The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Understanding Repentance

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TWO WAYS TO JUDGE

God judges you by your soul’s response to Him.  Once God establishes a relationship with you, you constantly make choices about how you will treat Him in that relationship, and those choices are what determine whether God is pleased or displeased with you.

Humans judge you by how you behave—especially by how you behave towards other humans.  Humans have strong opinions about how you ought to treat them, and if you don’t meet their expectations, then they dislike you. 

So then, God is judging you by what’s going on inside of you, and humans are judging you by what you’re doing on the outside.  When your actions are not consistent with your internal motivations—in other words, when you desire to do one thing, yet in practice you do something quite different—God will say what you desired to do is what counts, but humans will say what you actually did is far more important.  As you can see, these two judgment systems are very different, and which one you personally choose to align with will greatly impact how you attempt to relate to God.

In this post, we’re going to teach you how repentance is supposed to work.  Most Christian teachers will tell you that repentance is a soul choice which becomes totally invalid if it is not paired with the right external actions.   In other words, you can claim to have a certain soul attitude towards God, but until you convince other humans that you have that attitude by doing behaviors which they consider proof of that attitude, then you’re just a lying hypocrite.  What kinds of behaviors humans will demand from you before they will approve of you depends on who you’re hanging out with.  If you’re a Catholic, for example, then your pope will tell you that if you really care about pleasing God, you will agree with every theological position the pope personally holds.  If the pope declares something to be true, yet you say it is false, then clearly your behaviors prove that your soul attitude is rebellious.  You will then be instructed to repent, but no one will accept your repentance as sincere until you change your behaviors, and that means you go from saying the pope is wrong to saying he is right.  See how it works?  It’s all about behaviors with humans.  They judge you by your actions, and they reserve the right to define what your actions ought to be in any given moment.

Now if you’re hanging out with people who don’t care about God, you’re probably not going to get accused of having a rebellious soul attitude.  But when you’re socializing with other Christians, things change.  There are many Christians who will rush to play God in your life by constantly telling you when you need to repent out of some bad attitude which they’ve decided that you have.  Pastor John might tell you that your refusal to sign up for any ministries proves you don’t really care about God, thus you need to repent.  But of course Pastor John won’t believe you’ve repented until you prove the sincerity of your repentance by changing your behavior, and that means doing what John tells you to do.  Or your Christian wife Rebecca might say that you are a real worm for having an affair and breaking your sacred marriage vows.  Rebecca says you must repent, but she won’t believe that your repentance is real until you start treating her like a queen.  Or maybe this week it’s Phil your home group leader who has a problem with you.  Phil says that the way you spoke to him last week was very disrespectful.  Phil has decided that anyone who thinks Phil is less than awesome is clearly in a state of spiritual rebellion.  So after scolding you, Phil orders you to repent.  Of course your repentance isn’t valid until you change your behavior and that means you start bobbing your head in agreement every time Phil teaches instead of embarrassing him with your questions.  This is how it works with other Christians: because they are humans, they judge you by how you behave, and different Christians have different ideas about how a “true believer” should behave.  If you don’t meet expectations, then you get slapped with the rebel label.

As holy as it sounds to talk about repentance, in practice, Christians often use this concept as just one more way to express their personal power trips.  As long as you continue to align with the human system of judgment, you are going to be forced to take one of two negative positions.  The first choice is to hone your acting skills until you are able to effectively con people into thinking you’re a very different person than you actually are.  Pete inwardly despises God, but because he’s very friendly to people at church, emotional in his worship style, and frequently quoting Scriptures, everyone thinks Pete is a dedicated believer.  This is one way to avoid getting shunned by other people: you become a raging hypocrite who consciously turns on your “holy” act whenever you’re around Christians.

