Second Daily Pillar: Repentance
-Dr. Derek Carlsen
This is not referring to repentance unto salvation, but rather to the place repentance ought to play throughout the life of the person who has already been born from above and believes in the completed work of Christ. In Scripture, the saints are shown both professing confidence about their righteousness (Ps.86:2; Isa.38:3) and confessing their sinfulness (Ps.25:7,18; Isa.6:5) and it is important that we understand both these aspects correctly. The only righteousness that the saints call their own is Christ’s righteousness (John 8:56; Acts 2:30,31). When God imputes righteousness into a person’s account, it is rightly regarded as their own (Rom.5:18), nevertheless, such a person is forever conscious of their own failure to measure up to the standard of God’s truth in their daily living. Those whom God calls into His Kingdom rest totally upon the work of Christ, from the beginning to the end of their lives. Thus, while they stand secure in the knowledge that they are fully accepted by God (because of Christ’s perfection alone), they are constantly aware of their own personal lack of perfection. It is from a position of being eternally secure because of Christ’s merit and God’s mercy, that the justified person, conscious of his own failings, constantly seeks forgiveness for his many daily sins (Ps.32:5; 51:2-4; Prov.28:13; 1 John 1:9,10) and strives, in the power of the indwelling Spirit, to advance in personal holiness.
According to God, what’s in our hearts is central to everything (Matt.12:34,35; Eph.6:6), thus our hearts ought to be full of humility and love, so that whatever we do is done with our might, in God’s way and for His glory (Col.3:23). Yet, when we allow the Spirit to search us, we see how far short we fall from having perfect motives and whole-hearted sincerity. Though we possess glorious treasure, we hold it in jars of clay (2 Cor.4:7), which highlights the limitations of our creaturehood and the continuing imperfection of human nature. Many different sins, like self-righteousness, self-serving, pride, rebellion and the lack of love for others, still trouble those who have been saved. Corrupt inclinations of the heart, which come from within, defile us (Mk.7:23) and therefore, we are exhorted to judge ourselves (1 Cor.11:31) and constantly practice repentance. This means that vital to beginning and continuing the Christian life, is a “broken heart” (2 Kings 22:19; Ps.34:18; Ezk.9:4; Joel 2:13; Matt.5:3,4). God has shown us what we ought to be like and expects us to acknowledge and seek forgiveness when we don’t measure up to His revealed standard. When we judge ourselves correctly (i.e., in accordance with God’s word and not according to man-made traditions and standards), then repentance will be a natural part of our daily lives. Persistent, heartfelt repentance is the only basis for effective service (1 Tim.1:5,18,19; 2 Tim.1:3; Heb.9:14; 10:22-24; 1 John 3:20-22).
Refusing to Repent
When people refuse to repent, they substitute a living relationship with the Lord, for a dead ritual in an attempt to hide from His light (John 3:20,21; 7:7). The fruit of empty ritual is pride and arrogance, whereas the fruit of constant repentance is humility and graciousness. Those who suppress the awareness of their own sin, poison themselves, which in time turns into bitterness and harshness, infecting all they think and say and poisoning every relationship. Their lives become like stagnant pools rather than springs of living water (Isa.12:2,3; John 4:14; 7:38). A sure sign of an unrepentant heart is being excessively harsh and unreasonable towards the sins or faults of others, and this is an extremely dangerous path to be on (Heb.12:12-15). David’s example is instructive here. We see that despite his sin against Uriah and with Bathsheba, his outward religious life appeared to be unaffected. That is, his public “devotion” and “Kingdom work” continued as usual. It was only about a year after committing these sins that David actually repented (2 Sam.12:13). Which shows how long we can continue to be satisfied with mere ritual and pretend to still have a living relationship with the Lord—this is a warning for us (1 Cor.10:11). We see too that when Nathan the prophet brought a case to David to judge, his judgement was extremely harsh and bitter, saying that the man who stole and killed another man’s lamb ought to die (2 Sam.12:5). In contrast to this, those who are living lives of repentance are humble and gentle, because they are forever conscious of their own many sins and God’s abundant mercy toward them.
When we try to cover or hide our sin we bring great distress and turmoil upon ourselves and others. David described what happened to him when he tried to ignore his sin, saying, “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (Ps.32:3,4, see too Ps.38:2-8). David couldn’t escape from the knowledge of his sin because it was ever before him (Ps.51:3). Isaiah concurs saying that our transgressions are with us and that we know our iniquities (Isa.59:12). David said his awareness of God’s displeasure toward his sin made him feel as though his bones were all broken (Ps.51:8).Sin angers God and David accurately describes the effect that unconfessed sin has upon people, yet many still choose to suppress the knowledge of their sin rather than confess it. These descriptions show the physical, mental and spiritual oppression that comes with sin. David also, however, describes the glorious deliverance from this oppression that is found through repentance. He was crushed, without any strength and ready to fall, but then he turned to the Lord and rather than hiding his sin he said, “I will declare my iniquity; I will be in anguish over my sin” (Ps.38:18) and again, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Ps.32:5). Thus David also testifies to the glorious blessing of having one’s transgressions forgiven! (Ps.32:1,2).
