In our last post we introduced the word repentance.
People tend to equate the word repentance with images of shouting and frothing preachers. We picture John the Baptist as some angry, wild-eyed, homeless wretch that shouted at people. We might picture Jesus the same way since they both preached repentance. But that view is wrong. Matthew 12:19 says of Jesus, ‘He will not argue or shout, and no one will hear His voice in the streets.’ Jesus said of himself, ‘I am meek and humble of heart.’ Matthew 11:29
Repentance is not a hell-fire and brimstone word. It’s a word used by self-controlled, peaceful, quiet, and loving people. It’s a ‘don’t go that way, come this way with me‘ word. It’s a word that reflects those who gently call people to correct their course so they don’t get hurt or hurt others.
It’s a parental word. When daddy tells his little girl not to continue teasing her brother but to help him. He’s calling her to repent. When mommy tells her little boy to stop disrespecting his teacher and to be kind. She’s calling him to repent. When your spouse asks you to stop behavior that is hurting them and do something different. He or she is calling you to repent. All of these are done because of love. Those who do not love, do not ask for repentance because they do not care.
If you and your spouse will learn this, that criticism, correction, rebuke, and the like are all repentance seeking; and that repentance is only for your good, it will help you adjust your attitude and thus put you on a quicker path to the peaceful healing of your relationship.
Repentance is an invitation to leave the paths you made and allow God to blaze paths within your soul that fulfill the ultimate desires of your heart.
The proper understanding of the word repentance is actually the first step toward repenting and making repentance stick. In the last post I promised to map out the road to repentance and how to make it permanent. Consider the definition above to be…
Step One: Know the definition.
Now that you know the proper definition, let’s move on to the steps.
Step Two: Feel the pain
Paul lays it out for us in the passage we’ve been looking at. He says,
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10
We talked about this in the last post as well. Paul says that experiencing godly grief produces the kind of repentance God is pleased with, and we will have no regrets about. As a reminder, godly grief involves the inner examination of your motives. Asking yourself why you respond the way you do and if it’s pleasing to God and helpful for others. And then feeling the pain of seeing who we really are.
I think there are a lot of people who identify as Christians but have never felt much grief over their sin. They see themselves as pretty good, not in need of much cleaning up. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time felt this way about themselves. One particular story illustrates the difference in attitudes perfectly. Jesus told it like this,
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get,’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14
Knowing your own inner darkness is essential to becoming humble in the way Jesus speaks of being humble. The tax collector both knew he was a sinner and was distraught over his sin. Jesus said he would be justified, made clean. Not the guy who didn’t think he had much to be forgiven. If you struggle to see your sin and weep over it, ask God to show it to you. He will. And that painful sight will create in you the right attitude.
Let’s assume you see yourself correctly. What comes after that?
Step Three: Receive the gift
Repentance is a two-party action. From God’s side, we are given the gift of repentance. (see Acts 5:31, 11:18, and 2 Timothy 2:25) God makes us aware of our need to repent through the Gospel, then gives us the power to repent through the Holy Spirit. He uses His Word, His Spirit, and His Church in various ways to make us aware of our need and to enable us to repent.
When you become aware that you need to repent, consider it a gift. Then accept it. Accepting means very simply to determine to pay attention and begin to use this gift.
Let me make this practical. Next time you sense you are being rebuked or you get into an argument about your actions or behavior, or you are feeling criticized: At your soonest opportunity, get out a pad of paper and describe what you are feeling. Write down where you think it’s coming from (the Word, the Spirit, or the Church – remembering that your spouse, if a Christian, is part of the Church!). Remind yourself that every rebuke, correction, or criticism could be part of the gift of repentance the Lord wants to give you. Finally, ask God if He is trying to reveal an area of repentance to you. Then listen with your spirit and write down what you hear.
Those steps will help you begin to receive this gift. God will be faithful to let you know when He is calling you to repent of something. He wants you to be clean. To join him on the road He’s on instead of the one you’ve been following. Then you will be ready to perform your side of the transaction.
The final and most important step takes more explanation. It’s so important that I want to save it for a post of its own. I encourage you to practice what we’ve talked about in this post. Repeat the steps, feel the emotion and burden of your own issues. Meditate on these in preparation for the next and final step. We’ll cover it in the next post.