November 26, 2020

Many Christians today ask whether they need counseling to confess their sins or not. Some believe that this practice exists only in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions and has nothing to do with the Bible, since they have the only Mediator between them and God – Jesus Christ. Others believe that such practice is vital, they go to confess their sins in the presence of a priest and even resort to titles such as “holy father” in addressing the spiritual person receiving their confession.

This raises several questions: what does the Bible say about this? Is counseling really important in the life of a Christian? If so, how does it happen? Is such practice even needed if I can speak directly to my Heavenly Father?

Before answering these questions, let’s take a look at the historical aspect of the development of the Church. It must be admitted that the tradition of confession is rather ancient. It exists in both the Orthodox and the Catholic Church. Any tradition does not arise out of nothing. As a rule, the tradition has a good beginning, but over time it becomes nothing more but a formality. Thus, even when we participate in a communion in church, we may not think about how profound and serious the meaning of it is. In the Western world, among Protestant churches, the practice of confession is most often referred to as counseling, soul-mentoring, or a simple appointment with a pastor. So, did this practice emerge as a human invention, or is it based on Scripture?

Let’s start with what the word “confession” means. According to Collins dictionary, the verb “to confess” means 1) If someone confesses to doing something wrong, they admit that they did it. If someone confesses their sins, they tell God or a priest about their sins so that they can be forgiven. You use expressions like ‘I confess’, ‘I must confess’, or ‘I have to confess’ to apologize slightly for admitting something you are ashamed of. The Russian dictionary also gives this meaning: to talk about something very personal, intimate about yourself. 2) Declare one’s religious faith.

According to these definitions, we see that confession is used in two meanings: first – to repent of sins, telling about yourself something kept in secret, something personal; and second, openly declare one’s doctrine and beliefs. Having written out from the Concordance all the Scriptures where the word “confess” is used, one can come to the same conclusion. However, in some Christian circles, the understanding of this word is distorted today. Have you ever heard such a phrase “to confess in your or someone else’s life” or “to proclaim something in someone else’s life”? Dear friends, no matter what we “confess”, or it is better to say,  “proclaim” in our or someone else’s life, only that which is intended by the Lord will be fulfilled, only that which is in accordance to His will and only that which He Himself can allow to happen will happen. A person’s words have the power to influence your mood, upset you or cheer you up, but not the power that God has. No matter how much you proclaim that you will be healthy or rich, this will not happen if it is not the will of the Lord. This also applies to all other matters of life. Therefore, the use of the word “confession” or “proclamation” in such a context is incorrect and erroneous, and as a consequence, is a human invention that has no biblical basis. I remember the first time I heard this phrase, I thought that sometimes we do not think about what we read in the Bible and easily change the meaning of words to better suit our understanding of the Scriptures or in order to support a particular doctrine of a certain denomination.

Let’s turn to the Bible Concordance where the word “confess” occurs and consider a few examples from Scripture.

The Bible confirms the meaning of confession as repentance or counseling in the following passages:

“He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (Prov. 28:13) The first question that arises, is it possible to hide or cover anything from God at all? After all, He is All-Knowing, All-Seeing and Omnipresent. God even knows and sees the secret of your thoughts, moreover, even the intent of your thoughts. The Bible says, “… the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts.” (1 Chronicles 28:9). He looks into the depths of your heart. Nothing is hidden from Him. So why does Solomon write that ostensibly something can be hidden or covered from God? Of course, it doesn’t say that something is hidden from Him. You can repent before God in dust and ashes, but, as we will see from the following Scripture, it is important for the Lord that we do this also before people, especially if we have done them wrong.