Repentance and Communion
A life of constant repentance nurtures a life of constant communion with Christ and visa versa. True ongoing repentance can only arise from deep communion with the Saviour because relationship is central to every aspect of God’s Kingdom. Mechanical, religious ritual is meaningless, for the issues of life flow from the heart (Prov.4:23; Matt.15:19) and this is where God looks (1 Sam.16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chron.28:9; Ps.7:9; Prov.15:11; 16:2; Isa.29:13; Jer.17:10; Ezk.33:31; John 2:24,25; Acts 1:24; 1 Cor.4:5; Heb.4:13). To focus upon ritual when there is no relationship with the giver of life is proof of one’s self-deception and bondage. No matter how precise and elaborate a person’s ritual or self-sacrifice is, if their heart is not born from above and motivated by love, it is all empty in God’s eyes (1 Cor.13:1-3). To be motivated by real love for the Lord in all that we do, is inseparable from acknowledging our struggle with, and quickly repenting of, our daily sins.
God expects us to imitate Christ as we live in this world, which means dying to self (Phil.2:8) by yielding ourselves to that which is right and true (Rom.6:19). We are not talking about justification here, but about the kind of life a justified person ought to live. But as we grow in our love for and knowledge of the Lord, we will become more conscious of how far short we fall from God’s holiness. Paul’s confession in Romans 7:14ff, was not a sign of his spiritual decline, but of his spiritual maturity. We often don’t do what we should, but even when we do, our motives are not completely pure (Jer.17:9). Even our best works are polluted in God’s sight (Isa.64:6) and thus we ought to ask the Lord to search our hearts and reveal to us all that is impure in us so that we might repent (Ps.26:2; 139:23,24; Jer.17:10). The person with a proud and hard heart believes that growth in God’s Kingdom comes through him exalting in his own righteous deeds, but this is not so. True godliness and growth in the Kingdom brings about an ever greater awareness of how far short we fall from God’s perfection (Isa.6:5). Thus maturity in the Kingdom is inseparable from true humility, and true humility, which we ought to be clothed in (1 Pet.5:5), comes from an awareness of how much we fail our Lord and thus, how constantly we need to repent of our sin (Matt.5:3). The proud person not only refuses to acknowledge his many sins, but has the utmost confidence in his own goodness and ability (Ps.94:4).
When we sin, it is pride that keeps us from casting ourselves upon the Lord in repentance and crying out for His forgiveness and help to do all that we need and do. Without God’s help we can do nothing (John 15:5), but He has promised to minister to and dwell with the humble (Isa.57:15; 66:1,2; Matt.5:3,4; Jam.4:6), i.e., those who quickly acknowledge their sin and utter dependence upon Him. The greater our intimacy with the Lord, the greater our awareness will be of our own sin and the only acceptable response to sin, is repentance (1 John 1:8-10). There can be no meaningful relationship with the Lord if repentance is lacking—dead ritual there might be, but not a living relationship. Since having a vibrant relationship with the Lord is the heartbeat of Kingdom life, humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God is to be a life-long habit (1 Pet.5:5,6). There are many things we should be searching our hearts about: our devotion to God; our contentment in God’s purposes and provision; our trust in His Fatherly care; our joy; our love and service of others; our obedience to His every word, etc. If we bow our hearts to the searchlight of God’s truth, we will echo David’s cry when he said, “Pardon my iniquity, for it is great” (Ps.25:11) and we will know the publican’s anguish when he said, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk.18:13). While David’s repentance recorded in the Psalms (e.g., 32; 38; 51), is a good guide for our own repentance, we need to be reminded that true repentance flows from a real relationship with the Lord, not from rituals and formulas. If our hearts are not smitten by our sin, our confession and ritual will be worthless. However, God in His grace, has quickened our hearts so that we are able to acknowledge and respond appropriately to our sin. A humble heart is of value beyond measure (Prov.22:4; Matt.6:33), because by it we are enabled to live lives of constant repentance. And the goal of repentance is so that we might better glorify Christ due to His blessing upon our service for Him. “For all those things My hand has made, And all those things exist,” Says the Lord. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word” (Isa.66:2). “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chron.16:9). And finally, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise” (Ps.51:17).