This is the final post in this series, and perhaps the most important. We’ve been learning what the Apostle Paul meant when he said there were two kinds of sorrow. He said in 2 Corinthians 7:10,
‘For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.’
We’ve been talking about the repentance that godly sorrow produces. We talked about what repentance is, how we take the steps of repentance, and now, how we prove it and make it stick. Repentance is not a one-time act, it’s not a mystical thought, nor a chant or mantra, and not something that makes us ‘worthy’ before God (only the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus does that).
Repentance is the action that keeps us in fellowship with God. Just like it does with our loved ones. Here’s a simple illustration. My son and daughter will always be brother and sister – that relationship never changes. They do, however, become frustrated with one another, fuss and fight, and go their separate ways. Until one of them decides that their relationship is more important than what they were fighting about, they will remain separate; but the fact they are siblings doesn’t change.
Same with us as children of God. As Christians, we will always be His children, although our actions may separate us until we decide to reconcile. That’s what repentance is all about. And this is the most important step concerning it.
Step Four: Use the gift
The Apostles expressed this in a couple of different ways. Matthew and Luke said we should ‘bear fruit in keeping with repentance’ (Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8) and Luke again in Acts said we should perform deeds in keeping with repentance (Acts 26:20).
Which means, repentance means we are doing something. Using the gift of repentance means making decisions that reflect what God’s Spirit is prompting us to do. But doing what?, you may ask. I’m happy to say the Bible gives us that answer as well. Let’s look at a couple of passages. The first is Jesus speaking to the church at Ephesus.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5
Jesus gives a step before repentance and a step after in this passage. Remember where you were before you fell comes before repentance. That’s the grieving part we talked about earlier. The step after is what we do to exercise the gift God has given us. ‘Do the works you did at first’ is the instruction. What does that mean.
Jesus is referring to the time when our love for Him was new and we did whatever it was He told us to. The time before we excused obedience away. The time when we were caught up in how much he loved us and we didn’t want to do anything that would displease him or make him sad.
Compare this to when you were first falling in love with your spouse. You worked very hard to please him or her. You couldn’t bear the thought of making them sad, or disappointing them. Your complete focus was on them and what made them love being with you and why you loved being with them. If you could just go back to those days, most of your problems would dissolve.
Jesus is asking us to return in our hearts and minds to those days. Bring them back to memory. Recall the things we did and then repeat them habitually. And that leads us to the second passage. This again, is Jesus, speaking to the church at Sardis now,
Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. Revelation 3:3
Jesus here is telling us to do two things in reference to repentance. The first is to remember what we received and heard. He’s referring to the time when the Sardinians heard and received the Gospel – the message that He died so they might be saved. I don’t know about you, but those memories are exceedingly sweet for me. I was free, I had peace, I knew my sins were paid for and I could now rightly relate to my Creator. Every now and then I love going back in my mind and spirit to those days and thank God for those memories and my salvation!
Jesus is encouraging them to remember all they had been taught and then to practice (keep) those teachings. Put it all into action. Love God, love your brother, be kind, gentle, peace loving, humble, forgiving, and all those other things that the Spirit through the Word teaches us to be.
In other words, go back to the basics of living for your Heavenly Father. Examine yourself to see which ones you don’t practice anymore. Stop doing the opposite of these things and start practicing them. Keep doing them over and over until they become an essential part of you. Until they become something you can’t stop doing. Be addicted to being like Jesus!
Becoming like Jesus is a full time occupation with infinite overtime. Making the pursuit of Christlikeness your primary focus IS repentance.
Do this and you will find very little time to repeat the things your spouse keeps rebuking you for. You will start self-correcting. You will learn to avoid the old habits of avoidance or attack or anger or accusation.
This step must be repeated moment by moment. What you did yesterday won’t answer for today if you stop doing the right things. But, what you did yesterday will strengthen your ability to repeat the right things today. Your ‘repentance muscles’ will grow stronger with use.
Developing habits of right living takes time and repetition. If your spouse is working on repentance (as every spouse and every Christian should be) then be patient. Work out your own salvation first. Be forgiving when they fail. Do the right thing toward them regardless of their response.
For those of you who have a spouse who isn’t trying, not repentant, not interested in changing his or her path, what I said in the previous paragraph doesn’t change. If you will control yourself, seek to become Christlike in everything, and submit yourself to the care of your Heavenly Father, He will sustain you through the pain and discouragement of being married to a disobedient, selfish, and demeaning person.
Your relationship with your Heavenly Father need not suffer because someone else is neglecting theirs. If your spouse needs to repent, but won’t, leave it to God. Pray and wait and see what God will do.