July 30, 2017
by Lynette Gray
It is generally supposed by many believers that repentance is only the gateway of faith. That it is necessary only at the beginning of the Christian life. But there is a very distinct repentance that is necessary for believers as well. First, let’s look at what repentance actually is. Repentance is heartfelt sorrow for sin followed by the renouncing of sin and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ. It’s not merely feeling remorse or guilt but changing direction. It includes a recognition that sin is against almighty God and is utterly wrong. When we have truly repented, the result is a changed life.
We forsake our former ways and thoughts and return to the Lord. We first repent when we receive the prompting from the Holy Spirit and ask God to live in us. We are saved by the grace of God, and then we confess our sins, ask for forgiveness or repent, and begin our walk of faith with The Father. As we grow in grace we long to have a closer relationship with Christ. We truly want to please Him and have His will done in our lives. God hates sin so as Christians we don’t want sin to stand between us and our Father. John chapter 1 tells us that we cannot mix light and darkness and expect to have fellowship with our Father. We desire to have that close relationship with Him so we repent of our sins. The heavy price for all of our sins was paid on the cross and once we have salvation we can never lose it, but we can lose our fellowship with God by having unresolved sin in our lives.
Revelation 3 tells us “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline so be earnest and repent. I stand at the door and knock if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” In other words when God convicts our hearts of sin we repent and are in right fellowship with Him.
Why are we told to confess our sins? Before we tackle this topic let’s make a distinction between relationship and fellowship with God. Relationship with God begins at salvation and refers to our position of “sonship”. It brings complete and eternal forgiveness of all of our sins. Fellowship refers to our daily walk with the Father as His children. We don’t cease being sons or daughters when we transgress, but sin hinders our fellowship and enjoyment of Him. Isaiah 59 tells us that our iniquities separate us from God and our sins hide His face from us. The only remedy that makes our restoration of fellowship with God possible is confession. What is confession? The Greek word is homologeo, which means “to speak the same thing”. It’s having the same perspective God has about our sin, acknowledging that we have violated His will. In confession, we assume full responsibility for our failing and name it specifically. When are we to confess?
Confession is to be made immediately upon conviction by the Holy Spirit. If we delay and let our sins accumulate, we may experience our Father’s loving but painful discipline. In Psalm 32 David tells us about the Lord’s heavy hand upon him when he resisted confession and then the blessings that came after he acknowledged his sin. How are we to confess?
We do not need to beg or plead with God but instead come to Him in faith, believing that He will forgive us. The apostle John gives us two of God’s attributes as proof: First, God is faithful and can be trusted to do what He has promised. Second, He is just in forgiving us because Christ is our Advocate, who has paid for our sin in full.
We must recognize our vulnerabilities. As Christians we sometimes see a fellow believer fall into sin failing to acknowledge that we too could stumble. This is very dangerous because at that point Satan has us right where he wants us: deceived by a false sense of confidence. In life there are three enemies that are always at work trying to bring us down; they are the devil, his world system, and our own treacherous flesh. Even though as believers we have a righteous standing before God, Paul tells us in Romans that we must acknowledge an internal problem “sin which dwells in me”. Satan takes full advantage of this weakness, luring us with worldly and fleshly temptations. He stokes our egos so we become unaware of our own vulnerability to sin.
We need to be continually on guard because strategies of the enemy and our own weakness set us up for failure. We must not be careless in our thinking. Anytime we excuse, redefine, or rationalize sin, we have lost our sensitivity to God. His word must always be in our hearts and minds, and direct our steps. If we realize that we have drifted from the Lord we must turn back to Him by acknowledging our sin and accepting responsibility for it. Repentance means changing our mind and going in a different direction. Toward God, instead of away from Him. Repentance is necessary in a believer’s life and we see this critical truth in l John 1:9 where we are told “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins”. You may think the word repentance isn’t in that verse, but let’s take a closer look. Remember, “To repent” simply means a change of mind.
For unbelievers, this refers to saving faith, that is, the decision to place trust in Jesus and ask Him into your heart. But for Christians, repentance involves a change of heart with regard to behavior or attitude. We must make a decision to lead an obedient, Christ like life. In l John the word “confess” originally means “agree with”. In other words, if we confess our wrongdoings to God we are coming into agreement with Him about that sin and, in turn disagreeing with our previous view. In this repentance isn’t a matter of salvation; rather, it means allowing our Father to continually reform our minds, molding us more and more into the image of His Son. God absolutely hates sin. So when we agree with Him about sin, then we are changing our minds about the disobedience in our lives. Thoughts, attitudes, and actions that once seemed perfectly natural will no longer fit with who we are. As God continues to work in our lives, our minds will gradually reject old thought patterns, and we will agree more closely with His way of thinking. This gives us closer fellowship with Him and allows Him to bless us more abundantly.
