A Sinner's Guide To Repentance
“…The entire life of believers is to be one of repentance”
Martin Luther, Ninety-Five Theses
It’s one thing to follow Jesus closely when you feel like you are faithful, but what do you do when you realize that even your faithfulness is filled with mixed motives and pride? In those moments we usually try to fill in the gap with our own record of “goodness”, and instead we need to repent and believe the gospel (it’s all about his faithfulness not our own). At New Valley we point out that repentance means to do a “180”, and to “turn around.” But what does that look like in real life?
How do we repent?
1. Own it
2. Name it
4. Run to Jesus
1. Own it
You own it when blame shifting ends. We blame shift when we blame something, or someone else for why we did what we did. We shift the blame off of ourselves and divert it off of ourselves. “I may have done that but let me tell you who is really at fault.” “I may have done that but let me tell you about the real culprit.”
You own it when you quit using the word, “but”. When you say, “Yes, what I did was wrong, but if you had my family …” “Yes, it was wrong, but if you knew my circumstances …” “But she did this …” “But he did this …” Do you know what the “but” means? It means you don’t own it-not really. This is the first step and you won’t have healthy relationships with God and others until you start to your own fallen-ness, brokenness and sin. But this is just the first step-we can’t stop here.
2. Name it
We have a tendency to focus on our external problems only (anxiety, anger, lying, lust etc) but it’s important for us to go deeper in our repentance!
Tim Keller writes (nearly everything I have learned about repentance has been through Tim’s preaching and writing ministry):
“Every time you sin what you’re saying is, “I want that throne back. I don’t want you to be ruling over me. I want the mastery. Give me that crown. Get to the margins of my life. I’ll let you know when I need you.” Every time you decide, “I’ll lie,” every time you decide, “I’ll break this or that commandment. I know it’s probably not right, but …”When you do that, you’re denying him and you’re pushing him to the margins. You’re not just doing something behaviorally. You’re playing God: self-righteousness, being your own Savior; self-will, being your own boss; self-centeredness, living for your own glory. This is what Jesus is saying is the real thing. Christian repentance always means not just looking at the behavior, but saying, “How is this sin really simply some form of me pushing God out of the center of my life?”
When we moved to Phoenix to plant New Valley I began to see that I was more anxious than I should be. I would worry, “Where will the people come from? How will we ever have enough resources? How will that person be helped? How will that problem get solved?” I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding, and then I would lie awake for the rest of the night. Over the years God began to shown me that my real problem with anxiety and control is that it is an example of me pushing God to the margins of my life. I say that I believe God is in control of my life with my mouth, but functionally I was living as if that wasn’t true. I was looking to my ability, my resources, and not focusing on who God is and what he is able to do. There is power in unmasking your real problem and naming it! My problem isn’t that I worry from time to time-it’s much worse. My problem is that I keep trying to get back on the throne and play God. I’m an idolater and I’m worshipping me. Ouch!!! Now, that I have named the real problem, the blame shifting stops and the real problem is unmasked.
3. Grieve it
The Bible says that there are two kinds of grief-worldly and godly.
2 Corinthians 7:10: "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death."
Just because you grieve and are sad about sin doesn’t mean that you actually have healthy grief. As you look at your sin you can either grieve about what the sin has cost you, or you can grieve over what it cost your savior. You can grieve what it is doing to you, or you can grieve over what it is doing to others. One is grief over the consequence of the sin, and the other is sorrow over the sin itself-true sorrow. One is self-pity, and the other is repentance.
4. Run to Jesus
The process of repentance isn’t actually completed until you go to Jesus! We have to own it, name it, and properly grieve it, but until we run to Jesus we still don’t believe the gospel. Repentance has to be joined with faith that Christ is my salvation. In Luke 5 we find Jesus calling his first disciples to follow him-they were fisherman. They had been fishing all night and caught nothing, and yet Jesus told them to cast their nets out one more time. Peter did so indignantly, and when the experienced the miraculous catch of fish he realized he was in the presence of holiness. He realized that he was sinful and that Jesus was holy and his response was to run away from Jesus.
Luke 5:8: "But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
But in John 21 the same thing happened again. Jesus had been raised from the dead and Peter is plagued with guilt having denied his lord three separate times. Peter told Jesus that even if all the other disciples denied him, he never would even if he had to die with Christ. But he did deny Jesus. In his despondence and shame Peter went fishing again. Jesus saw him and the others on the shore and told them to cast their nets again. But this time when Peter realized it was Jesus he jumped in the water and swam to him! Peter was covered with guilt, but he knew his healing was in Jesus not in running away from him.
If you are going to follow Jesus and walk with him as a disciple,
you have to know where to go with your sin!
When you see the depth of your sin where do you go? Is your first flinch to flee from Christ to run to him? If you are running away you don’t believe the gospel enough yet! In Luke 5:8 Peter was a moralist-a religious person who was trying to earn his righteousness. But in John 21 Peter shows us what Christian repentance and faith looks like.
When we see our sin and own it we need to run to the foot of the cross and say, “It’s not through what I do for you, but by what you have done for me! You lived for me and you died for me! I want you in the center of my life! You are my Lord!”
The great hymm, “Come ye sinners poor and needy” says this:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, Weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity, love and power.
Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome, God’s free bounty glorify; True belief and true repentance, Every grace that brings you nigh.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden, Lost and ruined by the fall; If you tarry till you’re better, You will never come at all.
I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms; In the arms of my dear Savior, O there are ten thousand charms.
I want you imagine how healthy your relationship with God and others can be if you practice repentance in this way? Can you imagine how freeing this would be in your marriage? Can you imagine the health this will bring to your children as you parent them? Think how your friends will respond if you quit blame shifting and own your sin! Think of how free you’ll feel knowing that you can always run to Jesus even if you have denied him like Peter did!
Repent, and believe the gospel (again and again and again)!