The Actions of Repentance
Early in my marriage I remember a time when Laura and I were in that “learning to deal with each other’s imperfections” stage. I remember one instance in particular, where Laura did something that hurt me. She said she was sorry and of course, I forgave her. Or so I thought.
It was some time later that she did the same thing and of course asked for forgiveness. My reply was, “If you were truly sorry you would never have done it a second time”.
Wow. I have since apologized for my arrogance. I am SO thankful that God does not treat me that way. His grace is so huge. He accepts me when I mess up even if I mess up again and again.
The wonderful thing about Repentance is the promise that when I fail, when I repent God will forgive.
Sounds like a free pass to do whatever I want!
What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. // Romans 6:1–4 CSB
The grace of God is always there, but that grace should not be taken advantage of.
There needs to be a life change that demonstrates that we are truly sorry. There needs to be action that matches our repentance.
- The guilt of our sin, however, should not be the primary motivator for our change.
- Our primary motivation, according to Paul, should be our identity in Christ – in the gospel.
IF we have been buried with Christ, if He, on the cross, put to death all the sins you and I have committed and will ever commit, then how could we possibly revisit those sins? If we have been given new life in Christ, and all believers have, we must learn to walk in “the newness of life”.
Repentance is not just a one-time event, it is also an ongoing process
There is the act of repentance. That moment when we choose to admit our guilt and how we have offended God and others and we ask for forgiveness. There is also the fruit, or ongoing actions of repentance that I think we sometimes miss.
I want to go back to our passage in Luke 3. [If you missed last week’s message, you really should view it online as it will give you insight on the ACT of repentance]
2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight! 5 Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the crooked will become straight, the rough ways smooth, 6 and everyone will see the salvation of God. 7 He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 “What then should we do?” the crowds were asking him. // Luke 3:2–10 CSB
When confronted with repentance, the people asked, “What must we do?” and “how are we to live to please God?”. What attracted me to this passage initially was the simplicity of John’s answers to those that repented.
The First Sign of Repentance – a desire to please God
I think this is the first sign of repentance: a desire to do the things that please God. We do NOT do things in order to win the favor of God. Rather, we do things that please God because we already have his favor through Jesus.
I want us to notice what John DID NOT say:
- Go to church every time the doors are open
- Read your bible every day [the Bible will not be printed for another 1600 years!]
- Pray at least 60 minutes a day
- Give 50% of your income to the church
He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.” 14 Some soldiers also questioned him, “What should we do?” He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” // Luke 3:11–14 CSB
Our forgiveness from God is NOT based upon our works, but his grace. And our commitment to life a life that demonstrates a change, fruit of repentance, is not an opportunity to create a spiritual scorecard where we can say, “I have done more good than bad”. Rather, it is a way to make our lives align with God’s mission so we can say, “more and more each day I am bearing the image of God to the people around me.”
We cannot just go through the motions.
Can we be honest and admit that there are many people who attend church, who have said they trust Jesus and have been baptized but their lives have never changed. If you did not see them at church, you would not know that they have any connection to God at all.
Repentance will bring change, or it was not really repentance.
There is an old riddle that asks, “When is a liar not a liar?” The answer is, “When he tells the truth”. A liar is still a liar when he is silent. He ceases to be a liar when there are actions that prove otherwise.
28 Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. 29 No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. 30 And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. // Ephesians 4:28–32 CSB
It is not enough to STOP doing something. That is not repentance that is simply self-discipline. To repent is to turn away from and do the opposite.
- It is not enough to stop stealing… you should work harder so you can give to others
- It is not enough to stop saying harmful things. “If you can’t say anything nice… don’t say anything at all”. That is self-control but shows no remorse for the bad things you are feeling and want to say. There needs to be repentance. The saying should go, “If you can’t say anything nice, get on your knees and ask God to forgive of your pride and arrogance and to give you a heart of compassion and love for others.”
