I'm 16 years old. I became a Christian several years ago. I'm writing to you today because I've been recently feeling guilty about something I did when I was younger. My family and I were in a store and I went into the aisle and saw a pack of candy open, so I got a piece. I looked around to see if anyone was looking but I didn't see anyone. I didn't feel bad at the time, but later on, I felt guilty so I repented. I felt better but now I feel guilty again because I have the thought that there might have been a camera around looking at me when I did it. Is that a public sin? I talked to my dad about it and he told me that it wasn't public. It was between me and God as long as I got it straightened out with Him. I'm just asking for a second opinion on whether I need to tell the congregation or move on from it. My past haunts me and I tend to overthink. I still feel guilty but then I don't. I just want to know what you think.
Thank you for reading this. God bless you!
First, there is no concept in the Scriptures regarding a public sin versus a private sin. There is no teaching in the Scriptures indicating that sin must be confessed before a congregation.
The purpose of confession is to face the fact that we sinned -- that we are not going to hide from that fact. Unacknowledged sin destroys us internally. "When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Psalms 32:3-5). Confession is made to the ones we harmed by our sins. Since all sins are against God, the first and most important confession we need to make is to Him.
"This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don't tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven't sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (I John 1:5-10).
Often the one in sin realizes how badly his sin affected his relationship with God and so he desires the support of his fellow Christians in approaching God. You can see this with Simon.
"Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power, that whoever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn't right before God. Repent therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity." Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things which you have spoken happen to me"" (Acts 8:18-24).
This is why we read in James: "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). That is why we allow opportunities for people to come before the congregation. It is so others can pray on the behalf of the sinner that God will forgive them.
In your case, the person harmed was the owner of the store because you stole what belonged to him, even though the amount that you stole was not much in terms of value. Take a coin from your piggy bank the next time you shop at that store and leave it in the tip jar for the employees or if they don't have one, leave it on the shelf next to the candy. That way you are paying back what you took.
One more thing: actions don't become right or wrong based on whether you were caught or could have been caught doing wrong. Every action is intrinsically right or wrong. Related to this, the forgiveness of your sin is not based on whether or not you feel guilty. Guilt exists to remind us that we have sinned, and hopefully, it will keep us from sinning again. Forgiveness comes from God and it is based on His promise, not our feelings.