Now if you’re a bad actor yet you still insist on clinging to the human system of assessing spiritual success, then it’s only a matter of time until you get buried under a mountain of condemnation and shame. Luke is a good example here.  Luke is addicted to porn, sex, alcohol, and meth. Luke is a total mess, and because he can’t ever go very long without jumping into some stranger’s bed or getting high on drugs, the folks at Luke’s church tell him that he’s a spiritual rebel.  Luke’s pastor says true Christians are new creations in Christ and that no true believer could desire the kinds of sordid things that Luke finds himself constantly craving.  Even though Luke desperately wants to please God, his pastor says that if Luke really cared about pleasing God, he would repent, exercise the self-control that God has already given him, and break out of all of his immoral activities.  When Luke says he can’t, his pastor says that the real issue is that Luke won’t.  Since Luke is judging himself by his own behavior, and since he can see himself constantly wallowing in things which God says are wrong, Luke feels forced to conclude that he must be a hardened spiritual rebel or perhaps someone who God has eternally cut off.  Either way, Luke is depressed out of his mind, and he thinks the problem is that he can’t change his behaviors.  But that’s actually not the problem at all.  The problem is that Luke has aligned himself with the wrong judgment system.  He’s judging himself the way other humans do and treating them as the supreme authorities, even though they really aren’t.  Luke doesn’t need a miracle cure from all of his addictions—he just needs to get his theology correct about how God judges him.

So then, what’s your goal in life?  Who do you want to please?  There’s no point in discussing repentance until you first give serious thought as to who you are going to live for.  If you’re going to make pleasing other people your top goal in life, then it’s guaranteed that you’re going to end up tanking in your relationship with God.  If you even do make it into Heaven—which you probably won’t—your experience of it will be far less positive than it would have been if you’d been wise.  So who are you going to live for: God or people?  Are you going to choose the path of wisdom or the path of idiocy?  If you think you can find some happy middle and please both God and people, you’re wrong.  God has intentionally set things up so that you have to choose between Him and other humans.  So give serious thought as to what your choice will be, and if you don’t choose God, don’t bother with the rest of this post, because what we’re going to say is only going to help those who sincerely want to please God.

ALIGNING WITH GOD’S JUDGMENT SYSTEM

Now then, for the minority of you who have made the right choice by deciding that you want God, not other humans, to be your first priority in life, the first step in getting untangled from terrible teaching about repentance is to align with God’s judgment system.  Aligning with God’s judgment means you start making a serious effort to judge yourself according to His priorities, not yours.  God says that it’s your soul’s response to Him which He cares most about.  Compared to your soul choices, your actions are irrelevant—that’s how important your soul choices are.

Now let’s sit you down at a table which has nothing on it.  We then point to the empty surface of the table and say, “Choose one of those apples.”  What apples?  You don’t see any apples.  How can you choose something that isn’t even there?  You can’t.  If we want you to choose between a set of apples, we first need to provide you with that set.  It’s our room, our table, and our game, so it’s on us to give you the tools you need to play our game the way we want.

This is how it works  with you and God as well.  When we say that God judges you by your soul choices, we mean that He first gives you a choice, then He judges you according to what you choose.  God never tricks you the way we just did by telling you to make a choice that isn’t really possible.  God isn’t interested in tripping you up just to do it.  God actually has very positive feelings towards you when He first starts relating to you. He likes you and He wants you to flourish in your relationship with Him.

Now since people who struggle with repentance often have a very negative view of God, let’s return to our apple game to unlearn another common misconception about God.  Suppose we put a red apple in front of you on the table.  Then we put a green apple in a locked safe and set the safe down in front of you as well.  We then say, “We’ll give you a point for every bite you take out of the green apple.”  Well, how can you do this when you can’t even access the green apple?  What we’re asking from you is impossible because we’ve intentionally put the green apple out of your reach.  In real life, many frustrated Christians believe that God is playing similar games with them.  They think He is frequently asking them to do things which they literally cannot do because He is intentionally withholding the resources they need.  And once you conclude that God is demanding the impossible from you only to then punish you for not doing it, of course you’re going to feel despaired about ever pleasing Him.

So if God is nicer than we are with our shady apple games, how does He really run His game?  Well, if God wanted you to choose a green apple, He’d put a red apple and a green apple in front of you on that table, then He’d say, “Choose one apple, but know that I’d like you to choose the green one.”  Because God has made both apples equally accessible, pleasing Him is quite easy to do.  All you have to do is choose the apple He wants.  This is how it works in the world of soul choices.  God says something to you, and your soul either responds with, “Yes, God, I want to please You,” or “Shut up and go away.” Saying “yes” is obedience.  Saying “go away” is rebellion.  It’s only in cases of rebellion that repentance becomes necessary.

Now when we first become Christians, we’re usually deeply entrenched in the human way of judging.  This is hardly a surprise—we are humans, after all.  But if we’re going to get far with God, then at some point, we need to realize what a big difference there is between His style of judging and ours, then we need to switch to His style.  The tricky bit here is learning to view actions and soul attitudes as the different things that they are.  Here’s where another analogy is helpful.

