I have friends who like to feel pure by saying that they don’t plan sin. They suggest it sort of sneaks up on them and, before they know it, they are caught. I guess they think that, if they didn’t plan it, God will understand and love them more. Frankly, if that is true, I’m in serious trouble.
Sin hardly ever sneaks up on me. In fact, most of my sins are first degree. I planned the sin, I thought about it for some time, I considered the consequences…and by then, it was too late…I did the sin.
Our dearly departed dog, Quincy the Wonder Dog, who is now in heaven, did that too. He decided to run when I said “come”; to chase a cat when I wanted him to heel; and, stick in mouth, to bound off in the opposite direction…away from me. Sometimes, when he was thinking about chewing up a shoe or worse, I yelled at him, “Quincy, don’t you even think about it! If you do it, I’m going to come after you!”
Whenever that happened, Quincy stopped for a moment, looked at me then looked in the “wrong” direction, thought about it some more…and did it anyway.
I could see it in his eyes and I know exactly what was going through his head: “I’m in trouble if I do this…big time trouble. But it’s worth the price and, besides, Steve really likes me. After I pay the price, he’ll scratch my head and give me a treat. And what I’m getting ready to do isn’t all that bad anyway.”
I know Quincy did that because I do it with God.
Do you know the biggest problem with the church and with individual Christians? It isn’t our lack of knowledge. It isn’t our lack of obedience either. (We were never all that obedient in the first place and God seemed to be doing okay.) The problem isn’t with our tithing or evangelism or missions.
The biggest problem with Christians is that we don’t feel free to repent. We can’t repent to God because we don’t trust him and what he says about his love. We can’t repent to one another because we know that, if we repent, they will know and we will no longer be a respected part of the church, the fellowship or our circle of Christian friends. We can’t even repent to ourselves because we simply wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves. So we lie. It’s the only option we think (usually subconsciously) we have. Lying to God, to our friends and to ourselves may feel comfortable at first, but it robs us of our power.
I think God winces whenever we say to him or ourselves, “I may be bad, but I’m not as bad as he/she is” or “I think I’m getting this stuff licked and, after only a few minor adjustments, then I’ll be pleasing to God” or “I used to be really, really bad, but now I’m redeemed and walking with Christ.”
Repentance is the center and source of the Christian’s power. Without it, our prayers are empty, our religion is shallow and our effectiveness is nil. Repentance is at the very core of the Christian’s life. We are called to live a life of repentance before God.
Repentance gives us the freedom Christ promised. A friend of mine was harshly criticized and I told him what they were saying. He said, “Steve, don’t get so upset…they’re right.”
“Are you crazy?” I responded, “They aren’t right. Let’s fix it.”
“No,” he said, “as long as I know they’re right, I’m free. I don’t have to pretend any longer and I don’t have to be right. God likes me a lot and that is all that matters. And I’m getting better…better than I was.”
“Repentance,” by the way, comes from a Greek word meaning to change one’s mind. In the Christian sense, repentance isn’t change. It’s God’s methodology for changing us. It is knowing who you are, what you’ve done and who God is, and then turning away from whatever is occupying your mind and heart, and turning to him instead, in agreement with his assessment of the matter. Again: Repentance isn’t changing…it is God’s methodology for change.
The Psalmist wrote, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Jesus said that, whereas the tax collector who could do nothing but cry out for mercy was justified before God, the Pharisee who did almost everything right went away without the power and joy of being right with God (Luke 18). One of the most radical things Jesus ever said was about a prostitute: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
Now to the point of all this. John wrote, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
Don’t miss what John did here. John gave us permission—permission to repent! He gave us the key to spiritual power and effectiveness in glorifying God. It is the very Gospel for Christians. John said, in effect, “It is my fond hope that you won’t sin…but you probably will anyway, so when you do sin, you have an advocate with the Father.”
That’s so great, I can hardly stand it!
As you know, I’m often accused of encouraging people to sin. (Frankly, that’s not true…people were doing fine long before I came along!) Some say that when I give “three free sins,” teach that God isn’t angry at you, or say something like “you wouldn’t be so shocked by your own sin if you didn’t have such a high opinion of yourself,” it is all only a blasphemous way of granting people permission to sin.
You wouldn’t believe the number of letters I’ve received over the years on my prayer before I preach/teach, the one in which I ask God to forgive my sins “because they are many.” One pastor told me, “Steve, if you keep praying that prayer, people will think you’re a really bad sinner.”
I’m not giving people permission to sin. I’m giving them permission to repent. That’s what we are to do for one another. If we don’t give one another permission to repent then we will have no power to be anything other than little Christians good for nothing but religion.
So, go ahead and repent.
No, really. Do it. It’s all right. God won’t be angry and I won’t think less of you. Just do it!
He asked me to give you permission. And you give me permission too.
Time to Draw Away
Read Luke 15:11-32, the story of the prodigal son.
Do you feel free to repent? Do you trust God and what he says about his unconditional love for you? Confess your sin. No need to lie or pretend. (He knows anyway.) Just be honest before God and run to Jesus. He’s waiting with open arms.