Remember when Achan did not obey the words of the Lord, so as not to touch the accursed things when taking the city of Ai? Yet, he was tempted and disobeyed, which led to the defeat of the people of God because of one man. As a result, it delayed the conquest of Ai. It was only when the Lord revealed this sin and still gave Achan a chance to confess and bring sin into the light before the whole congregation of the children of Israel. But Achan decided to cover his iniquity. From whom? From God? No, God already knew everything. From the people of God. When the sin was finally revealed, and everyone knew that it was Achan, Joshua said to him, “My son, I beg you, give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” (Joshua 7:19) Sin must be exposed before God. However, this passage shows us that since it affected the entire congregation of God’s people, Joshua asked Achan not to hide from him what Achan had done and to confess his sin.

“Perhaps,” you might think, “this only applies to the Old Testament.” What did this practice look like in New Testament times? The first time we come across the word “confess” is when John the Baptist baptized people who came to him. In the Gospel of Mark 1:5 it is written, “Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” Here it is clearly seen that they needed spiritual help, before whom they could bring everything into the light and, having been baptized in the waters of the Jordan, start a new life without returning to the old man. So how did they confess? Notice that those who came were believers, the people of Israel, who knew God from the Scriptures, who attended the synagogue every week. But nevertheless, they realized that their life was devoid of the Living God, and all their rituals, traditions, weekly attendance of synagogues, and observance of holidays in the Temple did not reflect what God expected from them. They were in such a great need of spiritual help. They were thirsty for the Word that would awaken their hearts to know the Lord personally and give them life.

Now, is the idea of counseling supported by the New Testament? After the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, and when He manifested Himself in the life of the apostles, there was an interesting case with the sons of a certain high priest named Sceva, who thought that the use of the words “in the name of Jesus” as a spell could cast out evil spirits or demons. And how many in church today use this precious Name, without thinking that these are not just words. We must know the Lord, and most importantly He must know us personally, and even more so, the devil himself and the entire pit of hell. This is evidenced by the following words, “And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” (Acts 19:15, 16) So often we hear today: “I know the Lord! I use His Name! I proclaim and rebuke in the name of Jesus Christ!” But the question is “Does He know you?” Paul’s epistle to Timothy also testifies to this, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19) One day reading these words I was literally startled. If we want to have the solid unshakable foundation of our faith, we must have a seal, which consists of two elements. The first is “the Lord knows those who are His.” I often heard about Queen Elizabeth II, more or less familiar with her family. Living in England, one cannot avoid the news about intrigues taking place in the royal family. And now imagine, after reading about her on the Internet, in newspapers and magazines, I will come to her residence right at Buckingham Palace and ask the security at the entrance, “Can I see Queen Elizabeth II?” Most likely, not knowing about any official visit planned for that day, they will ask me, “Do you know her?” I will say, “Of course. You can read, hear and see so much about her in the media.” But then the main question will be asked, “Does she know you personally?” I can also know God only by what I have heard or read about Him in the Bible. The question is, “Does He know me?” Do I have a personal relationship with Him? The second element says that those who name His name (and we are called Christians, after His Name Christ), it says, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity (or unrighteousness).” This is a real characteristic of the child of God who has His seal. After all, there are those who truly are children of God, and there are those who are children of God in name only, and their life does not testify to that the Lord dwells in them by His Spirit. And here we are faced with the second meaning of the word “confession”, when we confess or openly declare that we follow the Lord, and He and His teaching become our life.

So, back to the story with the sons of Sceva. After that incident, such fear fell upon everyone (they became convinced that the name of the Lord is a living name and it cannot be simply used in vain), so many began to believe in Jesus Christ. We read about this further in Acts. 19:18 “And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.” Let’s meditate on these words, people who had already believed came to confess, (how?) telling their deeds, i.e. bringing them out into the light, made them known, in order to put an end once and for all to those deeds that kept them in bondage. They came to confess their deeds, because they needed such help. They have produced fruits worthy of repentance. Now this could be observed in their lives. Changes came; from the old man, those who believed became a new creation.

