Mack Stiles, businessman in Dubai, tells this story when sharing the gospel in a Muslim context:
Two men went to the mosque to pray. One was a rich man, the other a poor man. The rich man went through his libations and prayers as he did five times a day. As he was praying, he began to have a sexual fantasy about the young wife who lived next door to his home. But he finished his prayers and went home. The poor man stood off at a distance. He came so infrequently to the mosque, that he couldn’t remember the positions for prayer or his libations. But he looked up to heaven, beat his breast, and said, ‘Forgive me, O Lord, for I’m a sinner.’ Who went home justified?
Editor’s note: “Mr. Stiles says that every Muslim he has asked this question to has answered, ‘The rich man.'”
In 1521 Martin Luther wrote:
This life, therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.
Preparing to preach on confession of sin, centering on Proverbs 28:13 – “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
In preparation, I returned to that rich little classic, Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Two of his insights into confession and community:
1) Without confession of sins, there is no true Christian fellowship.
“He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.” (110)
2) Only a Christian who has truly and personally encountered the Cross of Christ is a safe person to receive a confession.
Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only the brother under the Cross can hear a confession. (118)
From Leif Enger’s excellent Peace Like a River:
I began to weep…weeping seems to accompany repentance most times. No wonder. Could you reach deep in yourself to locate that organ containing delusions about your general size in the world – could you lay hold of this and dredge it from your chest and look it over in daylight – well, it’s no wonder people would rather not. Tears seem a small enough thing.