spirituality without victory. The reason for this is that they do not have a stability of soul. Stability of soul does not come by spirituality (although spirituality is a prerequisite) but by maturity. Take your time as you study the edification construct (like a few days). It takes time to absorb the principle there.

  • Dear Grant:

    If I committed several sins before I understood the meaning of being SAVED, do I have to confess my sins in front of the church or can I talk to God in private. Now that I have growed spiritual I don't want to open any doors for the devil to come back into my life. I confess my sin and now living the life that is pleasing in God eyesight. Now that I know and much wiser. 

  • You may respond by email.

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