Member Question – My friend has a hidden and secret sin, which she is afraid to confess to me. I see her in bondage to what she has done and was wondering if it is right or would be helpful if she confessed her sin to me. What do you think? How important is it to reveal hidden sin to another person?
This is an excellent question, which has many layers. Thank you for asking. The answer to your question is a profound “Yes, it would be helpful” but there are several things to think about as you work through this with your friend.
As you know, the confession of sin to another person has nothing to do with being ultimately released from the sin by God. I’m talking about the sin being freely forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. This does not require another human being.
On this level, only God needs to hear about her sins because He is the only one who can release her from them. I’m speaking exclusively of the vertical relationship she has with God. This relationship is unique, personal, and private.
A Communal Requirement
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. – 1 Corinthians 12:14
Even with this said, no man is an island; we’re all part of the mainland. The Christian is not an independent entity, disconnected from other Christians. We are one body and as part of that body, it is right to make biblical assumptions.
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:26
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. – Hebrews 13:3
There is a communal requirement placed on all Christians to live transparently before each other. Just like the physical body must be in sync with all its parts, the body of Christ should have an appropriate level of self-awareness among its parts.
There are two ditches you want to stay out of–the first of which is a Christian who lives secretly while saying nothing about the reality of her life. The second is the Christian who has no discretion, which is manifested by talking too much.
We all should know when to speak and when not to speak. There are some people I confess my sins, the most important of whom are my wife, children, and small group.
There are other people I do not trust and/or they are not mature enough to steward the truth of my life. To quote Jack Nicholson, “You can’t handle the truth.” There are two true things at work here:
- Some people can handle the truth and it behooves any person to rightfully take advantage of this means of grace.
- Some people can’t handle the truth and it behooves the believer not to provide them with that which they can’t steward.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. – John 16:12
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. – Proverbs 18:2
Part of being a mature Christian is to perceive and experience the value of living transparently in community. This is one of the things which I don’t see among many of those I counsel on a weekly basis.
When people come to me, there are certain things which some of them have in common. One of those things is what I call the isolation effect of sin. They purposely isolate themselves from the body of Christ, while hiding their true selves.
It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. –Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets, P. 3.
What your friend does not want to see or is afraid of seeing is how sharing her whole life or at least a major part of her life is not only freeing, but good for her soul. While only God can ultimately forgive her, He does not work independently of His children (2 Samuel 12:1-13).
There are over 30 one another passages in the New Testament, all of which point to our communal call to live our lives in such a way in which we reciprocally benefit each other.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. – Hebrews 10:24
This is one of the things I appreciate about your question. You’re considering how you can serve and bless your friend. In a sense, you’re doing what I do as a career–calling folks to reveal more and more of their lives to me.
People come to me confessing their sins. This is normal, expected, and no one thinks it’s wrong. You’re counseling your friend in a similar way in which I counsel my friends. It would help you to think this way. This is what Christians should strive to do with each other.
There is most definitely a requirement for this kind of Christian friendship–sin must be shared between friends. The reason you want to do this is that you want to have a redemptive relationship with her.
To serve her effectively is to know her deeply. It’s like a person who goes to the doctor: the more transparent the patient is, the more she will receive the fullest benefit of the relationship.
A word of caution and reminder: Be sure you understand the difference between confessing to God and confessing to a trusted friend. Also, make sure you are able to walk her through these differences and the benefits of both.
She reveals her sin to the Lord to have it obliterated. She reveals her sin to you so she can be walked through the consequences and residual effect of her sin (Acts 8:30-31).
Former Manner of Life
If she is coming to you so you can care for her, then be sure to let her know this is one of the most effective ways in which you can care for her. You will not be able to effectively care for her if you don’t know her.
To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires. – Ephesians 4:22
Your friend has a former manner of life which she has brought into her relationship with God. She is like us. More than likely she has been forensically forgiven for what she has done, meaning God has forgiven her.
But she is still held in a false guilt complex regarding her former sin. (Watch the webinar on the Member Site about True Guilt and False Guilt.) This lack of theological understanding and application is ensnaring her to the bondage of sin which the Lord has forgiven.
She needs help from you. It’s like a lady who has had an abortion. She’s been forgiven by God, but the lingering guilt of what she did stays with her for years. It is hard and rare for a person to be free from past events like this without the help of others.
This makes your friend normal, but it is also why the Lord calls all of us to be intentional about imposing ourselves into each other’s lives (Matthew 18:15). Though you don’t want her to confess her sin to everyone, she needs to confess it to someone (Galatians 6:1).
You probably have observed from your friend how her former manner of life–the thing(s) which she has done–has tripped her up. Sin is entangling and to be forgiven by God does not necessarily mean you’re going to be free from the effect of sin.
What you want to do is create a context of grace to where she feels the freedom to come clean about what has her soul in a bind. We Christians can get ourselves into messes, from which we need a friend to help us through them. Again, she is normal.
Let her know she is normal and seek to release her from the fear of confession as well as the fear of being rejected by you. One of the ways you can do this is by setting an example for her–share some of your sins and inward struggles with her. You probably have already done this.
Let her experience the freedom you have in Christ. There are few things more powerful and freeing than seeing a Godly example (Ephesians 5:1). The more you do this, the more she may get up the gumption to let you into her world.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. – Proverbs 27:6
Let me interject here the danger of illegal sins. Because you and I do not know what sin she is talking about, it’s important to be fully prepared about what might happen if she does come clean with you. For more on this, read these two articles:
When a person is struggling about sharing something personal in their lives I try to give them what I believe is a biblical perspective on confidentiality. One of the points being how I can’t keep everything they tell me a secret.
This means I may not be able to keep their sin just between us. The reason is that I do not know what is about to be said. If she confessed a sin, which is an illegal activity, then I would have no recourse but to share that sin with the legal system.
She must know this before she shares her sin with you. I don’t suspect she is talking about illegal activity, but you never know and you don’t want to run the risk of not telling her how you may have to respond to her sin before she tells you what she did.
Also, if this is a counseling situation, I assume she has signed an Informed Consent Form, which states your confidentiality policy. If this is just two friends, then you don’t need this.
It’s About Trust
You want to serve her to help her to tell the truth. You do this by telling her the truth about telling the truth. Give her the full scoop, which I have outlined in this article.
The main thing you want her to experience with you is trust. She has trust issues, which you have already discerned. She does not trust God. She believes He is holding something against her. She’s in the bondage to legalism. She also does not fully trust you.
The freedom she is going to experience in God is going to come through you. You are the door which the Lord has set up to draw her to Himself. She’s afraid of God because she is a legalist–a person living in a conditional love system.
She has come to you to vet you–to see if you are trustworthy to handle the truth. You have an amazing opportunity to model our great God (Ephesians 5:1). Hang with her.
If she tells you the truth and you don’t reject her through some form of condemnation, it may be the first time in her life where she has experienced this aspect of the Gospel. This could be the motivating grace which could set her free in God.
I think there have been times where Christians have not stewarded the truth from others and it has left them in no man’s land. Their relationship with God was strained and now they have a human relationship in shambles.
Teenagers do this all the time. They come to me after trying to relate to their parents. Some of them eventually tell me the whole truth about their lives. How I handle the truth will set the trajectory for what happens next.
This is not so much about one person sharing their sin problems with another person as it is about trying to help someone untangle their relationship with God. This is what you are called to do with your friend.
Be sure not to set up an artificial timeline where she must confess her sin by such and such a time. You will need to wait her out. Maybe the Lord will compel her to tell the truth to you. If she does, then you walk her to Him.
Also published on Medium.