But often people do not go to the light so that their deeds are not exposed. Why did people love darkness rather than light? Why don’t they go to the light? Because their deeds are evil. John clearly tells us about this in the first chapter of his Gospel. So, do we have to do it in front of people, or is it enough to pour out your heart to God? I think hardly anyone will dispute the truth that there can be no other mediator between God and man, but the Lord Jesus Christ. However, in his epistle, James writes, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) The Greek meaning of this word is “publicly declare”, “admit”. So it says here that we have to do this to one another. Did James not believe that it was enough to confess to God? Of course he did. Then what’s the matter? The fact is that God already saw and knew everything. The relationship between us is of great importance to God, and He parallels those relationships with a personal relationship with Him. For example, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus says that whatever we did to those in need, we did the same to Him (Matt. 25:40). In a marital relationship, Paul says to wives, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22). In other words, your relationship to the Lord reflects the way you treat your husband. In the same way, if husbands do not treat their wives with understanding as the weaker vessels, their prayers may be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). And finally, John writes, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20) If we show love for our neighbor, in this way we express it in relation to God. Everything is interconnected in our relationship with God and the people around us. Based on this we come to the conclusion that first of all we need to confess our transgressions to those against whom we have sinned. We often do not see the need for that. If we want to really follow what Christ taught about, then we must take it seriously. After all, Christ Himself teaches us, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23-24) First, it says that even if not you, but your brother, has something against you, go first, make peace with him, and only then offer your gift of praise and thanksgiving. Essentially, Jesus is saying that if your relationship with someone is not right, there is no point in coming to Me. Thus, you grieve Me. You grieve My Spirit who dwells in you. A person who has been truly baptized with the Holy Spirit cannot feel at ease if relations with his neighbor, whoever he may be, are broken. In other words, go and confess to him personally. No, he is not your mediator, but your relationship with him reflects your relationship with the Lord. In this case, our ministry and trampling in the courts of God become in vain. Our church attendance and our ministries are useless. And it doesn’t matter if you are a pastor, deacon, choir director or just a church-goer. Can you picture what it looks like in the life of a person who for years has not been reconciled to others? Such a root of bitterness not only destroys personal relationships with the Lord, but spreads this virus to others.

“But” you might be thinking, “does this tell us that we should do this in front of a person who is not involved in the disagreement or contention?” The Apostle Paul in his letter to Galatians writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2). We often think that bearing each other’s burdens is mainly about supporting our brothers and sisters in need materially. In another epistle Paul says very interesting words, “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers” (1 Cor. 4:15). Once I read these lines, I understood Paul’s heart not only as of a good evangelist and teacher, but also as of a father. And who is the father? Someone who cares about what happens in your life, who is ready to listen to you and gives you good advice. Therefore, it is not surprising that Paul says, “… besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:28). Where are those spiritual fathers today? Paul, why did people come to you? Why were you so worried about churches? Oh yes, you were their father, you bore their burdens, and above all, the burdens of spiritual diseases.

Friends, this is expected of all church ministers. You can also see it in the epistle to the Hebrews, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.” (Heb. 13:17). Here is the answer to the question whether we, the children of God, need counseling or not. As we can see, counselors should be fathers who care or watch out for souls. And, of course, this does not mean that your counselor becomes a mediator between you and God. Absolutely not. But you know how much you have to deal with souls tormented by enslaving sin, who want to enter into a bloody battle against it and pour out their hearts to a trusted person. However, it is difficult to find such ministers who are able not only to listen and give advice, but also to keep the secret of confession, without revealing it even to their spouses. It is surprising that one has to deal with counselors who were not called by God for this ministry, who, on the contrary, does harm to a soul, or use the information received for their own purposes. That is why believers from various denominations and nationalities say, “I cannot find a person with whom I would share my secret sin, because instead of help, I will receive judgment and, as a result, disappointment in people. This is shocking, because a person, taking such a bold step, already declares that he does not want to put up with sin any longer and is ready to start a serious battle, as Paul says, “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” (Hebrews 12:4). I also heard such cases that after a sincere confession the brothers and sisters were excommunicated from the church.

