Many Christians think of repentance as abandoning an old way of life, ceasing to sin and ‘turning around and going the other way’. Many set out with the best of intentions to change their ways.
In some churches there seems to be a constant message of, “You could do better”. Some people feel that there is a vicious circle of commitment, failure and despair. The frustration and despair deepens, and they find themselves wondering if they could have ever really repented, or whether their repentance was ‘deep enough’ or ‘heart-felt enough’ or ‘true’ enough, and even whether they really have God’s Spirit and whether they have really been saved. Some just seem to throw in the towel and walk away!
How many people are subject to weekly ‘guilt trips’? Does this fit with a God of love who has already redeemed the world? Do we really have to choose between heaven and hell?
Do we really have to beat ourselves up because of sin or is it the stuff that hinders a closer relationship with God?
Surely repentance toward God is simply not about a new and improved you! There is no way that we can put sin out of our lives. Repentance is a change of the way we think. It is a change of perspective, from seeing our own importance to seeing God as the centre of the universe and trusting our life to him. But we can only do this when we recognise that we can do nothing worthwhile in our own strength.
When we realise that God has simply decided to write off our lifetime of selfish arrogance, all our lies, all our cruelty, all our pride, lust, betrayals and meanness – all of our evil thoughts, deeds and plans, we have a choice to make. We can praise God and thank him for his indescribable love, or we can continue in the ‘rat-race’ of life!
Consider that the lost sheep did not find itself – the shepherd went looking for it!
Consider the Prodigal son – forgiven, redeemed and fully accepted purely on the basis of his father’s lavish grace!
It is the law that shows us we are sinners (Rom 7.7) – it shows us where we fall short – slaves to sin and its consequences – we cannot clean ourselves up (1Peter 5.10-11). Sin hurts and destroys us and everyone around us. It springs from unbelief and selfish rebellion – it saps us of true life and imprisons us in darkness – sin hurts like hell!
We have been given the gift of freedom and empowerment. We can still make mistakes but we will continue to be welcome at the banquet – as long as we don’t try to wear our own clothes.
It’s probably worth considering what our reactions would be to our own rebellious children! Nothing can separate us from the love of God!
The following quote must be true for many Christians “When I was converted this self interest never received the fatal blow that would have come through deep repentance – and consequently building on a shaky foundation led to years of inner conflict”.