James says, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
We have an idiom “save face” which means to cover your reputation and avoid others losing respect for you. Public confession of public sin may be avoided by some to “save face”. Saving face is about pride.
The magicians in Ephesus are a beautiful example of conviction coupled with humility.
“And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.” (Acts 19:18-19).
Those who believed could have kept their past deeds to themselves, but they confessed and told them publicly. Others burned their magic books “in the sight of all.” What shame is there in turning from false religion to the truth? None. They were not ashamed to publicly show they were now going to serve the true and living God. They are an example to us of public confession of sin, and their example is worthy of respect.
Their confession of sin demonstrated a fixed resolve to put away that to which they were once enslaved. The burning of books in the sight of all demonstrated a complete renunciation of their former life. Their books were worth a fabulous sum, but they would have only been a snare to others who would be enslaved to sin with them. By burning the books, they demonstrated a full commitment to the truth; they destroyed what could tempt them into relapse.
By confessing their deeds, others could pray with them and for them. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). In addition to the help God will give in response to such a prayer, when a brother or sister publicly confesses sin there is great unity as the family of God prays together. And brethren then know of and can provide ongoing encouragement in the battle.
When a Christian confesses and repudiates sin, others are strengthened and encouraged by the example of courage and determination. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), so others are reminded of their own fight against sin and their need to keep pressing on. In Ephesus, verse 20 tells us the result of their repudiation of their deceitful magic: “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
The Christian who has turned back to sin brings shame upon the name of Christ. Their sin being publicly known, that child of God who returns to the loving arms of the Father should want their turning to be known by others! One who says to himself that he will save face by just trying to quietly return to the Lord – is he really willing to openly declare his faith and confess Christ? Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). Jesus requires nothing less than open commitment to Him. I am reminded of a situation, where a brother and I were preaching, in which some men wanted to obey the gospel but they wanted to do it privately because they would suffer for it from the denomination they would be leaving. The unfeigned faith of a Christian cannot and must not be hidden: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden….Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16).
Sin “in the sight of all” is an ugly thing. But open rejection of and confession of it coupled with open commitment to the right ways of the Lord is powerful when done “in the sight of all”.
- Larry Jones