Imagine that you and a guy named Abdul are sitting on the ground.  God appears in front of you and He tells you both to stand up.  You leap to your feet right away.  Abdul wanted to leap to his feet as well, but Abdul is paralyzed from the waist down.  So now that you’re standing and Abdul is still sitting, which one of you has obeyed God?  Humans would say that only you obeyed because you are the only one standing.  Humans judge each other by their actions, but God judges humans by how they respond to Him in the privacy of their own souls.  Since you and Abdul both wanted to please God by standing, God would say that you both obeyed Him.  Abdul has pleased God just as much as you have even though Abdul wasn’t able to physically do what God told him to do.  Do you see what a difference there is between the way God and humans judge?

If God judged Abdul only by Abdul’s actions, then Abdul would be in a hopeless position every time God told Abdul to do something which he physically couldn’t do.  Meanwhile, you’d have a huge advantage over Abdul simply because you happened to have better health.  A lot of Christians think this is how God works—they think He intentionally makes it impossible for some people to succeed with Him while He heaps the rewards onto His “favorites,” even though those favorites haven’t done anything to deserve the advantages that they have.  It’s rather like the way Tom gets praised for his amazing self-control around alcohol when the truth is that Tom has no desire to drink and he hates the way alcohol tastes.  Tom hardly deserves accolades for not drinking when he doesn’t even want to.  Tom can’t take any credit for the fact that his tongue dislikes the taste of alcoholic drinks.  But Tom likes taking credit for these things, and he likes looking down on Adam who is hopelessly addicted to hard liquor.  Adam craves alcohol all the time, he’s physically addicted to it, and no matter where he goes, someone is thrusting a drink in his face.  Adam isn’t a loser because he can’t stop thinking about alcohol, and it’s not his fault that he lives in a culture which is obsessed with drinking.  But what happens when these two men hear a sermon in which the pastor says it is a terrible sin to drink to the point of drunkenness?  Tom feels proud that he’s above such things while Adam feels like a spiritual failure.  Tom and Adam are both embracing wrong attitudes because they’re using the wrong system of judgment.  What happens when they stop judging themselves by their actions and they start judging themselves by their soul choices?  Suddenly Tom realizes he has nothing to feel proud about, because his lack of drinking is irrelevant to his relationship with God.  Meanwhile, Adam needs to think about how he responds when God convicts him that he’s drinking too much.  Is Adam really telling God, “Shut up and go away?”  Or is Adam like our friend Abdul who inwardly says, “Yes, God, I want to do as You ask,” yet he can’t physically follow through?  If Adam is like Abdul, then God is pleased with him in spite of his drinking problems, because God sees that Adam sincerely cares about pleasing Him.  See how it works?  Once you align with God’s judgment system, you stop obsessing over your actions and you turn your focus onto your soul choices.  When God says something to you, you are receptive to whatever it is He has to say. If He asks you to do something, you sincerely want to obey Him.  But as Abdul and Adam know, wanting to do something and being able to turn that wanting into action are two very different things.

WHEN IS IT TIME TO REPENT?

Now suppose one man is wet from a swim in a pool and another man is dry.  Which man is going to say, “Hand me a towel so that I can dry off?”  Only the wet man.  The dry man doesn’t need to dry off because he’s not wet.  In the same way, repentance is only necessary when you are currently in a state of spiritual rebellion. If you’re not rebelling, then trying to repent is as useless as our dry man rubbing himself with a towel.  It’s even worse than useless—it’s damaging to your relationship with God because it’s like you’re insisting that God has a problem with you when He really doesn’t.

Suppose Ivan and his wife Sarah are having a nice day together when Sarah suddenly bursts into tears and says, “I’m so sorry, Ivan!  I really am!”
Ivan asks, “What are you sorry about?”
Sarah says, “I’m sorry that I made you angry just now!”
Ivan says, “I’m not angry.  You haven’t done anything to make me angry, so what are you apologizing for?  Stop apologizing and believe me when I say I’m not angry.”
But Sarah shakes her head and says, “No, you’re lying to me! I’m sure you’re furious with me—I can sense it!  So I’m sorry!  Why won’t you forgive me?”

