Luther’s first thesis, written in Latin and translated and nailed to the heavy oak door of the Church in Wittenberg declares assertively and unambiguously, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”
We can’t get away from that truth. All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners is not merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of our walk with God. Repentance is our continual posture. An absolutely essential part of that posture is our understanding of the critical role that the astonishing good news of the gospel has in bringing hope, courage and determination to our heart.
Few Christians are instructed on what exactly it means to repent of their sin, or even how to pray, never mind how to actually pray about it. It can be easy for people to quickly rush through the idea of repentance, only to find themselves suddenly caught up in the web of sin again. Constant repentance without a real understanding of what repentance is about, can lead to frustration and heart-ache.
Leaders struggle too…
At this point some have even despaired about their sinful behaviour to the point of giving up on God and walking away from their precious faith.i The writer to the Hebrews thought that repentance was something that the Church should have grasped quickly and were ready to move on to other things, (Hebrews 6:1) but sadly it is a truth that has to be relaid as a foundation in christian lives, again and again. Including in the lives and ministries of leaders. No-one is exempt.
Let’s unpack some things and allow the gospel to tear down the ‘web’ that sometimes can entangle us.
Remember before we go any further, that it was whilst we were in DEAD our TRESPASSES, that Christ died for us. (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13) our mistake is to think that having started off in the Spirit with our sin, guilt, shame removed by the atoning work of Christ’s blood shed on the cross for us, that acceptance with God is now down to our own efforts. (Galatians 3:3)
Undeniably one of the greatest things that the Spirit of God brings to our heart is conviction. Having a conviction of sin is a blessing!
Conviction of sin is one of the most uncommon things that ever happens to a person. It is the beginning of an understanding of God. The very work of the Spirit of conviction demonstrates to us that the work of God continues in our heart – we are daily learning how to walk in righteousness and holiness before God, Where we are off the mark the Spirit comes to shepherd us back to God. Christ shed His blood for us, and we are precious to Him. As we learn to make Jesus the magnificent treasure of our heart he watches over us jealously. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict people of sin (John 16:8). When the Holy Spirit stirs a person’s conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not that person’s relationship with others that bothers him but his relationship with God— “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight…” (Psalm 51:4).
The wonders of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven person who is truly holy. He proves he is forgiven by being the opposite of what he was previously, by the grace of God. That encounter is called repentance. And it will happen often.
A significant change of mind
Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, “I have sinned.” The surest sign that God is at work in his life is when he says that and means it.
Anything less is simply sorrow for having made foolish mistakes— a reflex action caused by self-disgust.
The entrance into the kingdom of God is through the sharp, sudden pains of repentance colliding with man’s respectable “goodness.” Then the Holy Spirit, who produces these struggles, begins the formation of the Son of God in the person’s life (see Galatians 4:19). This new life will reveal itself in conscious repentance followed by unconscious holiness, never the other way around.
The foundation of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a person cannot repent when he chooses— repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for “the gift of tears.” If you ever cease to understand the value of repentance, you allow yourself to remain in sin. Examine yourself to see if you have forgotten how to be truly repentant.
You must not take chances…
Expect to be tempted. Jesus even taught us to pray daily that not only would we be delivered from the evil one, but that we would be spared temptation. If you are going to live a life that honours God, and is a life worthy of Christ then you are going to have to be wise. Don’t flirt with sin and temptation. Be ruthless about the way that you deal with sin. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you for your obedience and commitment to walking in holiness.
If you are struggling with temptation ask God to help you change your way of thinking and turn 180 degrees from what is the very fleeting pleasures of sin that lead to shame, embarrassment and despair. You have to ask God for help – don’t think you are going to overcome by yourself. Leaders are no more special than any others, temptation comes to all. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) If you don’t take these things seriously you will be tempted when you are dragged away by your own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15) It is really serious stuff!
Repentanceii at its heart means to change your mind, your direction, your focus and to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And then to run with perseverance the race marked out for you, (Hebrews 12:1)
Back to Luther. You will sometimes fall to the same sin and it will be accompanied by the discouragement that here you are once again, repenting about the same issues as before, but as ever, if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1) We need to encourage ourselves with the truth of scripture that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Like someone who crashes a diet, they go back to the diet straight away, we also repent and come back to God.
Sometimes you need to talk to someone and have them pray with you, mentor you, watch over you and help you.
There are so many things written in scripture encouraging you to remain faithful to the Lord. You have to work hard at repentance, but the Spirit who has begun a good work in you, will complete it. Your part is to cooperate with Him, praying through some of the things mentioned here – and asking for wisdom to have its work in your life, developing the fruit of the Spirit in your life – which is the Character of God.
God bless you in your radical pursuit of Him – and never give up.
If you want to read some wonderful news turn to Romans 8.
- Consider the foolishness of this! Rather than deal with their sin constructively, some people elect to walk away from God, and turn their back on heaven! It is not as black and white as that, but it can be what it amounts to – this is really serious, and there is a Christ-exalting answer. (back)
- In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב shuv (to return) and נחם nacham (to feel sorrow). In the New Testament, the word translated as ‘repentance’ is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), “after/behind one’s mind”, which is a compound word of the preposition ‘meta’ (after, with), and the verb ‘noeo’ (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by ‘after’ and ‘different’; so that the whole compound means: ‘to think differently after’.” – Wikipedia (back)