- It’s not enough to say, “I’m sorry I didn’t do my homework”, or “I’m sorry I didn’t do what you asked me to do, mom”. What else must happen if there is true repentance? Need to do the homework.
- It is not enough to put blockers on our phones and computers to keep us from lusting. While those things are helpful, they are not enough on their own. There must also be repentance. We must confess that we have cheapened God’s creation to be something we drool over rather than something we sacrifice our lives for. We must stop seeking our own pleasure and choose to seek the pleasure of our Father, and if married, our spouse. We must repent that we have taken the temple of God, and his Spirit and thrown it to the mud and it must break our hearts that we have not loved our spouse more than our own gratification. I used to address this to men, but statistics are showing that this is just as common of a problem with women as men today.
There are many things that I have had to repent of in my life. Some of them have been in my marriage and I have had to ask God and Laura to forgive me, and then I had to start changing the way I spoke or behaved in order to line up with the way God treats me because of Jesus.
I would venture to say that most of the marriages I have been invited to counsel would have not needed it if they knew HOW to repent and actually DID IT.
John the Baptist did not make any friends because he called out people who where greedy and told them to give. He called out people who protected their stuff and told them to give it away. He called out people who thought they deserved what they had and said it was not just for them.
We have lost of the meaning, beauty and power of repentance.
Repentance is a messy, hard business. It means being smacked in the face with the reality that we have turned 180 degrees away from God in some area of our life and we need to snap back, do an about face and do what pleases God.
To say we are sorry is good. However, true repentance not only says we are sorry, it bears fruit, it demonstrates change that goes in the other way. Not so that we avoid punishment but so that we live up to the glorious calling we have and experience the wonderful joy of loving God and others.
As David pointed out, the Big 10 commandments all fall into the loving God or loving others category. Jesus summed up ALL the OT law and prophets with this: love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself [Matthew 22:37-40]
Does it not make sense, then, that our need for repentance must always address and be reflected towards our relationship with God and with others? It is really not about the fact that “I have sinned”- of course you have, we all have and we all will! It is more about whom we have sinned against and what we will do to show fruit of repentance.
11 He also said: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. 14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. 15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one would give him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. // Luke 15:11–24 CSB
Notice the son’s response in verse 18-19:
- I have sinned against heaven (against God)
- I have sinned against you
- Make me like one of your servants (let me work for you since I have taken from you)
Our repentance should point us to God and others. How have we offended God and others? Then it should direct us – how can I bless God and others? How can I do the opposite of my sin in relationship with God and others?
Dealing with the guilt
I think for me, the biggest struggle with repentance is the guilt that I feel… and sometimes KEEP feeling. I believe guilt is good, but it is not a good place to dwell. That is not what God calls us to, nor how he views us.
18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 19 Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. 20 Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. // 1 John 3:18–20 NLT
We can stand confident before God, we can come before God without guilt, when we repent, because of Jesus. THAT is exactly why Jesus died. God knows this. He knows our sins and sent Jesus because of them. He did this to remove the shame (just like he covered Adam & Eve’s shame in the garden!)
Let’s go back to that story of the Prodigal. The Father did not make the son grovel. He did not make the son repay what he took. The son repented, the Father embraced, rejoiced and blessed.
The son would have NEVER experienced the blessing of his father, or the renewed relationship with him apart from repentance. And the Father would never turn away or belittle a repentant son.
WHY do we dislike the word repentance?
- Repentance is confessing my sin and experiencing the joy of being freed from those same sins.
- It is the gateway to a clear conscience and the blessing of our Father.
- It is the beginning of restoration or my relationship with God and others
- It provides release from the guilt of my wrong doings.
- It restores me as an image bearer or God, reflecting His grace to the world around me.
Repentance requires ACTion:
Acknowledging our sin against God and others
Confess our sin to God and others
Transforming our thoughts and actions to be like Jesus – to line up with who we are in Jesus