The Lost Discipline of Repentance

Holiness takes a back seat when we stubbornly protect our pet sins. 

As Christ-followers, we need to “own up” to our sins and repent so we can move forward in confidence, power and purity. We need hearts disciplined by true repentance.

There’s a lot of confusion about repentance today. People don’t like that word. But there’s a New
Testament passage that pictures repentance without using the word.

James 4:1-10 opens with a call to submit to God, which is necessary because so many desires battle within us for control. It’s a battle with serious consequences. 

James says friendship with the world—a heart that embraces worldly attitudes and actions—is akin to “enmity” against God! But God gives us grace for our struggles, and He blesses those who are willing to humble themselves and submit to His Word, will and ways.  

It’s impossible to be holy—in the practical sense—and proud at the same time.

Although this is not a repentance “formula,” some key action words in this passage are part of the daily discipline of biblical submission and repentance.

1. SUBMIT to God (v. 7).
Sinful attitudes and actions begin with rebellion against God, though we may not recognize it as such. Pride tells us we know better than God, we are sufficient in ourselves (and many other lies). We might picture submission as our lives bowed before the Creator and Lord, pliable in His hands.

2. RESIST the Devil (v. 7).
We go the opposite direction from wickedness. We shun it. We run from it!

This is the “turning” of repentance, an active, deliberate choice. 

To repent is to see God’s holiness and His holy standard, recognize our sins—acts of commission as well as things we’ve left undone in disobedience—and to turn away from them. 

3. COME NEAR to God (v. 8).
We need to draw near so God’s Spirit can expose our hearts . . . the secret things, the sins we commit in ignorance. The sins we rationalize. 

Just as in an honest, loving marriage, a spouse can help us recognize and confront our blind spots, the Spirit of God desires to help us in our weakness. 

The Spirit's exposure of our deepest sins is an act of love, because He desires to make us more like Jesus. Verse 8 gives us the promise, when we draw near to the Lord, He will draw near to us.

4. WASH your hands . . . PURIFY your hearts (v. 8).
“Washing hands,” spiritually, is recognizing and dealing with the daily sins that pollute everything in our lives. Although we are positionally clean before God in the sense of Him seeing us “in Christ,” the daily pollution of sin that comes from our flesh, rubbing shoulders with the world, and our enemy, Satan, will continue to affect us until we are home in heaven. 

But it’s not just about the works of our hands—what we do. All sin begins in the heart, and our hearts are “deceitfully wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). We are sinners at heart—sinners saved by God’s grace—who need to focus on holiness each day. There is no room for double-mindedness if we desire to be holy.

5. GRIEVE over sin (v. 9).
Repentance does not take sin lightly. It realizes all sin, at the core, is hard set against God. Whether our grieving over sin is quiet sorrow in the soul or accompanied by many tears—verse 9 suggests there may even be mourning and wailing!—it must be sincere. 

But this is not penance. Grieving over sin is simply understanding sin is still present with us, acknowledging how it is affects us and our relationship with God and others, sorrowing over its continuing presence and impact, and longing for the day when we will be set free from its presence and influence forever.

6. HUMBLE YOURSELVES before the Lord (v 10).
And we come back to where we started. With Humility. Submission. 

When we are truly humble before God, we understand we are nothing without Him. We understand what Jesus meant when He said, “… without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We cannot be holy without God’s intervention. The Lord and His Word are our only sources of power and provision in dealing with sinful desires and habits. 

When we repent and believe, saying "Yes!" to the Gospel, we become a child of God. It's a total change in perspective meant to change our desires and lifestyle. We have a new Love . . . and new loves (like holiness).

“You have to love something and be passionate for it to be disciplined.” 

Golf legend Jack Nicolas was referring, in a television interview, to the need for self-discipline in the game of golf. But when I heard those words, I thought, “Yes, I have to love holiness and be passionate for it if I ever hope to discipline my life toward holiness.”
The discipline of repentance recognizes the presence of specific sins that keep tripping us up, and our great need for Jesus' grace every day. 
Repentance is not about regrets, more will-power or drowning in guilt. It's not about achieving perfect behavior—a promise to never sin again this side of heaven. It’s definitely not a plea for acceptance.

We are already accepted in the Beloved. We thank God for forgiveness that continually and freely flows to us because of our position in Him. But there’s no denying the continuing presence of sin. 

Repentance allows us to grieve over our sin (because we dishonor God in His holiness), and confess and turn from it to walk in fellowship with the Lord. We ask God to cleanse us afresh as David did in Psalm 51:  
"wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions. . . ."

Humility and repentance are two of the things that return to a revived heart . . . and a revived church. Perhaps we need a prayer to help us restore this lost discipline. These words from an old hymn are my prayer today. 

Dear Father God . . . 

     "Throw light into the darkened cells 
     Where passion reigns within; 
     Quicken my conscience till it feels
     The loathsomeness of sin.
     Search all my thoughts, the secret springs, 
     The motives that control,
     The chambers where polluted things 
     Hold empire o'er the soul." 

Is there a hidden place where “polluted things” control you? Ask God for a fresh commitment to the discipline of daily repentance. 

This post is part of the New Start 15 focus on Holiness in 2015.  

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Dawn, thank you for this clear and thorough word about repentance!