by Ben Nelson
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (Rev 3:19)
... but now (God) commandeth all men every where to repent: (Acts 17:30)
Repent! This command echoes through the New Testament, across the ages, to us today. So what does it mean? I have heard many sermons where I am exhorted to repent. If you have followed Brother Kim for any length of time, you have too. I have heard preachers tell me that repentance means to change your mind. That repentance is simply agreeing with God about your sin. I read in God’s Holy Word, that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
So why is it that I don’t seem to be cleansed from “all unrighteousness”? Is this just a vain promise? Was it God’s intention that I be totally frustrated by this promise? Is it God’s plan for me to never get free from some besetting sin? Or did He really mean what He said?
There is no way that God intends us to be trapped by our sin. There is no way that God intends us to fall back into the same sin over and over. There is no way that God intends us to come back to Him over and over and tell Him we are sorry for the same old sin.
So what is the problem? Why is the Church not victorious over sin? Why is the Church stuck in a cycle of sin and apologizing to God? I have good news for you. The Word of God has the answer!
Let me first say that sometimes we have to go past the literal definition for a word, and look to the Word of God for a Bible definition. One of these words is Repent. If we look simply at the definition of the Greek word, we will have to agree with the multitudes about what it means to repent. But knowing what the word means does tell us how to do it. But thanks be to God, he has given us a practical definition. Look at 2 Corinthians 7:9-10.
“Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”
Paul is rejoicing about the sorrow his words worked in Corinth. Today, if you were to preach a sermon that makes men sorrow, they say you are laying a guilt trip on the people, you are beating the sheep, that you are laying condemnation on them. “Don’t you understand”, they say, “There is now no condemnation...”. Guess Paul didn’t get that. Oh wait a minute, Paul said that! So I suppose we need to look a little further, and learn something from Paul about godly sorrow.
In the next verse Paul will teach us what “true repentance” really is.
For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. (2 Cor 7:11)
The first thing you will notice is that repentance is not something that is done in 10 minutes at an altar in some church, after a preacher has stirred up your emotions. It is a process that takes time to come to completion. It involves your whole heart, soul, mind and strength. And you must understand that it is you who must carry out this process. God will not do it for you. So often I hear Christians saying things like God has got me in a process, God isn’t finished with me yet... The fact is, in most cases it is God who is waiting for us to repent. Don’t get me wrong, repentance is a gift of God (2 Tim 2:25). But I think you can see from the above text, it is your choice to walk in it, or to ignore this gift.
Repentance begins with sorrow. God uses all sorts of tools to bring you to the point of sorrow over your sin. He may use a preacher to convict you. He may use a sinner’s accusation (“...and I thought you were supposed to be a Christian”). He may use His Word. He may use a brother’s exhortation. In fact, once you are in relationship with God, He will pursue you, and use any means to get your attention, because the Fathers intention is to conform you into the image of Christ.
But sorrow is by no means the end. Your next step in the process of repentance is carefulness. You must be careful about where you walk. You must be careful about who you associate with. You must be careful what you watch, and what you take into your eyes, ears, and heart. If you are sorry today about your habit of pornography, and tomorrow you flip the channels till your lust is enticed, you will fail, you will fall, and you will find yourself back at the altar next week, or worse you will harden your heart toward God, and he will give you over to your sin.(Rom 1:26)
Listen to what Solomon said about this clearing. In Proverbs 4:14-15 the Word says “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.” Be careful! That is what godly sorrow should lead to.
This carefulness will lead to a clearing of yourself. You will find that as your carefulness increases, you will be getting rid of the stuff of your sin. You must get rid of all of the things in your life that enable you to go back into the bondage that held you. You will not be able to associate with the “friends” who drag you into sin. You will clear your life of all association with this sin.
As you begin to see this sin from God’s perspective you will see two things. First you will see what it has cost you in your relationship with God, and even worse you will see what it cost God. This realization must stir up and righteous indignation toward this sin. I want to you to understand that it is not just sin in general, but this sin, this particular sin that you must become angry with. Imagine how much easier it will be to resist temptation, when you see your sin as the killer that it is.
Your holy anger against the tyranny of sin and it’s ravaging of your life will cause you to fear. No, I don’t mean you will be afraid of the sin, but rather you will be afraid of offending God with your indifference to the very thing He killed Jesus to set you free from. The fear of God will rise up in you and the temptation to walk back into sin will become an offence to you too.
Your vehement desire to please God in this area will become tangible. So passionate will you be in your hatred for this sin, that satan and his servants will no longer bother to bring it up before you. You will become a crusader against this sin and it’s hold on other Christians.
You will be filled with zeal, totally set to destroy this thing and it’s power over the body of Christ. You will be hot for God, passionate in your obedience, passionate in your love for Jesus and His commandments, passionate in your love of the Word of God. If you are going to be free, you must be zealous for freedom. No nation in bondage to tyranny ever became free, without a zealous desire to be free.
Finally, when your obedience is fulfilled, you will be ready to take revenge on this sin. Rather than siding with sin and the world against God, you will be at enmity with sin. You will be actively hostile toward it. You will be at war with this enemy of your soul. You will grant it no quarter. You will see it for what it really is. You will see in others the devastation caused by such an enemy, and do what it takes to save them. On some you will “... have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 1:22-23)
Repentance done in this manner will secure your victory. And this victory will not be some intangible, unreachable thing that we have to wait for heaven to see. It will be real, day-to-day, victory. You will be an over-comer, more than a conqueror, a vanquisher, in Jesus name.
Now, God commands us to repent. Don’t just say your sorry and go on. All that does is set you up to loose. Let your repentance be a complete work. Let it begin with sorrow, leading to carefulness, and a clearing of your self. Let righteous indignation lead to a godly fear, and a vehement desire and a zeal. Until finally you are ready to take revenge on sin! You must repent - really repent - and you will find victory over sin, and true peace with God.