(Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 27)

[If the distressed one] has committed sins, they will be forgiven to him. So be confessing your sins to one another, and be praying for one another, so that you may be healed; for of great power is a prayer from a righteous man—working effectively. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 5:15b-16, mjlt)

Whenever we are faced with hardship and distress, we know that “the prayer of the faith will save” us (5:15a)—that in our suffering and sicknesses, “the Master will raise [us] up” (5:15a), especially if we call to others for prayer (5:14). And because God patiently waits for us to reach out to Him for help, we are only alone for as long as we choose to be. But what if our need is more than just physical or circumstantial? Suppose that there is something deeper within us—something intangible and hard to get a hold of—that remains unresolved even after the help comes? What if we are sometimes the cause of our own continued difficulty and pain? What if that cause is our sin?

To set our minds at ease, we can be assured at the outset that when we are afflicted, and we pray to God in faith for relief, “if [we have] committed sins, they will be forgiven.” God does not put conditions on His forgiveness beyond the expectation of our humility and intentions to reform. Rather, because “the blood of Yeshua… cleanses us from every sin, [He is] faithful and righteous that He will forgive us” (1 Yochanan 1:7-9, mjlt). God freely forgives sin as part of the contract He made with us when we accepted the Master’s terms of service.

And yet, forgiveness is not the end of what remains available to us. If all we do is receive that forgiveness, thank God, and then move on, the thing that got us to the point of sinning in the first place is likely to return and make another attempt. Thankfully, there is something we can do to guard against it.

While forgiveness only requires God to know that we know what we did wrong—as we openly (even if ashamedly) admit it to Him—we are also supposed to “be confessing [our] sins to one another.” The benefits of such a practice are incalculable. First, just the very thought of having to tell someone about the sin we are contemplating can be enough to dissuade us from it, and to remind us of who we are and Who we are serving. We not only want to avoid the embarrassment, but we want to stand clean before our God. Second, should we stumble into sin, the confession itself bolsters in our hearts and minds the truth of our walk with Messiah: that God forgives, that we are not alone, and that we have other Messiah-followers in our life who care about us, are looking out for us, and have our best interests at heart.

Following confession, we seal its cleansing effect when we apply the balm of “praying for one another.” Confession alone merely humiliates, without reinforcing good, godly behavior. But prayer enables us to take a practical, spiritual step with our brother or sister—to assist them with the burden of temptation by helping them to lift it up in honesty before God and lay it at the feet of the Master.

The divine devices of confession and prayer were given to us so that even after the forgiveness of sins, “you may be healed.” Without confession to others, and prayer received in return, sin can tend to leave an open wound, making us vulnerable—even likely—to repeat past bad behavior. But confession and prayer help us to clean out and heal that injury—to be set free not just from the sin, but from the guilt that keeps weighing us down.

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Such spiritual healing comes only through confession to and prayer for one another because “a prayer from a righteous man” is “of great power… working effectively.” When we confess our sins to God, He forgives us; and when we believe, He credits our faith as righteousness (see Ro. 4:5). But unless we confess our sins to one another, we miss out on a God-ordained mechanism to help us retain that righteousness in our actions. And only when we are righteous will our prayers be “of great power”—much less “working effectively”—and therefore bring healing.

Through the blood of His Son and the compassion of His children, our God has provided the means not just for our forgiveness, but for healing. Reach out, and be distressed no more—be restored through confession and prayer.

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