The gift or grant of repentance.
2 Timothy 2:23–26 (ESV) Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Why is it we have so much trouble overcoming certain sins in our lives? I am convinced that often, it is because we have no sense that repentance is both a command in Scripture, but also a command which is accomplished by virtue of the gifting or grant of God. And that we fail to ask for it.
Current in American Christianity is the idea that repentance, is merely feeling sorry for sins. And at that, for some, merely feeling sorry that they have been caught or suffered ill consequences, and not sorrowful that it is a personal affront to their God. While sorrow over sin is part and parcel of true repentance, it in no wise encompasses it entirely. Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians teases out no less than 7 constituent elements of true repentance.
Godly grief or sorrow is only the tip of the spear. TRUE sorrow leads to these elements: Earnestness – ceasing to hide or play down the sin, no longer renaming it as something more acceptable; Eagerness to clear oneself – to be rid of it altogether, not just escape its bad effects; Self-indignation – recognizing how incompatible sin is with our identity in Christ and feeling the burn of having stooped so low; Fear at playing around with something that God must judge with perfect, vengeful wrath; Longing to be walking in uprightness and holiness; Zeal at taking whatever steps are necessary to be free; and Punishment – a willingness to receive whatever consequences may be due without complaint, and the willingness to accept whatever hardship is needed in overcoming.
These are the things that comprise a true portrait of genuine, Biblical, Christian repentance. Merely feeling sorry, is but the A in the alphabet, but is by no means the entire catalogue.
But what of the gift or grant aspect of repentance?
This my friend is where I think many of us fail to do well in prosecuting the battle against our sins. In neglecting the reality that God must grant repentance. We pray much for forgiveness, and maybe even freedom – but we fail to pray that God might in fact give us a repentant heart. That He would wound us deeply enough over our sin, to take us off from it. We want to be clear of the guilt and the shame, so we confess, but we fail to seek Him for a willing woundedness over sin that brings us to a new place of obedience. We don’t ask for repentance, only forgiveness. And thus we do not look for a repentant heart, but only for freedom. We do not want to feel the real depths of our sinfulness, that we might be horrified by it and learn to truly hate it.
If you are struggling with some repetitive and besetting sin, might I encourage you to take up the serious task of pleading for repentance? To pray for true, Holy Spirit conviction – which is never condemnation, but leads us to pursue Christ and not flee from Him. Pray to have the catalog of those elements reviewed above wrought afresh in your own soul. Pray to see your sin in such graphic reality that the horror of it sinks deeply into your heart and mind – causing you to flee from it, and to take whatever steps are needed to be clear of it.
Pray that God grant you, in His grace, a truly repentant heart.
Now hear me Christian – it is not a pleasant experience. Repentance isn’t a tip-of-the-hat to having done wrong and merrily going on your way. When God begins to answer such a prayer, sin’s blackness and wretchedness comes home to the soul as never before. And the nature of its true guilt in the personal affront to your God is painful. Sickening.
But gloriously freeing.
Pray for repentance. And do not stop until the Spirit brings it home to your conscience. You do not need to be afraid of His convicting power, while the Cross is still in view. But do not run or hide from the depths of your guilt or shame either. For that ultimately is nothing other than a species of self-justification. And we can only be justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ.
Pray for repentance. It is a gift. It is a grant. And one the Father delights to have His children ask for – for it displays the vibrant work of the Spirit in your soul.
Don’t ask just to stop sinning your problem sin. Pray for a repentant heart. He will meet you in that prayer in ways you never imagined. Oh what a great Redeemer our Christ is!