February 5, 2014

When repentance isn’t repentance

The tendency deep in my heart is to want to do something to remedy my spiritual shortcomings rather than trust God. It makes no logical sense. Why would I pick utter failure over a sure thing? But this is the power of sinful pride and the blind foolishness that goes with it.

Example: Jonah ran from God’s command and wound up in the belly of a fish. There he called to the Lord and the fish spit him out on dry land. Today’s devotional questions if he really repented or if he was only sorry that his sin put him into such dire straits?

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me . . .  I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple . . . When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you . . .  Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:1–9)

His words sound like repentance, but why did it take such a desperate situation for him to “remember the Lord”? Isn’t repentance about the sin rather than the consequences? He makes no mention of his rebellion against God and his flight of disobedience, only that he was in trouble.

I can relate to this. I’ve sinned and decided it was not a good idea, not because I was rebelling against God but because I didn’t like the results. That is not true repentance.

A man named Simon did it too. He saw what the disciples were doing and, “he believed and was baptized,” but later on tried something very carnal. “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

However, Peter quickly rebuked him: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”

I’m not sure what Simon’s bitterness was about, but obviously he was not content with the spiritual life God gave him and wanted something more. Whatever the case, instead of going to God himself to ask for more or even to ask for forgiveness, he asked Peter to pray for him. Note that his request was not that he be forgiven, but that he would not suffer the consequences of his sin.

And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (Acts 8:13–24)
God wants integrity. His goal is perfect likeness to Christ, but as He works to transform me, He wants me to be honest with Him. He also wants me to recognize that my sin is against Him and repentance is about far more than just trying to get myself out of trouble.

Also, I cannot make excuses for my sin nor point to any so-called obedience as if that would make up for it. Sin cannot be put on a balance scale with “goodness” because sin ruins the good, like one rotten egg ruins the entire omelet. Jesus clearly said so . . .

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21–23)

Judas was the supreme example of failure to biblically repent. Even he could have found forgiveness had he honestly taken his sin to God, but . . .

 . . . when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3–5)

Rejecting true repentance is rejecting the gift of forgiveness. I might want to get rid of the guilt or its consequences, but not want to get to the bottom of things and let God wash away my sin.

As for penance, I may need to do something like repay what I’ve taken or apologize to someone I’ve hurt, but those actions are not repentance. Neither is being sorry that I got caught, or saying I’m sorry only because I don’t like the outcome.

Repentance also does not make excuses by pointing to the good that I’ve done right, nor does it think I must punish myself for what I’ve done wrong. True repentance is admitting I’ve sinned against God, no excuses or explanations, and humbly remembering that my salvation isn’t about anything I say or do . . .   

For by grace I have been saved through faith. And this is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that I cannot boast (Ephesians 2:8–9) nor can I fiddle around with any ‘repentance’ that allows me to keep on sinning.

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