“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
I love how the 1828 version of Webster’s dictionary puts this old church word: in theology, to sorrow or be pained for sin, as a violation of God’s holy law, a dishonor to His character and government, and the foulest ingratitude to a Being of infinite benevolence.
I’ve been learning recently how grace doesn’t overwhelm me on a regular basis because my sin doesn’t overwhelm me on a regular basis. Growing up in a Christian home, I get so comfortable with the idea of forgiveness that it loses its awe factor. (Put your offended Jesus face away.) But every infraction I commit by thought, deed, or word—whether it’s committed sin (bad stuff I do) or omitted sin (good stuff I don’t do)—is a reason the cross was called for. And goodness knows I hoisted that cross up all on my own, no other person’s sin necessary. Goodness knows, but sometimes I don’t.
Repentance, my sweet new mentor says, is a grieving process over my sin. It’s learning to really hate what drove those nails into the King. How can I make friends with neglect, pride, and idolatry when they were the reason Christ’s life had to be offered? So repentance is my choosing to no longer turn a blind eye. It’s moving into my need for mercy, leaning on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
The planters’ wives training I’ve been working through has some really good stuff on repentance. Here’s the practical process they lay out:
1. Own it—the worst of it. (So rather than saying, for example, that I’m impatient with my husband, I would say, completely theoretically of course, that I don’t think he’s worth my total attention for as long as he wants it. My other priorities are more significant to me than he is. Just, you know, if you can think of someone else who struggles with patience. Not me.)
2. Reflect on the root. (It’s always got something to do with pride or unbelief; sometimes both. Pride, in this 100% pretend scenario, would look like my heart saying, “I’m way more mature in how I handle my time and conversation skills than he is. He’s doing it wrong.” Unbelief might be, “If I don’t get to this other thing I’m wanting to do, so-and-so will think I’m not committed and take the responsibility away from me. Then my self-worth will be a big fat zero because it comes from my competence rather than from Christ’s sufficiency.” Not that I know anything about this.)
3. Confess it. (Fiiiiiine. It’s me. It’s all me. And what I’ve expressed here isn’t even scratching the surface of my selfish, prideful, unbelieving heart. My impatience uncovers some idolatry I’ve got going on—the need for approval, sticking to my schedule, having the marriage I’ve created in my mind, whatever. This isn’t news to God. But it’s healing for my heart to purge those thoughts out into the open. Like a good puke when your body is trying to get rid of a stomach bug. Sorry for the visual.)
4. Disown it. (I’m not defined by this sin. I’m defined by the Lord, and He calls me a new creation. He is patient with me, and I am wholly unable to lose His smile. I can walk forward secure in the truth. This changes everything.)
5. Ask the Spirit to help. (As a result of this process, I’m free to move into reconciliation with my husband. I invite God’s power to change my responses, even the heart-level ones no one else can see, to how He treats me.)
In the words of my mentor, the goal isn’t to work myself out of a need to repent. I won’t ever get to the point where I’m perfect and am above circling back around to the cross. The goal is to repent faster and better.
I’ll be honest: this sounds like a lame goal. At least to my flesh.
It’s like, “the goal isn’t to not get spankings anymore. The goal is to be spanked well.” Um, you can have that goal. I want a butt that doesn’t hurt.
I know that’s a silly parallel, but it’s where I’m sitting at the moment. I don’t think repentance was meant to be a punishment, though, like spankings are. I think it was intended to keep our hearts safe. If I can go throughout my life forgetting about my need for God and His ongoing work in me, I’m vulnerable to all kinds of soul rot. Scripture is filled with people who moved away from their desperation for the Lord. Spoilers: it never, ever, ever turns out well.
Repentance is a gift. It’s a way for me to run from impervious perfection, the kind of life that doesn’t require God’s power and ends up completely void of meaning. The only way to have any sort of impact is to be reminded of my need. To be desperate. Empty. Broken.