The Need For and Joy of True Repentance
As Christianity has devolved further and further from the purity of the organic design of the first century Church it has become more and more mechanized.
Mechanization is a process wherein intricate actions are studied and broken down to their simplest components so that they can be done mindlessly….by machines. As this happened in the textile industry, for example, the beauty of individually inspired rugs was all but lost and has been replaced by mass produced ones. They just don’t represent the creativity of individually created ones; these rugs no longer mean as much as they used to mean.
In the Church this “mechanization” has negatively affected holy ideas. It seems that words like love, faith, commitment, belief…have all but lost their flavor in Christian teaching and this trickles down to how individuals live. The people suffer for it. In my own Christian experience I have been given minimal definitions for these words because, I imagine, the seminaries taught the leaders those definitions.
This is costing the body of Christ dearly.
The word and the idea that is on my heart today is “repentance.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have been told from a pulpit that repentance is merely “turning around.” The true meaning of repentance is an incredibly rich concept from God, yet my observation after 20 years of ministering in the counseling realm is that because of overly simplistic teaching in the Church the people misunderstand the word. When they hear this shallow definition of “repentance” they believe that when they repent it means that they merely stop doing what they are doing and they simply do something else.
In other words, satan’s desire that Christians (spiritual beings temporarily housed in physical bodies) live as mere physical beings is actually being aided by how Biblical concepts are taught and modeled.
When a person is practicing something that God considers to be sin, it is important to understand why sin is sin. We would all agree that sin is evil. Did you know that the Hebrew and Greek words translated to “evil” both mean “harmful?” This tells us that “sin” is hurtful to people and THAT is why God labels so many actions as “sin.” He designed us; He knows what we can do that will hurt ourselves or others. These are considered to be sin by Him.
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…” (John 16:7-8)
One huge reason the Lord’s plan included sending His Holy Spirit to dwell within our human spirits was to convict us. The word “convict” means, among other things, “to admonish” or “to tell a fault.” Why would it be necessary for God the Holy Spirit to tell us what we are doing? It is necessary because most sin has such a strong physical component that we lose track of spiritual realities when we are practicing them. God convicts us in order to redirect our focus back to Him and His beliefs about what is good.
When satan tempts us to do something we know is wrong he basically teaches us that ii is not wrong at all. Often he teaches us that the sin he dangles out before us as an option is really something that makes sense to do….or that is even necessary to do, considering our circumstances. If we are weak enough in Christ, satan can actually get us do to virtually anything if conditions seem to warrant it.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” (Psalm 32:8) – (God speaking)
“…when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13a)
Christians have the Holy Spirit actively living within us so that we will be equipped to hear His voice and benefit from His guidance. Satan cannot as easily lead us astray if we can hear the Holy Spirit as He tries to guide us into deeper healing, growth and establishment in Christ. Every Christian can hear the Spirit’s voice (but many have been erroneously taught that God no longer speaks outside of the Bible.)
Since we are all growing and since we have all been tutored by satan our entire lives (Ephesians 2:2 – we were subject to ‘the prince of the power of the air”) we do sin. When Christians sin we, as we saw in John16:7-8, are convicted by the Holy Spirit of that sin. However, many of us never sense that and if we do, we tend to receive that conviction as condemnation instead of what it really is: the discipline of a loving Father.
“…you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "my son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:5-7 NASB)
Misinterpreting God’s loving discipline as condemnation often causes Christians to be led further into sin, seeking comfort from it instead of seeking comfort from the Lord. Can you imagine how much this must delight the devil? When this happens to a Christian he is effectively being controlled by his worst enemy and is being used against himself for his own destruction.
I am writing this to be an encouragement to us all, since we all sin.
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
When we feel the pangs of guilt as the Holy Spirit convicts us this is a signal that we are doing something to harm ourselves. This is meant to be a re-direct of our focus off our tempter and our sin and back onto our Lord Jesus Christ. The first step in repentance, then, is to begin to think differently about what we are doing.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
The second step is to stop the sin and replace it with a different action. Every action we do toward God is an act of worship and confessing to another Christian is one of these. Our enemy, satan, hates confession of sin because he works best in the dark and does not want the things done in the darkness of our hearts to be brought to the light. Christians, though, are all about the light.
“…you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
When we become accountable to another Christian and confess our sins to that person we tend to stop sinning that way. However, this is not the full meaning of repentance.
