As a pastor, I often get questions of a more theological nature. Thursdays are the day I like to post some on the blog. Enjoy!
The other day I got a text message from a friend:
"I'm reading James 5:16, which says, 'Confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed.' Why wasn't it good enough to confess to my Lord, and (before we got married) to my husband? I used to boast to a Catholic friend in college that I could pray directly to God and didn't need to go through a priest because when the curtain was torn at Jesus' death, we were given access to the Holy of Holies ourselves."
What a great question! Let’s look at the passage in context.
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 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.” -James 5:14-16
When it comes to studying the Bible, it’s often said, “if you see a ‘therefore’, find out what it’s there for!” So, as we look at the “therefore” in this passage we see that when James writes about sins and healing, he’s not talking about the spiritual “salvation” type of healing, but physical healing specifically.
When we pray to God for the forgiveness of sins in the context of salvation, then it is indeed just about us and God. The Bible is clear that only Jesus saves, and that by His death and resurrection the barrier that separated humanity from the “Holy of Holies” of God’s presence has now been removed. We DO have complete access to the Father, in the power of the Spirit, by the blood of the Son, so the condemnation of our sins has been taken care of once and for all in Christ. Hallelujah!
So then, what is James talking about when he says we should confess our sins to one another that we may be healed of sickness?
We know that not ALL sickness is caused by sin, because Jesus himself says this in John 9:2-3. “[Jesus’] disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” However, very often we may experience sickness in our bodies because though the condemnation of sin has been removed, there are still consequences we deal with because of our choices.
This is, of course, exactly what satan our enemy wants. If he can’t keep God’s children from being healed in spirit, then he will try to keep us from being healed in body. He cannot affect our destiny, but he can impact our daily life if we let him. We must realize that much of our physical experience is directly related to the spiritual war of which we all are a part.
Now, look at what the Apostle Peter reminds us of in 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Be sober- minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
Satan doesn’t want to just distract or discourage, he wants to devour God’s children (for a chilling description of this, check out Revelation 12:4 and following.) However, God has given us something powerful and effective to resist the attack: prayer, faith, and the support of “your brotherhood throughout the world.”
This is key!
God has given us to each other as the Church so that we may “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) in real and continuing ways. We do this by standing together in prayer and support and encouragement, through accountability and even loving correction when needed. That means that one of the most effective tools we have to drive back the effects of sin in our lives is the way in which our Church family can rally around us and help us fight.
But only if we let them.
Here is the heart of the matter. No one can be helped if they don’t admit their need. Nobody is healed without acknowledging their disease. God has given us great power and authority in the Kingdom, but the way we access it is by doing it together. That’s why we confess sins to one another! It’s not that we need extra help to be forgiven in God’s eyes, but that we need to stand together in the fight against our enemy.
One final thing.
The first mention of the word “sin” in the Bible is in Genesis 4:7, where God tells the murderer Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
In the second half of James 5:15, the passage directly before the one we’re exploring here, we see this phrase. “If he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” The word used for “forgiven” here is the Greek word “aphiemi” which has the literal meaning, “to send away, [to make] leave alone.”
For you and me, sin is not just an intellectual issue. It’s not just about weakness or struggle on our part. Sin is a very real enemy that satan the accuser sends like an assassin against our souls. Jesus has secured our life and salvation, ensuring that spiritual death will have no hold on the children of God. However, that assassin can still do great harm to us if we are not vigilant and willing to fight with the weapons our Father has given us.
When we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, the assassin is driven away.