If Sarah continues to believe that Ivan is mad at her when he really isn’t, how happy is this relationship going to be?  It won’t be happy at all.  These two will do nothing but constantly fight with each other as Sarah keeps trying to tell Ivan what he thinks and Ivan gets increasingly exasperated with her attitude towards him.  In the same way, when you suddenly decide that God must be angry with you, then you start repenting over and over again while you refuse to accept the idea that God isn’t angry with you, you’re acting like Sarah.  While you’re assuming that God is impossible to please, you are actually the one who can’t be pleased, because you won’t acknowledge the possibility that God can have a different opinion about you than you think He does.  Christians fall into this trap all the time.  When you’ve done terrible sins in the past which you can’t forgive yourself for, then it’s very easy to project your merciless attitude onto God and decide that He must be refusing to forgive you as well.  So you keep trying to repent and apologize for that abortion or that killing or that theft or that lie or that affair or whatever it is that you’re stuck on.  In these cases, you’re acting like Sarah, and you’re as miserable as she is because you won’t accept that God is not stuck in the past.

Another common way we get stuck is when we see ourselves stuck in a pattern of immoral behavior.  Every time we repeat the behavior, we condemn ourselves the way other humans would and then we assume that God is doing the same.  In these cases, we’re using the wrong judgment system.  Every time Rick sees himself explode with rage and beat his wife and kids, he decides that those wrong actions prove he has wrong soul attitudes, so he tries to repent.  He repents, and repents, and repents, but he never feels any peace because the actions aren’t changing.  Well, what would happened if paralyzed Abdul decided that until he could find a way to physically stand up, he could never be pleasing to God?  Abdul would probably get so depressed he’d try to kill himself.  In the same way, Rick is going to go nowhere but down until he stops using his actions to try and assess his current standing with God.

Humans are complex messes of pain, insecurity and fear.  We’re all so warped inside that we’re scared to even face ourselves, so we spend a lot of time trying to look anywhere but inside.  When we find our own flaws and failures especially disappointing, we have a hard time grasping how God could ever really take joy in dealing with us.  And yet here is where we need to remember that God is not a human—He’s a totally different kind of Being, and that means we must leave room for Him to act in ways that make no logical sense to us.  Loving the screwed up messes that we are is simply not hard for God.  He actually delights in relating to us, and He enjoys maturing us out of our messes one teensy step at a time.

Does a human father find it a crushing disappointment when his newborn son can’t walk the moment he’s out of the womb?  Of course not.  Human fathers don’t expect infants to walk, and because they’re not expecting the impossible in that area, they don’t ever experience the disappointment that comes from having their expectations unmet.  In the same way, God doesn’t expect humans to be perfect.  He has never expected you to be more than you’ve been.  This is one of the advantages of dealing with an all-knowing God: you can’t ever shock or disappoint Him because He never has unreasonable expectations.  He never hopes for what He can’t have.  He doesn’t demand the impossible.  In your relationship with God, He puts succeeding with Him well within your grasp.  If you give Him nothing but snarky attitude, then He will certainly boot you into Hell when you die, and you’ll have to deal with the business end of His wrath for eternity.  But when your soul wants to please God, your soul’s abundant issues do not dampen His enthusiasm about you.  Is your faith pathetically weak?  No problem—God will make it stronger in His time.  Are you plagued with doubts and fears?  No problem—God will resolve them all in His time.  God just doesn’t need perfect from you.  He doesn’t expect it, and He doesn’t even want it.  All He wants is for your soul to be sincerely submitting to Him as the Supreme Authority and desiring to please Him.  As long as that’s your bottom line with Him, then you and He are in an excellent place.

Now if the day comes when you start giving God a bunch of attitude, then He will convict you to repent.  Repentance is when you own up to the fact that your soul attitude is rotten and you correct it.  You pray something like, “God, You’re right: my attitude towards You has been wrong lately, and that needs to change. I’m done being a brat.  I want You to have Your way in my life.  Please help me honor You with my life.”  Is repentance hard?  No, it’s super easy.  The only hard part is getting off your high horse.  We all mount many high horses in our walks with God.  We all get in huffy snits and we all get caught up in pride.  But the wonderful thing about God is that He doesn’t just cut ties and walk away like a grudge holding human might.  When we’re giving Him attitude, He calls us on it.  He gets in our faces. He shows us the error of our ways and starts hassling us to turn around.  Being hassled by God is a great blessing because it demonstrates how much He cares about His relationship with you.  If God didn’t care about you, He’d just kick you away the minute you got attitudinal with Him. But instead He starts doing things that He knows will motivate you to get over yourself.