In the New Testament the Greek word “metanoia” is translated as “repentance”. It does not mean to merely change one’s physical behavior. The Holy Spirit convicts us causing us to experience godly sorrow. Sorrow is unpleasant and many in the culture of our day consider anything uncomfortable to be bad; but godly sorrow is a delicious gift from the Lord. Why would I say such a thing? The apostle Paul, speaking to the Corinthians said this to them:
“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)
Sorrow that comes from the Lord is designed to provoke a repentance without regret. This sorrow flows out of the human spirit, where the Holy Spirit of God dwells in Christians, and into the human soul. The person’s emotions feel this sorrow and this causes repentance. True repentance (metanoia) means to “change one’s mind”!
True repentance means that we stop thinking about the sin as we were taught by satan to think about it: as something good and worth doing because of the situation. Instead we begin to agree with our Designer, God, about the sin and choose to think that it is harmful, wrong to do and an offense against ourselves and Him.
What led me to write this article now is that I get to see a lot from the vantage point God has given me in the body of Christ. One distressing development I have seen is that many of us are falling prey to temptation to practice grievous sin. Sin will always happen but what I’m talking about is when Christians are successfully led by their enemy to make certain sins their lifestyle.
“In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also…” (John 14:2-3)
The word “place” literally means “a realm or a position” in God’s Kingdom. When our sins become a lifestyle we begin to risk losing something precious: the “places” handpicked by God for us. This is a tragic thing.
Since we are all one in Christ, if another Christian is practicing sin as a lifestyle it is a sin that affects every other Christian. Therefore, it is our business to address it. Jesus told us what to do when we see a brother or sister who is in this trap:
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
In my time in ministry I have seen basically four responses to this difficult, yet loving Biblical confrontation when it is practiced. Doing any of these responses is the right of any Christian – we will always retain the right to repent or to stay in sin.
The saddest is for the one(s) ensnared in sin to pull completely away from the body of Christ and, therefore, go further from Jesus and deeper into the sinful lifestyle. Eventually these become shipwrecked in their faith (1 Timothy 1:19) if they never truly repent.
Some hide their sin and take advantage of the damage satan has done to the Church as he caused it to be fragmented into thousands of separated denominations in the world and dozens of autonomous congregations in any one geographical area. They simply leave where they are in fellowship and move to another franchise where they and their sinful lifestyle are not known.
Since most of these are fairly impersonal groups in which they will never really be known, they punch in and out on Sundays and Wednesdays and go home to their sinful lifestyle with the church leaders being none the wiser. This is not repentance. This is deception in the form of a religious disguise and it keeps the one in sin.
3. Some merely change their circumstances which simply renders the old sinful behavior unnecessary. For instance, if a person is working somewhere that doesn’t pay much and he steals regularly from his employer, justifying that he wouldn’t have to
steal if he was paid what he was worth, he is practicing a lifestyle of sin. The justification does not nullify the sin.
Let’s say he gets a new job that pays him what he needs so he doesn’t steal from the new employer but he never confesses his sin and he never agrees with God that his previous lifestyle sin was wrong to do. He has not repented; he is merely practicing behavior modification. (Sadly, this is what most of the Church has been taught as repentance.)
4. Finally and gloriously, some choose to truly repent. These are those who have a heart for God. They embrace the pain of conviction. They receive those who bravely come to them and confront, in love, their sin. They do so because they share the Lord’s humility. They mourn with godly sorrow what has been revealed to them about themselves and their sin. Finally, they repent and choose to agree with God that what they thought
was good…was really sin and, therefore, was really hurtful to themselves, their brothers and sisters in Christ and God. Then,
their behavior changes because their hearts have changed first.
This is true repentance.
I have found that there are some very tangible positive effects to true repentance:
1. When we begin to see things more and more God’s way, which is what repentance is really about, the downward spiral away from Jesus ceases and we become less susceptible to sinning that way or worse.
2. This lowers satan’s success at tempting us in other ways.
3. Whether we realize it or not or even value it or not, the fellowship of other Christians is lost through lifestyle sin and it is a crucial element of our healthy walk with Christ. In true and visible repentance Christian fellowship is restored.
4. We may regain the trust of other Christians that was squandered
in the process. (This is not guaranteed. Remember: initial trust
is a gift; regained trust must be earned.)
5. We may not lose or may even win back seemingly lost "places”. This is always God’s choice. After all, He IS the King
and this IS His Kingdom.
“…Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2)
“Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…” (Matthew 3:8)
“Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him…” (Luke 17:3-4)
“Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19)
I pray this has been an encouragement to you.
“…glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” (Romans 2:10-11)
Pastor Mike McInerney
Mike McInerney Ministries, Inc.
© March 12, 2012