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When should we confess sins publicly?

I have to constantly decide this for myself and for those who ask me about a certain situation. You have to come up with some kind of guideline.

My guideline is that the repentance should be roughly as broad as the effect of the sin.

In other words, if I got really angry at you right now, said something ugly, and then was convicted ten minutes later and said, "Bob, I am so sorry. What an awful thing to say," I don't think I need to go to any group outside of us and talk about it. It was just you and me. Nobody heard about it. Bang, it's over.

Now, it is helpful for me to say in general terms in a small group or among our church staff, "You know, yesterday I was just so mouthy with a friend of mine. I had to repent." That is me sharing my weakness.

But as for confession, I think the principle is that the extent of the confession should match the extent of the sin.

That's not always easy to judge. If you commit adultery it may ripple out in a lot of ways—more than you think—and you may have a lot of tracks to cover. Basically, that means that a public sin or a public consequence of sin is going to need public confession and repentance.

But most of our sins are against particular people, and sometimes we may be tempted to resort to public confession because it's easier to talk in general publicly than it is to talk specific personally. To go to a person, look them right in the eye, and say, "I did you wrong. Would you forgive me?" is harder than saying at small group the next night, "I stole from somebody" or "I was ugly to somebody."

So I think proportion is what we're after. The proportion of public repentance should be in proportion to the publicity of a sin or a sin's effect. 



John Piper is founder and teacher of DesiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For over 30 years, he served as senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. John is the author of more than 30 books, and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at DesiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and an increasing number of grandchildren.

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John Bailie

commented on Mar 7, 2016

Thanks John. Your veiw is very helpful. Often personal confession is sufficent but when others are directly affected then good sense dictates a wider confession. Theologically, confession is not depended on 'publicabilty' but on the best way to resolve hurt and facilitate healing for all parties. After all is that not the intention of repentence - to fix things? Toward God, toward others and toward ourselves. God is not changed by our sin but we are. God is not restored by our confession but we are. When we are changed and restored, God is glorified.

Willie Grandberry

commented on Mar 7, 2016

Mh Constantine

commented on Mar 7, 2016

This is a good general guideline, and helpful too.

Jonathan Mbuna

commented on Mar 8, 2016

John, a little more clarity on adultery or fornication. Does that mean for instance when one commits adultery he/she should just go to whom they commited adultery with and confess or maybe extend it to their spouse. I am saying this because committing adultery and being caught is quiet different from somebody committing adultery and confessing because of remorse not because you have been caught? Maybe a little more light on this issue would help

Bright Eromhonsele

commented on Mar 8, 2016

Thank you Sir, I really appreciate your thought but I also think it is not all past sins that need to be confessed publicly for example, confessing a secret murder to the family of the bereaved may cause you your life because forgiveness may not be easy on their part.

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