I have a friend who is a Roman Catholic. Not too long ago he went to “confession,” after which he told me, with tears welling up in his eyes, he felt “clean like a new born baby.” Confession is an integral component of the Catholic sacrament of penance. After one confesses his sins to his priest, the priest absolves his sins and he is assigned particular righteous acts of penance and prayers in accordance with the nature of his sins.
Knowing my Protestant convictions, my friend thought I would be overjoyed to hear that he was confessing his sins and feeling clean. And although I was certainly thankful, I knew full well that such a natural emotional response would only last until his next sin. Although historically Rome has taught the necessity of both private and public confession of sin, many Catholics have been persuaded that only when they confess their sins to their priests, are absolved, and do penance that they really possess the forgiveness of God. But apart from faith alone in Christ alone, no one will ever possess the imputed righteousness of Christ for justification, which leads to a faith that is active in word and deed, and a life of both public and private confession of sins.
In the tenth century, in one small corner of the world, the Lord raised up a new theologian in the Eastern church. Simeon (949–1022) preached against nominal Christianity, which was expressed by a merely outward faith and public confession of sins. Simeon argued that if our Christian faith is genuine, we will be engaged not only in the periodic public confession of our sins, but in the daily private confession of our sins as well. From his Discourses, we read, “Let us endeavor to attain to purity of heart, which comes from paying heed to our ways and from constant confession of secret thoughts of the soul. For if we, moved by a penitent heart, constantly and daily confess these, it produces in us repentance for what we have done or even thought.” Through the centuries the Lord has continued to sustain and reform His church by raising up faithful men to proclaim His gospel and to call His people to live coram Deo, before His face, in genuine repentance, humble confession, and authentic faith leading to a life wholeheartedly devoted to God.