Going through misery has a way of changing our priorities, which is why God often creates new problems in our lives when we’re being stubborn about repenting out of rebellion.  A bedridden man might not want to apologize to his wife until she’s holding the bottle of painkillers that he really needs and she’s refusing to give it to him until he owns up to his bad treatment of her.  In the same way, many defiant rebels are effectively driven back to God when He turns their lives into miserable messes that they know only He can fix.  But as real as God’s discipline is, you don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking every trial that comes your way is some Divine spanking.  God uses trials to both mature us and discipline us.  From where He’s sitting, trials can be a reward or a punishment.  After all, if a boy wants to become good at math, then it’s a reward when his teacher says he’s ready for the next chapter in his instruction book, even though getting through that chapter will involve a lot of work and brain strain.  In the same way, when you’re obeying God and He creates some new trial in your life, you want to see that as a reward, not a punishment, because God is going to use that trial to teach you new things that will help you grow closer to Him.  It’s only when we’re being rebellious that God starts dishing out the spankings, and His spankings come in many forms.  Yet the moment we repent, God’s anger with us ceases and we are back in a good place with Him.

Once you understand that God judges you only by your soul choices, you can understand why He is so easy to reconcile with.  God’s current attitude towards you is a direct response to your current attitude towards Him.  Maybe you spent 50 years defying Him, but today you sincerely want to please Him.  Because your soul attitude is positive right now, God is pleased with you right now.  He’s not holding a grudge over those 50 years.  He’s not refusing to acknowledge that you’ve changed.  Now this isn’t to say that those 50 years don’t matter because they do.  God gives you a certain number of soul choices that you can make in this life, and if you choose to squander most of them, then that will negatively impact your eternal future, even if you do end up in Heaven.  But since the purpose of repentance is to resolve current problems between you and God, discussing the long term consequences of choice is beyond the scope of this post.  The purpose of this post is to help you understand what repentance is, how it works, and when it is necessary.  Let’s now run through some questions that people commonly ask about repentance.

Q1. HOW LONG DOES REPENTANCE TAKE?

Repentance takes one nanosecond of time to do. It is not a long, drawn out affair, nor are there any religious rituals required. Repentance is a private thing between you and God. You can talk about repenting to other people, just as a man can talk about kissing his wife. But talk is meaningless. Repentance is not a verbal activity, it is a soul choice.

Q2. WHEN SHOULD I REPENT?

It is only appropriate to repent when God convicts you to do so. Other people are not God, so you should not repent just because humans are saying you should.  Wait for God to tell you, and realize that He’s only going to tell you to repent when He sees that your soul attitude towards Him is rebellious.

Q3. WHAT’S THE HARM IN EXCESSIVE REPENTING?

Repenting when God isn’t telling you to will have a very damaging effect on your relationship with Him over time. A sincere effort to repent involves admitting that you are currently in a state of spiritual rebellion. When you’re not really rebelling, yet you keep telling yourself and God that you are, you will end up with very poor discernment.  Spiritual discernment is about being able to tell truth from lies.  If you don’t have good discernment, you’ll be very easy for humans and demons to deceive, and this will keep you stuck in endless guilt, shame, and misery.

Q4: HOW OFTEN WILL GOD TELL ME TO REPENT?

If you are sincerely seeking God in life, you will find that you hardly ever need to repent. This is because it is impossible to be sincerely seeking God and caring about His approval while you are in a state of spiritual rebellion.

Q5. BUT I’M SO FAR FROM PERFECT AND I STILL HAVE SO MUCH GROWING TO DO, SO WHY WOULDN’T GOD BE CONSTANTLY ON MY CASE?

If a child wants to please his mother, he’ll still be a child, and that means he’ll have childish views and childish behaviors.  A good mother doesn’t expect adult behavior from her child—instead, she is pleased by his desire to obey her, no matter how bumbling his actions are.

From God’s perspective, you are a human who has only existed for a very short period of time. You’re still an infant, and He expects you to act like one.  Your understanding is extremely limited, your perceptions are flawed, and your maturity is just starting to happen.  But none of these things are problems to God, because you are still a work in progress.  He’s cultivating you like a gardener cultivates seeds in his garden.  The gardener isn’t disappointed that his seed is still a seed and not a tall tree.  Instead, he’s excited to know that the seed has the potential to grow into a tree, and he’s thoroughly enjoying caring for his little seed through each stage of its development.

