Even though we are commanded to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) this does not mean that confessing our sins automatically accomplishes the goal, which is forgiveness and transformation into Christ’s image.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer mentions three specific dangers of confessing our sins and I want to add one more. First, there is the danger of being too general in confessing our sins.
For the sake of this certainty [the forgiveness of sins] confession should deal with concrete sins. People are usually satisfied when they make general confession. But one experiences the utter perdition and corruption of the human nature…when one sees his own specific sins. Self-examination on the basis of all Ten Commandments will therefore be the right preparation for confession. Otherwise it might happen that one could still be a hypocrite even in confession to a brother and thus miss the good of confession.
When we confess to our brothers we need to be specific with the sin. Give it a place and time and a biblical name.
Second, he notes that there should not be one person that everyone else is confessing to. This will burden the person being confessed to and thus it will all become routine. Instead of being able to shepherd each individual through God’s grace the confessional will become a place for “the spiritual domination of souls.” He also says in this section that anyone who hears confessions should also himself be confessing to others.
Third, there is the danger of confession becoming a pious work, a source of pride. I confess my sins. Do you? Here is what he says about that.
For the salvation of his soul let him guard against ever making a pious work of his confession. If he does so, it will become the final, most abominable, vicious, and impure prostitution of the heart; the act becomes an idle, lustful babbling. Confession as a pious work is an invention of the devil.
To these three dangers, I would add the danger of confession becoming a substitute for repentance and change. Here is the problem with a lot of accountability groups. They confess their sins to each other and often in very great detail, but there is little change. Everyone leaves feeling better about themselves, but no one leaves ready to stop sinning. If confession is a substitute for real change it is a lie. I am not saying that once a person confesses they will never commit the sin again. But I am saying that after confession we should find ourselves climbing the mountain of holiness not sitting at the bottom feeling good about ourselves.