It took me a few weeks at church before I could put my finger on what was missing: there was no confession. Perhaps that doesn´t seem like a big deal; it isn't a mandatory requirement of a church meeting. In what was said and prayed it was clear that my brothers and sisters were thankful that they had been forgiven through Jesus Christ. Yet having no opportunity to repent of sin regularly still struck me as lacking.
The same is true in the student group we are working with in Coimbra. Some will talk about being forgiven children of God but when repentance gets mentioned it is nearly always in reference to something they once did and something that those who aren´t Christians need to do. Specific daily struggles with sin aren´t discussed and a clear determination to strive for holiness is noticeably absent.
Part of the reason may be the country's Roman Catholic tradition. Each year, the shrine at Fátima gets visited by more than four million pilgrims anxious to find release from the burden of sin. Evangelicals have rightly emphasised the sufficiency of Christ´s death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins – but at times have also failed to teach the continuing seriousness of sin and the need for ongoing, authentic repentance. It makes many who profess to be followers of Jesus appear no different from the non-believers around them.
Last semester we ran a small Christianity Explored course for some international students. It was the first time many of them had heard the gospel and it was great to see people investigating the claims of Jesus. But it also became clear that some wanted forgiveness without having to let go of their sin. Even though a few came to realise that Jesus was Lord and Saviour, going all-in for him just seemed too extreme for most.
Our prayer is that as people in Coimbra see the beauty, majesty and glory of Christ they would also see the ugliness of their sin, which would lead them to the cross. Pray that in turn, that would lead to a life marked by ongoing repentance and transformed by grace.
Written by Joe Clarke
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