Do You Always Have to Confess Before Confronting?

Q. Do you always have to personally confess before you confront someone in the church with their sin? If I don’t have anything to confess, but I know the other person won’t listen to me if I don’t confess something first, should I try to confess something anyway? Maybe they are struggling with an addiction or getting too close to a co-worker and putting their marriage at risk, etc. Should I confront someone in a situation when I don’t really have anything to confess? If so, how?

A. First, if you cannot make an honest confession for something you have thought, said or done related to a conflict between you and another person, you should not confess simply to motivate him or her to confess. That would be using a spiritual grace from God dishonestly—as a tool of manipulation.

Second, do you remember Galatians 6:1 and 2? Those verses address your situation:

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

This passage means that you have an affirmative duty to go to your fellow church member to rescue them from the trap of their sin because that sin has taken them captive. We see this as we consider carefully what just two of the words in this passage specify …

The word translated “caught” means more than a person merely transgressing the law. It means that the power of sin has literally ensnared the person. They cannot free themselves. They are in danger, very real spiritual danger, because the powerful drug of sin’s temptation, in that moment, is far stronger than the person’s ability to resist. Tolkien in his book series The Lord of the Rings illustrated this concept well through the analogy of the irresistible power of the “ring.”

The word translated “restore” means to mend. The captive Christian needs physical, emotional, and spiritual mending / repairing. Such care goes far beyond simple first aid. Lifesaving surgery is urgently required. It is no time for manipulative games. Trying to trick the patient to go under the scalpel of repentance and confession (both gifts of grace from God) is not the biblical pattern. The biblical pattern, the wise and truthful pattern, is to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15, 25, and 29). The “law of Christ” spoken of in Galatians 6:2 is the law of love. We fulfill its demands when we love people enough to gently confront and restore them.

Let me close by introducing you to one of my favorite peacemaking principles in Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker: the concept of passport. Tara and I use this concept whenever we serve as Christian conciliators.

Just as an actual passport gives you entry into another country, relational passport gives you entry into another person’s life. Consciously or subconsciously, whenever a person is being confronted, she is asking three questions. All of these questions must be answered in the affirmative by the person being confronted, if she is actually going to listen and give the other person access into her life:

  1. Are you trustworthy?
  2. Do you care about me?
  3. Are you competent to help?

Wise and spiritually mature Christians know the deceitful power of sin and seek to intentionally build safeguards into their lives by fostering this “passport” in their Christian relationships. All Christians need people in their lives who will love them enough to speak truth—even painful truth—when the ugly reality of sinful rebellion takes control. In a church, a culture of trust, care, and spiritual competency nurtures meaningful relationships of mutual accountability that strengthen the church and reflect Christ’s words in Matthew 16:

“I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18

The Lord’s church is being built one person at a time when friends go to friends gently and lovingly—but also courageously being willing to confront the “evil gates” in our lives: the times when sin has taken hold and ensnared us.

As you consider confronting another person, ask yourself:

  1. Am I trustworthy?
  2. Do I truly care about the person?
  3. Am I competent to help?

If you can answer all three questions in the affirmative, then you are ready to do one of the most difficult duties that Christ calls you to do: confronting the enemy’s great weapon of the deceitful power of sin.

-Dave Edling


A quick note from Tara … For information on receiving criticism well, Dave and I both commend to you Rev. Dr. Alfred Poirier’s excellent article, The Cross and Criticism.


About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
This entry was posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Biblical peacemaking in the church, Causes of Church Conflict, Confrontation. Bookmark the permalink.

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