Listen to the podcast
You may want to read:
This question is excellent, and there are so many angles to it. I will address some of them here, but let me give you an initial response: Yes! It could be beneficial for her to confess her sin to you. But there are many considerations because it may not be wise for her to do this. As with many life situations, it depends. Responding to a transgression is rarely straightforward, neat, or cooperative. You must think in comprehensive ways to serve your friend well.
As you know, the confession of sin to another person has nothing to do with being ultimately released from the transgression by God. I’m talking about the Lord freely forgiving someone through the blood of Jesus Christ. This interaction with the Divine does not require another human being’s involvement.
Only God needs to hear about her sins because He is the only One who can release her from them. I’m speaking exclusively about the vertical relationship that she has with God, and I’m assuming she is a believer. This relationship is unique, personal, and private. Telling your sins to others is not expected or a requirement if the transgressor has not sinned against anyone other than the Lord.
Even with that said, no man is an island; we’re all part of the continent, as John Donne would say (1 Corinthians 12:14). 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 draw biblical conclusions about how we interact with each other (1 Corinthians 12:26; 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 of its parts, the body of Christ should have an appropriate level of self-awareness among its members. There are two ditches you want to stay out of as you ponder and react to these concepts.
There are some people with whom I confess my sins; the most important is my wife and children. There are other people whom I do not trust enough, or they are not mature enough to steward the harsher truths of my life. Some people can handle the truth about you, and it behooves any person to take advantage of this means of grace rightfully. Then others can’t handle the truth, and it benefits the believer not to provide them with that which they can’t steward (John 16:12; Proverbs 18:2).
Part of being a mature Christian is to perceive and experience the value of living transparently in a community of like-minded disciple-makers. This urgent need is one of the things that I don’t see among those that I have counseled. One of the commonalities with counselees 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 Secret, pp. 3.
What your friend might not understand is how sharing part of her life with another human can be freeing and good for her soul. While only God can ultimately forgive her, He does not work independently of His children (2 Samuel 12:1-13). More than thirty New Testament passages point to our communal call to live our lives in such a way that we benefit from each other (Hebrews 10:24).
This aspect of Christianity 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 of their lives to another person. In a counseling context, the counselor is asking them to do that with them.
People come to me, confessing their sins, which is typical, expected, and no one thinks it’s wrong. You’re counseling your friend in a similar way that I advise those who come to me. It would help you to have this mindset. This perspective is what Christians should strive to do with each other.
There is most definitely a sober-minded requirement for this kind of sin sharing inside a Christian friendship: you must 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. Be sure you can walk her through these differences and the benefits of both. She reveals her sin to the Lord to have Him obliterate it. She may share some of her transgressions with you so you can walk together as you work through the consequences and residual effect of her sin (Acts 8:30-31).
You won’t do this effectively without you being transparent with her. You must be willing to reciprocate with your life. You both have a former manner of life that you both have brought into your relationships with God (Ephesians 4:22).
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. Her lack of theological understanding and application will trap her to the bondage of sin that the Lord has forgiven.
She needs help from you. It’s like a lady who has had an abortion. God has forgiven her, but the lingering guilt of what she did stays with her for years. It is rare for a person to be free from past events like this without the help of others. Your friend’s struggle makes her a healthy human. Convey to her that she is normal.
But her struggle is 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 admit her more personal struggles 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.
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. Let her know that she is normal. 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.
Let me interject here the danger of illegal sins. Because you and I do not know what specific transgressions that might have your friend in bondage, it’s essential to be fully prepared about what might happen if she does come clean with you. When people are struggling about sharing something personal in their lives, I try to give them what I believe is a biblical perspective on confidentiality.
What you don’t want to do is create a situation where she believes you will keep all her secrets hidden. Depending on what the transgression is, you may not be able to keep it just between both of you. If she confesses illegal activity, you would have no recourse but to share it with the proper legal authorities.
She must know this before she shares it 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. If this is a counseling situation, I assume she has signed an Informed Consent Form that states your confidentiality policy. If this is just two friends, you don’t need a written document.
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 for you here. Perhaps you can share this article, with the embedded links, with her. The main thing that you want her to experience with you is your trust. She has trust issues, which you have already discerned.
She does not trust God. She may believe that He is holding something against her. Perhaps she is in bondage to legalism, which could tempt her not to trust you fully. The freedom she is going to experience in God is going to come through you. If she is not “free in the Lord,” it will be hard for her to be free with you.
Perhaps you are the door that the Lord has set up to draw her to Himself. If she is afraid of God because of the shaping influences of legalism or other awful experiences, she only knows a conditional love system. She has come to you to vet you—to see if you are trustworthy to handle her raw truth. You have a fantastic opportunity to model our great God (Ephesians 5:1). Hang with her.
If she tells you the truth and you don’t reject her, it may be the first time in her life where she has experienced this aspect of the gospel. Your response could be the motivating grace that could set her free in God. There have been instances where Christians have not stewarded the truth from others, and it has left them in no man’s land.
An incorrect response from a supposed caring believer strains the vulnerable’s relationship with God and leaves their human relationships in shambles. This scenario happens to teenagers regularly. They come to me after trying to connect with their parents. Some of them eventually tell me the whole truth about their lives. How I handle their “whole selves” sets the trajectory for what happens next.
This kind of interaction is not so much about one person sharing their sin problems with another as it is about trying to help someone untangle their relationship with God. It could be that the Lord is calling you to do this with your friend. As you pray about these matters, do not set up an artificial timeline where she must confess her sin by such and such a date. Wait her out. Maybe the Lord will compel her to tell the truth to you. If she does, you carefully guide her back to Him.
Rick launched this training network in 2008 to provide life-changing resources that equip Christians to help others. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).