Dear friends, once again, I would like to quote the Scripture mentioned above, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) Consider these words which tell us about the importance of counseling, even for a believer who has a relationship with God. “Pray for one another.” The counselor does not take the place of a mediator, but a helper, like that Good Samaritan, for whom it is important that the spiritually wounded and tormented soul does not remain lying on the side of the road in such a state. This person will bind up spiritual wounds and will do everything possible to put the soul on the right path with God, interceding for him in prayer. That is why we need intercessory prayers, which, in fact, are mediating, but do not make mediators out of intercessors instead of Jesus Christ. Further it is written that you need to pray “that you may be healed.” First of all, the soul desires spiritual healing. And this verse ends with the words, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

Friends, I think it is now becoming clear why we need counselors, spiritual fathers or mothers, or soul-carers. No matter what you call them, but what really matters is whether they fulfill their God-given ministry. Indeed, in our time, so many young, middle-aged and elderly people are struggling with various kinds of addictions: sexual, in the first place, as well as games, alcohol, drugs, etc., who have been suffering from those addictions for many years and yet have not overcome that sin. Why? Because there are so few intercessors, counselors that people desperately need today. And first of all, I’m talking about believers, the children of God. After all, having gained victory, we have a sure promise, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1: 9)

Let us now touch on the second meaning of confession, namely the confession of Christ as the Lord. As we will see further on from several biblical passages, this confession has the meaning of an open public declaration of commitment to a certain doctrine and beliefs. Do people around us know who we are? Or maybe people have been working side by side with us for years and still don’t know that we are children of God? Does your life bear witness to this? Do people see the difference in you or take you for their own? Christ makes a completely radical statement, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32). Moreover, the Apostle Paul gives us a very important promise that affects our eternity, “… if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)

So, confession means our conviction and unshakable faith in the truth. For example, in the book of Acts 23:8 it is written, “For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection — and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.” This passage tells us that the Sadducees and Pharisees were committed to certain beliefs. It is important for us to confess not what we want, but the truth of Christ. He is the Truth. And how do we know the truth? By diligently studying the Scriptures. Luke, at the very beginning of his narrative about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, addresses a certain Theophilus, emphasizing the importance of being grounded in the teachings of Christ. Luke writes in his Gospel, “… it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” (Luke 1:3, 4 ). Here we see that a child of God must be firmly rooted in the teaching of God. How embarrassing at times it can be to realize that God’s children don’t even know what they believe in. A certain preacher once said, “When I was in seminary, I thought I was preparing myself to evangelize lost souls in the world, but after graduating from seminary I realized that I had to evangelize Christians.” I must confess it’s a bitter truth.

Dear soul, do not neglect the Word of God. Feed on it daily in your secret closet in prayer over the pages of the Holy Scriptures. After all, the Lord revives His Word in your heart, and it becomes your life, and not just a dead letter. The seed sown produces the fruits of change. Your life becomes the testimony of the Living God, whose words have tremendous power. And thus, knowing God personally and what pleases Him, and following Him in His ways, obeying His commandments, you become an adornment of the teaching. Paul writes about this in his letter to Titus, “… that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” (Titus 2:10). See? In all things. We must not only know the teaching, but confess it with our lives. “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” (Heb. 4:14).

When speaking of spiritual fathers and mothers, please don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to ascribe any titles. During the formation of the Church throughout the centuries, starting from its first beginnings, over time many things turned into ritualism, which was one of the main reasons why many Protestant movements opposed the Official Church in the Middle Ages. Therefore, these days, this practice of counseling (or confession of sins) has a negative connotation. The words “father”, “confession” and “my children” have become meaningless in some Christian circles, but the true meaning behind those words is significant. This should be our life. Paul and John were true spiritual fathers. That is why they addressed the flock of believers as “my children” (1 John 2:1; Gal. 4:19). These were truly counselors and soul-carers, called by God to this ministry, becoming spiritual fathers to many souls. People flocked to such fathers every day in order to receive intercessory prayer support and good advice of following the Lord unshakably.

