“Going to Confession” is done by many folks. One on side of the curtain is the confessor, one human who has sinned. On the other side is a priest, another sinful human being, but one who carries some measure of spiritual authority to encourage the confessor to repent and turn away from sin. There may be value in this process if the confessor is experiencing Holy Spirit conviction of sin and accesses the grace of God genuinely to repent.
Is James encouraging a process like this in chapter 5, verse 16? “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
“Therefore” refers to the preceding thoughts regarding confession and repentance of any sin which may be influencing the progress of an illness. James has encouraged seeking the prayer and oil-anointing of the elders who are familiar with our lives. This present sentence is not directing Christians regularly to confess their sin to each other, rather to confess to church elders when sin could be the reason for their illness. Scripture indicates these elders will be men of integrity whose walk with God is genuine, men who will love us and know how to confront and challenge sin in our lives, encouraging repentance and implementation of God’s grace to make better choices.
There is great value, as well, in developing deep, godly friendships within which we are mentored, challenged, unconditionally loved, exhorted and held accountable for attitudes and behaviors in keeping with a committed follower of Jesus. That depth of friendship would include the confession of sin to one another and the praying for one another, for physical healing when that is the issue and always for spiritual maturing and godly decisions in life.
This person with whom we develop such friendship would be a “righteous” person. That means they have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them and they live like it, frequently failing because still human, but always forging ahead to follow more closely the Christ who gave his life for them. The prayers of that person are effective prayers – the kind we want prayed over our lives.
In order to develop a friendship like the one described above we also must be righteous, offering a depth of character and relationship with God to our friend so that our prayers for them also are effective.
“Effective prayer” doesn’t mean we tell God what to do. It means we don’t waste words and emotion with excessive sympathy over pain when sin is really the issue. We are genuine with our friend when we pray, and genuine with God. We recognize God’s sovereignty and bow before it as we pray, asking him to do that which will bring the greatest glory to his name. Effective means that God hears what we ask and takes it into consideration. He does. He is sovereign and he knew what he planned before the prayer but part of his plan is to use “effective prayers” as means to accomplish his purposes. It is a great joy to participate in his plan with effective prayer.
In the next two verses (Jms. 5:17-18) we read of righteous Elijah’s effective prayer regarding rain. God knew he was going to hold back the rain for 3½ years and then bring it down. By praying Elijah got to participate in the plan of Almighty God!