by Paul Benson
Should We Preach Repentance?
…except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Jesus Christ
Mention the word ‘repentance’ and many people cringe. They associate the word with either the fruitless and never-ending labors of religious penance; or the overbearing preaching of some pulpit-bully who constantly beats his congregation with threats of damnation without ever showing them how to find peace with God, and the power to live right. But does repentance preaching really deserve the bad rap it’s been getting?
Understanding What Repentance Is Not
Penance and condemnation: neither of these concepts come anywhere near to being an accurate representation of what true repentance is; nor will produce the wonderful benefit it brings to those who find it. Let’s identify true biblical repentance so we can enjoy the reward God intends it to bring our way.
Many people today confuse ‘repentance’ with ‘penance’: the self-righteous act of punishing yourself for your sins. Some religions even get out there so far that they get into flagellation: a vicious practice of self-abuse that involves beating, whipping, or cutting oneself in a perverse attempt at self-discipline and/or pleasing God, but accomplishes neither.
Stop Beating Yourself Up
I know a number of persons who practice what I call ‘mental flagellation’. They assault themselves with a continual flow of self-abasement with words like, “Oh, you filthy dog!” or “I’m such a filthy sinner!” They constantly whip and cut themselves with thoughts and phrases of a degrading nature, thinking this is seen by God as a form of humility or repentance; but these actions never truly produce anything but condemnation.
If this describes you: please stop it! You are not helping yourself or pleasing God. If all you are doing is beating yourself with ‘thou shalt nots’ then you are actually strengthening the power of sin over you. Yes, that’s right, strengthening your sin’s grip on you! …the strength of sin is the law (1Corinthians 15:56). The law will not set you free!
Stop beating yourself with the law, and try placing your faith in what took place on the Cross instead. Your sin has already been paid for. Do you think you can out do what Jesus did or embellish upon it with your self-abuse? In God’s estimation your self-degrading efforts are a very poor substitute for repentance. Penance is not repentance.
Repentance Versus Condemnation
Neither is condemnation. To listen to some preachers you would think repentance is when you are walking around scared you are not a righteous person because you are not engaging in enough works of religious duty. Afraid you will end up in Hell forever because your are not religious enough! And they manipulate the flock through that fear, “Work harder – give more – and don’t miss a service, or you will not be pleasing to God!”
We should fear God, but not like that. You are never going to be ‘good enough’ to be seen as righteous in God’s eyes. Give it up! The Bible says that: “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) And also it is written: “there is none righteous, no not one!” (Romans 3:10) If you could become righteous through your own efforts there would have been no need for Jesus to go to that Cross.
Righteousness Triumphs Over Condemnation
Jesus paid the penalty for your sin and rebellion. Only a faith in that truth can bring righteousness upon you: the righteousness of Jesus Christ freely given to those who would turn from their sins and believe from their heart the wonderful truths of the Gospel. Only through the gift of Christ’s righteousness can we become acceptable to God. We need to be able to find rest in the knowledge this is a free gift.
Your heavenly Father desires that you would have a confidence in your right-standing with Him, and an assurance by the witness of His Spirit in your heart that your are a child of God. It’s quite difficult to stand fast in that confidence and assurance when your conscience is all clouded up with religious condemnation. Condemnation is not repentance! Let’s stay clear on that.
Repentance Is Not Just A Change Of Mind
I heard a preacher once say, “You know, repentance is not that big of a deal. It’s merely a change of mind: I once thought that something was okay but now I think it’s wrong.” Sorry, not even close! Changing your mind about something being good or bad falls quite short of true repentance.
A person could smoke for 20 years, and then decide they are bad for your health and quit. Another could drink heavily for years and then, tired of consequences to family and finance, decide to quit drinking. In both cases many would declare this to be repentance, but this is not necessarily so. Although both decisions would be wise, and highly beneficial, neither addresses the matter of true repentance.
Repentance is not an issue of the changing of our mind, but of the heart! And it is not a question of our actions being detrimental to self or family; but whether or not they are a grief to God. True repentance requires an acknowledging that our wrongdoings are an offense to God. King David cried out to God: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.” (Psalms 51:4)
True Repentance Brings Victory Over Sin
But we must go a lot farther than just hanging our head in shame before God. If we stop there we are still just stuck in a religious condemnation. Right where the religions of man would like to keep you. With your head hanging in condemnation, and your hand reaching for your wallet to ease the pain! But if we have truly repented the sin is gone and we can now lift our heads.
Are you still in bondage to a sin and carrying the guilt of your actions? Don’t lie before God and call yourself repentant. He would rather have you be honest and call yourself a rebel against His will than to lie to Him. Better yet why not seek to put away that sin? God will meet you there with the strength you need to overcome.
Don’t stray off into doing penance for your sin; the price has already been paid. And all condemnation will do is have your chin dragging the floor because you are bowed down so far; it can never set you free or bring you peace. True repentance is evidenced by a putting away of sin, and will bring a freedom from the guilt that sin caused. This will bring a sense of joy and liberty to your life. Repentance is not a dirty word! (this teaching will continue in the third and final part)