I found the following post a helpful summary of how to respond when someone confesses sin to you (something that should be happening in our midst as we know and love each other- see James 5:16). Especially important- I can't overstate this- is the last point- we must get to the gospel- point our friends to the gospel- and rejoice with them in the forgiveness and hope for change that the gospel brings. For far too long I neglected this as I interacted with people- and yet this is what they need most.
What would you do if a friend or your spouse or your child confessed to you that he was really struggling with drinking alcohol to the point of drunkenness? Or looking at pornography? Or extreme anger?
Let me give you a few suggestions of what to do and not to do…
Do Respond Humbly
Confessing sin to another person is one of the most humbling, unpleasant experiences out there. When a person confesses sin to you, respond with humble gratitude. Thank them for coming to you and encourage them for the humility that they have demonstrated. Remind them that God gives grace to the humble, and that God is eager to give them grace. Help them see that God is for them and eager to help them.
Do Identify With Their Struggle
If possible, identify with the sin that has been confessed. You may not have struggled in exactly the same way, but it’s a good bet that you’ve struggled in a similar way. I don’t struggle with drunkenness, but I certainly can relate to the battle for self-control and the desire to escape from my problems. When someone shares their struggles with you, tell them how you have struggled and how you can relate to their temptation. Also, tell them how God has helped you in the midst of your struggle. It’s just helpful to know that we don’t struggle alone.
Most importantly, remind them that Christ was tempted in every way as we are, which makes him the perfect one to help us in the midst of temptation.
Don’t Act Shocked
When someone confesses sin to you, don’t act shocked or surprised. Don’t shake your head in disbelief or make your eyes go wide. Don’t say, “I just can’t believe that you would do something like that.” We are sinners and our friends are sinners, and we should expect each other to act like sinners. That doesn’t mean we encourage sin. It does mean that we shouln’t be stunned when someone tells us that they are struggling with sin.
Plus, when we act shocked at sin, it discourages our friends from confessing sin in the future.
Don’t Blow It Off
If your friend or spouse or fellow church member confesses their sin to you, it means that God is at work in them. The Holy Spirit is convicting them of their sin and their need for help from others. In light of this, when they bring their sin to light, don’t just say, “Hey man, it’s no big deal. Everyone struggles with that kind of stuff.” Instead, go a little bit deeper. Find out the particulars of the struggle and ask how you can best serve them. Even pray for them right in the moment.
Do Follow Up Later
If possible, follow up with your friend at a later date. Ask them how they are doing in the area of sin that they confessed. Don’t wait for them to come to you, because it might not happen. As a godly friend, go after them.
Do Remember the Gospel
After a confession it is crucial that we remind our friend, spouse, or child of the gospel. The gospel is what gives them hope for forgiveness and for change. We don’t just want to supply people with strategies for being morally better people. We want to connect them to the power of God. The gospel is what breaks the power of canceled sin, and we need to remind people of the gospel on a regular basis. That’s our only hope for change.
(HT: Blazing Center)