One of the best examples of repentance in the Bible can be found in the parable of the prodigal son. There were two brothers, the younger brother asked for his inheritance early so that he could live as he chose. Once the father gave him his share, the young man made many unwise choices that led to hunger and destitution. What happened next illustrates the principles of godly repentance. After squandering all of his money, the wayward son found work feeding pigs, a bottom of the barrel kind of job. One day he came to his senses and recognized his terrible plight. His repentance began with an awareness of his wrong choices and the fact that his horrible situation was due to those choices. Knowing that his difficulties came from unrighteous behavior, the prodigal grieved over his mistakes and acknowledged his sin. He declared he was no longer worthy to be his father’s son. Godly sorrow and confession led the young man to leave that place and go home. His repentance was made complete when he turned away from his old ways and returned to his father. The Lord likewise calls us to repent and return to Him. What a welcome the prodigal son received. Upon seeing him, the father was filled with compassion and ran to embrace him.
Forgiveness and acceptance were extended to the son. Both of these blessings God freely offers to whoever asks Him. The prodigal son did not clean himself up before returning home to his father. He simply left his old life, turned toward home, and trusted in his father’s mercy. No matter where we are in life our heavenly Father calls us to repent and we will have his forgiveness when we turn from our self centered ways and move toward godliness. This puts us back into perfect fellowship with Him.
Repentance is simultaneously a summons to change and a gift of God. Behind the call to repent stands the promise of forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a new relationship with the Father for unbelievers. For believers it is a promise that our sins are forgiven and a closer relationship with our Father. The result is a progressive letting go of old ways and a putting on of Christ like attitudes, thought patterns, and behaviors. This is sanctification. Many of us have found ourselves repeatedly confessing the same sin to God, wondering why we can’t overcome it. At times like these we feel trapped. Paul tells us in Romans 7 “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate”. But we know from John that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us, but merely confessing may not bring us victory. What is missing?
What will help us break this cycle? The missing link is genuine repentance. Again we know that repentance is heartfelt sorrow for sin, followed by a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ. It’s not merely feeling remorse or guilt but changing direction. It includes a recognition that sin is against almighty God and is utterly wrong. When we have truly repented the result is a change of direction. We forsake our former ways and return to fellowship with the Lord. Sin does not fit in our lives because God has predestined that we “become conformed to the image of His Son”. Whenever we sin the indwelling Holy Spirit convicts us so we can confess and repent. We should never ignore, tolerate, accept, or practice what we know to be sinful.
It not only offends God, but also hurts us. Confession means agreeing with God that what we did was wrong. But that alone will not keep us from repeating it.
That’s why repentance should always be part of confession. We are called to live a sanctified life, one that is set apart for God and His purposes. Confession and repentance are an important part of sanctification. Christ not only forgives us but continually works to cleanse us to make our lives different and to restore fellowship with Him. He makes it possible to put away the sin and return to Him.
Now lastly, let’s go on a little trip using our GPS to get us to where we need to be. Have you ever noticed that the trip home from a vacation seems to take twice as long as the trip to your destination? Of course that isn’t really the case but after a fun family vacation you know that the six-hour trip is certain to feel a lot longer. However once you get in the car and hit the “Go Home” button on your GPS you zero in on getting to the end of the journey as quickly as possible. But along the way hunger pangs overtake your plan so you veer off the highway toward the closest fast food restaurant, barely
swerving onto the exit ramp when the voice of your GPS barks: “Recalculating. Recalculating.” Usually after that annoying announcement, the unit will quickly offer an alternate route, but this time it doesn’t. Instead it just keeps pestering you to turn around and go back the way you had come. You do not realize it until you have your food and are back on the highway that the persistent GPS isn’t getting you back to the quickest way home. This is a great illustration of an important spiritual principle. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians “Godly sorrow brings repentance and leaves no regret.” With God we have absolute forgiveness for all sins. There’s not anything that you have done that the blood of Jesus cannot cover. His finished work on the cross is that powerful, and that complete. But to consistently walk in godliness there are times when believers need to repent. Repentance isn’t a popular word in today’s society. It seems rather archaic in our “do whatever you want” world. But the truth is that repentance is an essential discipline for maintaining a strong commitment to God.
So let’s use our trip off the highway as an outline for the steps necessary to complete repentance: First, recognize- As we headed down the off ramp our GPS (everyone thinks that is global positioning satellite but it really is God’s Pardoning System) instantly alerted us we were off track. The Holy Spirit, our conscience, and the Word of God are in constant operation to warn us when we stray off the path of righteousness. The quicker we acknowledge our error, the faster we’ll be able to get back to where we need to be, and the less time we’ll have wasted wandering from our destination. Next, decide. Not only do we have to recognize that we were off track, we also had to decide what to do about it. The biggest and most important part of repentance is a decision. It isn’t enough to just know that we are off course, or to even feel bad about it. We have to hear what God says about where we are headed and then, consciously and deliberately, agree that He is right. And lastly, return.
Once we agreed that our GPS was right, the next obvious step was to actually make that U-turn and head back in the other direction. Action is the last part of genuine repentance, but many people keep going in the wrong direction, failing to take this final’ step. They have real remorse over their decisions and may even believe that God knows best, but they never really take that U-turn, the necessary actions to get back onto His right path. While dealing with sin is uncomfortable, remember that restoration almost always happens at the point of departure. Are you off track in your life somewhere? With God’s help, think through your current position clearly. Have you decided that His way is the right way? And are you ready to return to Him? Remember to always use your GPS -God’s Pardoning System to put you back on the right path because His path will always be the most direct and safest route to where you really want to be.