In conclusion, we can say that counseling is not a human invention, but, as we have seen, is based on the Word of God. And this practice took place even in Old Testament times. For example, Leviticus also speaks of how the Israelites came to the so-called judges who judged their deeds.

Addressing the ministers, I would like to urge that you turn to God in prayer, put your relationship with Him in order, and ask Him for wisdom so as not to be frivolous counselors or soul-carers, just as Jeremiah describes the false prophets, ” … They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly (or superficially), saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace.” (Jer. 6:14). I had to hear from people tormented in their hearts how they took that bold step to speak frankly with a pastor, to which they received the following answer, “I don’t need it and I don’t even want to hear it. Everything will be fine. The only thing you have to do is just believe. Don’t think about it. Don’t take it so seriously.” And such a soul leaves, having received a short-term emotional charge, which does not have the power of change. Days, weeks, months and years pass, and this soul is still tormented by a stumbling sin, plunging the soul into eternal destruction. We must give such advice that would awaken in a person a craving for the truth of God and bring him into a humble state with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. It is not the kind of sorrow that produces discouragement and death. Such sorrow with repentance for God’s sake yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11).

As counselors, we must remember that we are also sinners, and therefore, we also need our own soul-carers and counselors. We must approach many issues with understanding and mercy, no matter how terrible, vile and disgusting someone’s confession may sound, with no favoritism. A counselor should have a compassionate heart, like the Apostle Paul, who wrote in 2 Cor. 11:28-29 “… besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?”

The Good Samaritan principle should characterize every minister. Notice that in this parable the priest passed the wounded man, and the Levite did the same. Such people in that position are first of all expected to help, but they did not care about him. You see, years and centuries go by, but people do not change. Everything remains the same. We don’t learn from History but make the same mistakes. Christ used examples of a priest and a Levite on purpose, thereby reminding us that we should always be sober, watchful and remain faithful in serving the Lord. For this reason, I am deeply convinced and believe that God can use any person in the church in this responsible ministry of counseling. You don’t have to hold a degree in Counseling to do it. It must be God’s calling. As a church, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. ”And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26) This is how a living congregation of the children of God looks like, a gathering where love reigns in the midst of brothers and sisters, and there is no room for indifference.

Perhaps you are still hesitating and think that you can do without outside help. From my own experience, I can say that I have rarely heard of such cases where a person fought alone and overcame. Do not give up! Go to the light. Better to blush out of embarrassment here on earth and get duly help making it right with the Lord than burn in the flames of hellfire. The Bible says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (Prov. 28:13) Picture a young man struggling with pornography addiction for years. This has already become his habit. This sin has enslaved him to such an extent that he can no longer say no. In this case, counseling help should be provided, where the servant of God will bear his burden before the Lord, will hold him accountable, asking from time to time how he is doing in this area. It so happens that by being in bondage of a certain sin, we lose our fear of the Lord, and we commit this sin with a hardened heart over and over again. It seems like there is no end to it. Nobody can help me. Though it causes guilt in you, yet it is not enough to deal with sin once and for all. But when a man of God knows about your situation, then it causes unbearable shame and embarrassment, that it creates motivation and gives you an incentive to be persistent in your battle until you overcome that sin and ultimately get rid of that filth in your life. This is how we put to death our members and make them glorify God. This is your living sacrifice.

However, it’s important to note that those who need counseling must be wholeheartedly determined to follow the Lord without looking and turning back, and once and for all put an end to sin and friendship with this world. No, not to leave the world, but to become an example and a light that can impact those still groping in the darkness. Truly, according to the above-mentioned Scripture, the one who not only confesses, but also forsakes sin, will have mercy. O how we desire mercy! Here we read a clear step-by-step prescription of how to obtain God’s mercy.

 When Christ predicted the coming of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, He mentioned that the Spirit would convict us not only of sin, but also of judgment. “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). What is this judgment? Let us allow the Holy Spirit Himself to answer this question, Who brings the words of our Lord Jesus Christ to our remembrance, “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21)

Let us walk in the light!

Max Volkov in Christ