This week our church gave a very good sermon on repentance. I had never heard it explained that way before. Mainly what I had heard about repentance in the past was that repentance was this: “not just being convicted and saying sorry, but turning away from that sin.” That turned into a huge weight for me to carry. To me, it sounded like I was the one doing the turning away with “help” from Christ. This was a heavy feeling, and I never really liked the sound of the word “repentance.” It made me feel guilty.
Every time I did something wrong, I felt that “I screwed it up again.” I felt like a failure at repentance (as if repenting was a responsibility that was lying solely on my shoulders). I expected that somehow I could turn away from sin and have freedom, since that was the last step in repentance, but that didn’t ever happen.
“Repentance” wasn’t a word that rang like “freedom” in my mind. “Repent!” reverberated in my mind like condemnation. “Repentance” pointed its finger at me. “Repentance” wasn’t something I wanted to run to; I wanted to run from it. This week, that all changed.
The sermon on Sunday was not a condemning sermon. The pastor gave some background and some understanding of who we are (sinners by birth), what Jesus did (gave us his status, even though he earned it and we didn’t), and how we are to “put on” Christ, “putting off the old.” At the end he gave some practical ways to apply “putting off the old” and “putting on the new.”
The pastor talked about how people assume different things when you’re wearing different clothes. (For example, if you’re wearing a police uniform, you’re immediately recognized as a police officer.) He gave this baseball analogy to “hit home,” so to speak (please appreciate that pun):
Jesus is up to bat. You’re on the opposite team, and anticipation is growing. The pitcher throws a curve-ball to Jesus. As soon as he hits it, it soars through the air, and that ball soars right out of the park. Jesus walks over to you, puts his clothes on you, and tells you to go run the bases. You’re obviously really confused here; you didn’t hit that ball, but you go and run the bases. When you look up at the scoreboard, you see your name! Jesus was the one who hit that ball, but he gave you his status, he gave you the credit.
In reality, what Jesus did was much more than giving you or me credit for a baseball game. We were born sinners, and he lived a sinless life, taking on all of the separation and anger from God at the end so that we would have his status as sons and daughters of God. He gives us a new status and new desires. We did nothing to deserve that, and nothing to earn it.
Putting on Christ is accepting what he did for us, accepting that status (his status, which is now ours too) and living in that freedom from the old. Sometimes, though, we hang up the new clothes he gave us, and pick up our old, comfortable clothes out of habit. That’s not what we truly desire, but our flesh is very weak.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
That’s why we can speak the truth to ourselves, reminding ourselves of the truth instead of listening to ourselves. When things get rough and we’re tempted to pick up that old set of clothes, we can speak truth to ourselves, sing the truth to ourselves, etc. Over time, new habits will be formed, but just as many of our old, habitual sins weren’t formed in just one day, our new habits of living in freedom and grace aren’t formed in just one day either. It takes time; don’t be discouraged.
That is what the sermon was about. Now, the end result of this understanding seems the same at first glance. The actions of resisting sin and attempting to form new habits seem the same as when we take it on ourselves to stop sinning (the same as the “repentance” I used to dread); however, the ways of executing these actions (and the reasons for doing so) are very different. We can’t change our desires, but God can. He can make us passionate about what’s right, desiring to please God, serving others, and dying to selfish desires. He is the only one who can change what we desire. We can’t.
Our pastor used the baseball analogy a second time to explain that if we’re trying to do it in our flesh instead of through freedom, not accepting the truth that we are sons and daughters of God, it’s like going back out to the field and trying to hit the same ball Jesus did, even when we could never achieve that, and it has already been done for us. If we are attempting to conquer sin in our flesh, we aren’t accepting Christ and his strength, and what he has already finished, and we will fail.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
We are not pure because of anything that we did or didn’t do. We weren’t suddenly impure sinners because of something we did or didn’t do. Sin was our birthright, we were born into sin, but now we’re new in Christ; we have a new birthright. If we are in Christ, there is nothing we can do that will change our status as daughters and sons.
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”
We still sin, we will struggle with our flesh for the rest of our lives, but what joy it brings us to know that “it is finished!” not by our own strength, but by Christ’s.
“Repentance” now sounds like “freedom” to me; there is no condemnation for me. There are simply open arms as my Daddy waits for me to run to him in my brokenness, my weakness. He promises freedom, not condemnation.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Praise God; it is finished!
Thoughts? Questions? Comment below!