Sorry Substitutes for Repentance
It can be easy to do things halfway at times. Maybe you have had a long day and you half-heartedly listen to your spouse. Or maybe you pick up just a little of the mess off of the couch so you have a place to sit down. Doing things halfway is not always costly. In fact, sometimes this is all you can do to survive.
However, if you repent halfway, you will find the costs on your spiritual life to be great.
In fact, if you repent in a half-hearted way, you will not survive.
I should know because I find myself doing it all the time. I find myself using sorry substitutes for repentance that stunt my growth in becoming more like Christ. Substitutes that have become extremely common in the church today and that make me feel good for the moment, but that can bear no fruit of godliness in my life.
Here are the most common substitutes for true repentance. . .
Feeling Sad. This is one of the most common mistakes in repentance. You have sinned against God through lying or looking at porn or being angry with your family, and you start believing a lie. The lie that says the sadder I feel in this moment, the more I have repented. However, feeling sad is not repentance. It is not walking in newness of life. Anybody can feel sad when they are caught doing something wrong or when they hurt someone they love. However, true repentance is changing directions. Brokenness is a blessing. It is a gift from God. Yet, the true blessing of brokenness is seen only when it bears the fruit of change.
Only apologizing horizontally. I hate to admit that this is true, but too often, I am bothered more when I sin against my spouse than when I sin against God. There have been times when I have sinned against Rebecca and spent hours trying to make things right, yet I throw up a 20 second prayer to God to say I am sorry.
We should desire to have fellowship restored with God more than any other relationship in our life. Remember the story of David and Bathsheba in the Old Testament. David’s sin is so grievous that he commits adultery with another man’s wife and then kills that man to cover up his rebellion. Yet, what does David say when is heart is broken over his sin – “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” David knew that the greatest offense is always against a holy God. True repentance starts vertically before it ever moves horizontally.
Only apologizing vertically. The flip side of the coin is thinking I can tell God that I am sorry for my sin, but never address the people I have sinned against. We tell ourselves “Well, God is the one who really matters; the other people are just small, incident bystanders to my sin.” The only problem is that God hates repentance that lacks horizontal movement. In fact, God says in Matthew 18:15 to go and make things right with your brother before you bring your worship to him. In James 5, he tells the community of believers to confess your sins to one another so that you may be healed. We cannot miss the importance of this truth because a church that refuses to repent to one another is a church that will destroy one another.
Not changing anything at all. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and continuing to get the same results. Sometimes my repentance looks like insanity to God. Sure I might feel broken over my sin, I might pray to God and ask for forgiveness, but when no changes are made in my life, it is nothing but lip-service. Talk is cheap and change is valuable when it comes to repentance in your life.
Every time you sin against God or someone in your faith community, you have to ask “What needs to change if I am going to grow in godliness?” “What needs to be different since my sin is serious and my Savior is worthy?” I can’t keep surfing the internet without accountability. I can’t keep losing sleep if I am going to be irritable with my wife. I am not going to hang out with those friends if all we do is gossip.
Doing good works. Good works are good but they can’t take the place of repentance. Too many religious people try to make their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, so that God’s scale tips from disapproval to approval. What a miserable way to live! God’s affection for his people does not fluctuate based on the performance of his people. God’s acceptance is secure because of the performance of Jesus.
Therefore, when we experience brokenness over our sin this should cause us to run to the cross rather than run to food pantry. This brokenness should cause us to meditate on Jesus great love, not strive to do greater deeds. Because the only thing that gives us standing before a holy God is repenting of our unrighteousness and being clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
So the next time you sin, (because you will sin again) don’t walk in repentance half-heartedly. Let the brokenness of your sin drive you to the one whose body was broken for you on the cross. Seek forgiveness and confess your sins from your brothers and sisters. Bear the fruit of change through a new passion for holiness. This is the kind of repentance that makes you look more like Jesus.