This past weekend I had the privilege of spending some time with a group of high school students on our annual retreat. As a community we devoted a good portion of our time to silent meditation on four verses from the Holy Scriptures. Here are some reflections springing from that time of meditation.
Second Meditation: James 5:16
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
This is the only place where believers are specifically commanded to confess their sins to one another. In context, of course, this has much to do with physical healing. Some sicknesses are caused by sin, and so the practice of regular confession is an important part of the community’s prayers for healing. But the implications seem to be much broader in this verse; that is, confession and intercessory prayer constitute an essential part of Christian fellowship.
What proves so perplexing in this verse, though, is the last part. After being enjoined to confess our sins to one another, we are told that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Since we so obviously have need of confession, who among us can be counted among the righteous, those whose prayers are powerful and effective?
But here, once more, we see the wonder of God’s grace. The righteous person is not the one who has no sin—some “super-saint,” as if such a man existed!—but the one who has recognized his sin, confessed it, and experienced God’s forgiveness. The righteousness we possess is not our own but an “alien” righteousness (to borrow Luther’s phrase). It is Christ’s, and we lay hold of it by grace through faith.
We are forgiven. In God’s eyes, we have the very righteousness of Christ. So he hears us when we pray—humbly confessing our sin to him and one another. And by his grace those prayers prove powerful and effective.