Zion will be restored by justice; those who repent will be revived by righteousness. Isaiah 1:27
How do you repent?
Maybe that’s too much of a question. Maybe I should start with do you repent? The truth is that if you’re a follower of Jesus you should be repenting. Often.
The Bible calls us to be a people of repentance. We are expected, when we sin, to repent or turn away from our sin. We are expected to seek forgiveness from God and express sorrow for our wrong doing. The goal is to restore relationship where sin has broken it down. The harsh reality is that sinning doesn’t stop when we become Christ followers, so neither should our repentance.
I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality. Revelation 2:21
So again, my question for you to consider is: how do you repent?
I’m becoming acutely aware of just how critical this question is to our lives. It may mean the difference between chasing after moralism or falling at the feet of a grace-giving Jesus. It may determine if we live a life of religiosity or one with true heart transformation. Are we becoming more like Christ or merely struggling in futility to experience any power of the gospel in our lives?
Here’s the deal. Most of us—when we repent—repent only of behavior. This pushes us away from the real power of repentance that leads to life transformation. Let’s use gossip as an example and hopefully I can express it in a way that will make sense.
If we catch ourselves gossiping we know that we should repent of the act of gossiping.
“Father, please forgive me for gossiping. I know I shouldn’t do that. Help me not to.”
After all, the Bible says, don’t gossip and I just did, so what I did was wrong. I should behave differently. So, I am sorry for what I did. Right?
Right…to a certain degree. I’m not saying we shouldn’t seek forgiveness for behavior—not at all. I’m just concerned that this is usually where we stop. Here’s the problem with stopping at the behavior: it doesn’t deal with the why.
Why does the Bible tells us not to gossip? Why did I just gossip?
If we never answer the “why” then we’ve turned the life transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ into a list of do’s and don’ts. And do’s and don’ts have no power to change our hearts or make us into new creations. So what happens? I constantly live in this cycle of gossip and repentance. Gossip and repentance. Gossip and repentance. As well as a cycle of guilt and powerlessness. Instead of getting better—instead of being changed—we just find ourselves continually back on the same trail, repeating the same wrongs, finding no victory.
Because something deeper than the behavior is going on; something more than just how we act. I am convinced that behind every sinful behavior there is a false belief or understanding about God. And these false beliefs—these lies—influence how we live, the choices we make and the way we relate to others. Often times they are beliefs we would say we don’t have and certainly don’t want to have! But our behavior shows the truth about what we do believe.
What does habitual gossiping say about our beliefs?
Maybe it says that we don’t really believe that being made in God’s image makes everyone equally valuable. Maybe it says that we believe ourselves to be better than others. Maybe it says we believe that it’s justifiable to judge others behind their backs. Or is it that we believe we aren’t very valuable ourselves and so the only way to hide that is to bring others down? It could be saying something about our misunderstanding for relationships.
It could mean a myriad of things and if we don’t get at the why; if we don’t dig down into the sin behind the sin, we will just find ourselves repeating the same patterns over and over again. Or, in the event we find some way to curb that behavior through guilt or circumstantial manipulation, we’ll just find other behaviors coming into our lives, other expressions of sin, that at their root have the same “why”.
Last night at our church the small group leaders (we call them community groups) gathered together. The topic of exploration? What does it look like to repent well? How do we repent in a way that doesn’t reduce our faith to moralism and religious rule keeping? How do we embrace gospel transformation in our actions and behaviors?
Tomorrow I’m hoping to unpack more of what we discovered and share what it looks like to uncover and repent of the sin behind the sin. There is powerful implications for understanding the process of repentance better and for looking into how we should be digging deeper with repentance. I’m looking forward to sharing more with you! For today, I’m simply hoping you’ll consider the question:
How do you repent?
My fear is that most of us don’t bring any intentionality to this part of our lives. Because of that, we may not really be transformed by the Jesus on a regular basis.