Genuine Repentance

It was the first thing John proclaimed when he began his ministry of preparing the way for the coming of Jesus: “Repent!” And it is still true: when God’s Spirit first makes us aware of our broken and fallen condition, we come to realize that the only way forward is to turn around. Repentance is the necessary first step to enter the Kingdom of God.
 
But repentance is not just the first step in our spiritual journey; it is our constant companion along the way. Because we so consistently sin and fail, there is a constant need to repent, not only with God but also with one another. In fact, the healthiest relationships involve a lot of confessing and repenting and forgiving.
 
But not everything that looks like repentance actually is genuine repentance. We’ve all heard enough celebrity “apologies” to know that sometimes what is presented as repentance is sometimes only a cloying substitute; sometimes it’s nothing more than blame-shifting and excuse-making and comparison. For myself, I noticed that it’s easy to lie to myself, to tell myself that I am repenting when I’m only doing what is necessary to manage my guilt and mitigate the consequences of my actions.
 
What does genuine repentance look like? I heard it said once that genuine repentance involves two steps: confessing and renouncing.
 
When we confess, we are calling our sin what it is and abandoning excuses. To confess wrongdoing to God or to someone I’ve offended, I must describe my actions and my character in unflinchingly realistic terms. I strip off the varnish of self-respect and own up not only to what I’ve done but also to the character defect behind it. I will speak of being impatient or self-absorbed or careless or arrogant; I will admit that I jumped to conclusions, that I didn’t listen carefully, that I wasn’t actually honest. The person I’ve offended (God or man) already knows these things about me. I am only acknowledging what we both know to be true. When I confess, I own up to my guilt without excuse.
 
It's true that when we confess our sin to one another, restoration may not happen immediately. If our offense is deep or long-standing, it may take a long time to rebuild a broken relationship with a brother or sister. But this is not true with God; He is eager to restore our broken fellowship when come to Him in humility and repentance. Think of His glorious promise! “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). So long as we refuse to frankly acknowledge and admit our sin before God this is a promise that is out of our reach.
 
But if we think we’re finished with repentance when we confess, we deceive ourselves. We have not actually repented until we renounce our sin. Jesus used the language of hyperbole to describe what it means to renounce our sin: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30). Notwithstanding history’s long, sad testimony of half-blinded and one-handed men who have taken him literally, Jesus wasn’t speaking of actually maiming ourselves. But he was telling us to be ruthless with our sin and with the opportunity to return to it. For me to renounce sin is to regard it with loathing, to put as much distance as possible between me and it. So long as I allow myself the luxury of flirting with temptation, I am not renouncing my sin.
 
Sure, there are easier ways to “repent.” I can layer my confession with dignity-saving caveats. And I can keep temptation on speed-dial. But until I confess my sin (call my sin what it actually is) and renounce my sin (treat it with the hatred and contempt it deserves), my repentance is nothing more than window-dressing.
 
God give us the grace to recognize our sin and to repent: to acknowledge our sin in genuine confession and to renounce it decisively.    

Persevere,
Paul Pyle
Discipleship Pastor