Ensuring Sincere Repentance
Dear BPCWAians, Over the past weeks, we’ve looked at false confessions, and how to recognise if our repentance is false. We will conclude this week with a question that several have had – how do I know if I am repentant and how do I ensure sincere repentance?
What if I do not have brokenness and tears? Some people have the notion that repentance is genuine only if it were accompanied with heart wrenching emotions and much tears. Certainly, there may be times when the grief is so acute that tears flow, but sadness and tears alone are not signs of true repentance. While God does associate repentance with a broken heart and contrite spirit, as mentioned last week, He is not saying that tears means we are repentant. Tears can be due to self-pity, or sadness over the consequences that our sin brought upon ourselves. If you have emotions of great sorrow, then check if this brokenness and contrition arises because we are grieved that we have sinned against our Lord. The children of Israel often wailed and cried because of their regret that they were going to be, or were being chastised. But God told them “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God” (Joel 2:13). Often, as soon as God lifted the punishment from off their backs, they returned to their old ways and departed once again from Him. Did they have tears? Were they repentant? No. Neither was it just the external “acts” that sufficed. Christ told the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism to “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt 3:8). Just being grieved – and then even feel good that we have felt bad – is not repentance!
Sincere repentance brings accompanying fruits and works that reflect the inward change of heart and mind toward sin. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD (Isa 55:7). Most importantly, repentance is a returning to God, as genuine repentance is reflected by the sincere desire to restore the sweet fellowship that you had with God, previously broken by sin.
Sometimes, when sin is exposed or revealed, we may feel guilty. Yet, there is no intention to actually change our ways. We want the “best” of both worlds – to keep the fruit of our sin, and also to “say” that we have repented. But this was not so with Zaccheus, the chief publican. When Zaccheus was saved, he was willing to restore fourfold what he had unjustly taken from others (Luke 19:8-9). Genuine repentance has fruits, not just lip service. In certain cases, repentance can bring a heavy cost, and the penitent heart is willing to bear that cost because it realises that that sin was indeed a great transgression.
What if I keep falling into the same sin? Did I repent? Repentance is first and foremost to God. He knows your heart. In the case where even if you “felt bad” that you had sinned, but don’t actually intend to change your ways, you really have not repented. On the other hand, there are some instances whereby the believer truly and sincerely desired to repent, inwardly and outwardly. Perhaps they used to be under the influence of a sinful addiction. They determine in their hearts to change by their lives not to commit the same sin again. And they may do so for some time too, months or even years, staying away from the places that caused them to fall and sin. But after some time, perhaps they pass by some sights, scents or sounds that evoke the memories. Scenes and memories excite the sinful lusts in their minds, and they begin once again to dabble in their previous sins. Simply because they fell back into the same sin in a moment of weakness does not mean that they had not sincerely repented initially. These may have failed to keep on the whole armour of God which caused them not to be standing steadfastly against the sin. As result they succumbed to the lusts of the flesh in a moment of weakness. If this is your case, do not be discouraged and give up. Rather, confess quickly and genuinely, bring forth fruits meet for repentance, and resume your spiritual battle. We thank God, “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” (Ps 130.4).
What should I do to ensure sincere repentance as a believer? Sincere repentance begins first in our hearts and minds. It begins with a resolve to no longer fall back to that same sin, even if it is a sinful desire, emotion or thought unknown by man, brewing in our hearts. What then is the acceptable fruit of repentance? Together with that resolve not to sin, sincere repentance is ridding oneself of the opportunity to fall into that sin again. When sinful thoughts and desires arise, you have not sinned yet. We sin when we yield to temptation. This is the principle that if we know that something is causing us to sin, then we should take firm steps to stop sinning that sin. While this is not speaking of self-mutilation, Christ’s injunction to “pluck it out, and cast it from thee” (Matt 5:29) is really speaking about taking firm steps to prevent yourself from falling into that same sin again. And these may require drastic changes that the flesh may not like. While we sometimes pray “lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from evil”, yet we often live our lives putting ourselves in temptation’s way and path. We flirt with sin instead. True repentance is a willingness to take painful steps to prevent us from falling back into that same sin. Ensuring sincere repentance is having the fruit of dealing drastically to remove such sins and their opportunities in our lives. That is why repentance must be accompanied by the works of repentance. Sin has its painful consequences, and to prevent us from sinning may sometimes require what seems to be painful preventive measures too. It may mean throwing away your expensive stockpile of magazines that you’ve collected, magazines that teach and encourage you to sin. Or certain music CDs, or deleting certain things from your computer, or giving up certain friendships, or not going to certain places physically or on the internet. You may need to take the step of apologising to someone you sinned against by gossiping about them or some other acts. And then consciously and actively stop doing the same things again. There ought to be the external acts that follow for your internal resolve to stop thinking of sin. This is to stop nurturing that sin inside of you. This is how we ensure sincere repentance.
Having gone through this series on repentance, I hope that the next time we utter a confession to God, seeking forgiveness from someone that we have sinned against, let us check our hearts – is my repentance sincere? Brethren, let us exercise genuine confession and repentance, that we may be cleansed (1 Jn 1:9) and sanctified to fulfil His purpose to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29).
Yours in our Lord’s service