“Why is repentance so hard?” a friend recently asked.
We all gave quick, obvious answers, but the question continued to roll around in my head and heart, beckoning for a deeper consideration.
Why is repentance so hard?
I’m listing some ways that show up in my own heart and in Scripture.
1. Pride. We oppose being associated with lowliness or bearing the shame that comes with the weakness exposed by sin.
2. We hate being exposed, needy, and poor in spirit.
3. Our flesh scorns our brokenness.
4. We live in fear of man instead of fear of the Lord.
5. We oppose authority and love independence.
6. In our sin nature, we prefer law over love, transaction over intimacy, controlled relationships over Kingdom relationships.
7. We’d like to be God.
8. We believe it’s God’s judgment that leads us to repentance, not His kindness (Rom. 2:4).
9. We don’t believe God’s way is better or that it will bring life.
10. We don’t believe God’s goodness, kindness, and steadfast love toward us.
Can I say again, I’ve seen all of these in my own heart?
And seeing the ugliness of our hearts can send us reeling into shame and hiding, or it can send us to the foot of the Cross, broken and rejoicing that our King came near, humble and lowly, to bear and bridge what kept us from Him.
So can I give you a glimpse at the beauty of repentance?
Repentance is part and parcel to the way of life our good and loving Father has called us to live. Holy God and rebellious, broken sinner can only live in fellowship through reconciliation. The means by which we afford the pleasure of intimate relationship with the God of the universe is through Jesus.
Jesus’ first message of the Kingdom – Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Repent – repent from living in your own ways. Repent from living apart from the One who loves you and longs to do good to you. Repent from hoping in the false kingdom of this world to give you the Life you can only find in God.
Jesus. In putting on His own creation – humanity – He proves there to be no other way to relate to God than through humility, love, obedience, and faith (Phil. 2:1-11). In living perfectly, He shows us a life dependent on His Father, a life lived by faith in His goodness, kindness, faithfulness, mercy, and steadfast love (John 8:27-30, the fact that He went to the Cross!). In dying, He bears the sin and shame of man – the very things that separate us from our God (Col. 2:13-15). He endures the wrath, the penalty reserved for us, because of His great love for His Father and for us (John 15:12-13). In overcoming sin and death’s hold on His beloved creation, He rises with a victory and inheritance that He gladly gives to those who look to Him and believe He’s the only Way (Eph. 1).
Repentance is turning from our sin to our Savior. And it requires an exchange of loves.
In repentance, we live in the way of love, not law or flesh.
Law binds and enslaves. Law condemns and holds captive. Law exposes our desire to live for our own glory, by our own strength, in our own abilities.
Flesh envies and indulges. Flesh exalts and cheats. Flesh punishes and hates, fears and hides. Flesh reeks with stench of self, self, self.
Love frees and empowers. Love exposes, makes safe, and brings peace. Love sacrifices and gives. Love honors and cherishes and treasures. Love bears, hopes, believes, endures.
And in the way of love, the heart breaks when fellowship is severed. The heart aches for restoration to the One it loves.
Because idolatry is essentially about what you love, repentance requires changing whom you love. Repentance turns your whole heart - your whole person - to God in love, trust, and obedience instead of to idols. It trades hates and loves, hating the sin you once loved and loving the God you've hated by your sin. - Mike Wilkerson, Redemption
In my own life, when I am not walking in the way of love, these are only a few of the concerns I find in my heart when I sin against my husband:
· Justifying my sin that was committed or omitted in an effort to protect myself
· Nursing wounds from the sting of his sin
· Judging his sin as greater
· Fearing he will not think of me as highly as he did before (pride, glory-seeking)
· Punishing self for not restraining my tongue or being more Christ-like
Because in the way of law, the heart hates messing up. It hates to be exposed as imperfect and needy and finds ways of measuring up or being worthy with good deeds, better efforts, or self-restrictions. And in the way of flesh, the heart hides and finds ways of covering and denying, coping and nursing, distracting and protecting when confronted with brokenness. It fears and despises what is true of itself.
But in the way of love, repentance satisfies the thirsty soul, the one that aches for restored intimacy. Repentance brings us before the Cross, where both our death and life reside. And when we see the reality of the gospel, our heart changes, little by little, each and every time we repent.
So when I am walking in the way of love and I sin against my husband, I find these responses in my heart:
· Grieving over my sin against the Lord
· Wondering over and worshiping the Savior who bore my sin and the sin of man
· Pleading for His grace and power to make me new, to humble me, and empower me to go to my brother and love him by seeking reconciliation
· Relishing in His mercy and forgiveness
· Asking for a heart to understand more of His love for me so that I may not sin against Him or my husband
Because in our exchange of loves, we find the most beautiful and astounding reality come to life.
"On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."'" John 7:37-38
The glorious exchange. We get the embrace of our loving Father when we give Him our sinful heart. We get the assurance of His steadfast love and mercy toward us when we offer our surrender. We get the freedom of fixing our eyes on Love Himself when we turn our eyes from worthless things. We get resurrection power for our weakness. And the more we find this sweet exchange applied in our lives, the more we desire to live in this way of love.
In what “way” do you find yourself living most often?
What keeps you from living in the way of love?
It’s supernatural that we, broken sinners, could live in this way of love. But it comes as the Word exposes our hearts (from which these words I’ve written, I pray, come) and as we see the beauty of our King and grow compelled by His love for us to worship Him.
Father, expose our hearts, expose Your beauty and love, and compel us to worship You that we might live more and more in this way of love.