Q6. IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE THAT GOD IS THIS EASY TO SUCCEED WITH.  SHOULDN’T WE BE GUARDED AGAINST TAKING THE ISSUE OF SIN TOO CASUALLY?

When you are aligned with God on the issue of sin, you don’t say, “Sin doesn’t matter.”  Instead, you practice submission and trust by saying, “God is the Supreme Authority over all created things, therefore it’s not my place to tell Him how He should judge me or how He should view sin.  Rather than try to live according to my own standards, I am going to wait for Him to tell me when there is some sin issue that He wants me to address, and I’m trusting that He will tell me because He wants our relationship to flourish.”

It is focusing on the soul attitudes of submission and trust which free us up from having to worry about being too casual about sin.  If we are being too casual, God will correct us, and we need to trust Him to do so.  As holy as it sounds when Christians spend a bunch of time fretting over their sins, such an attitude really demonstrates a lack of trust in God.  He claims to be our Shepherd, and so we must let Him lead and resist the temptation to try to lead Him.

Q7. I KNOW THAT I REALLY WANT TO PLEASE GOD, YET I STILL FEEL A CONSTANT DREAD THAT GOD IS DISPLEASED WITH ME.  I DON’T HAVE ANY SPECIFIC CONVICTION, JUST A VERY STRONG FEELING THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG.  WHAT’S GOING ON?

Whenever possible, demons want you to believe in a lie. If you’re currently in a state of spiritual rebellion, they’ll keep reassuring you that all is well between you and God. If you are currently in a state of obedience, they’ll bombard you with condemnation and try to convince you that God is exasperated with your willful defiance. Education is the solution here.  You need to get better at discerning when the little rats are trying to get you agitated with false convictions, and our material on spiritual discernment can help you with this (see Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests).

Q8. EXACTLY WHAT DOES GOD WANT FROM ME WHEN HE TELLS ME TO REPENT?

When God tells you to repent, He wants you to admit that your current soul attitude is rebellious and wrong and decide to embrace a new attitude of “Pleasing You, God, is more important than pleasing myself. I want You to have Your way in my life.”

In many cases, repentance is all that God requires. He doesn’t always go on to demand that we do specific actions. Let’s run through some scenarios to see how this works.

    A year ago, John killed his wife in a fit of jealous rage. He was caught and convicted and now he’s serving a term of lifelong imprisonment. For the past year, John has been in a state of willful rebellion. He is glad he killed his wife, and he keeps telling himself that he doesn’t care what God thinks. John’s soul attitude is rebellious, and God keeps convicting him to repent. One day in his cell, John finally prays and admits to God that his defiant attitude towards God has been wrong. He sincerely asks God to help him get back on the right track. He acknowledges that part of him is still glad he killed his wife because he is so bitter and wounded over the way she betrayed him. But he sincerely wants to be pleasing in God’s sight, and he asks God to show him the way. God is very pleased with John’s sincere repentance. He doesn’t ask John to do anything specific at this time—the wife is dead, and John can’t bring her back to life. The fact that part of John is still glad he killed her doesn’t negate the value of his repentance to God. God understands why John was so devastated by his wife’s infidelity and He plans to work on helping John heal from the past over time. But for now, the important goal has been achieved: John is back in alignment with God.

    After her father died from brain cancer, Mary dealt with her pain by hating God. For twenty years, she remained in a state of spiritual rebellion, intentionally doing everything God says is wrong just to try and stick it to Him. During that time, God kept convicting Mary to repent. Finally one day she owns up to the fact that her attitude has been rebellious and wrong. She sincerely regrets her defiance and asks God to help her get back into a right relationship with Him. Once Mary repents, God is pleased with her. Though she’s done many wrong things, He doesn’t ask her to do anything to prove the sincerity of her repentance. He knows she was sincere because He sees into her soul.

    Rex is a serious Christian who just got into a fight with his stepdaughter during which he said some things that were very inappropriate. While he is out driving to try and cool down, God convicts Rex about the argument. God points out the specific things Rex said that were wrong, and He tells Rex to apologize. Rex agrees with God’s assessment of his behavior. He turns the car around, goes home, and makes things right with his stepdaughter. Rex did not repent, he simply agreed with God’s convictions. God does not want Rex to repent because Rex was not in a state of rebellion.  Until we are actually rebelling, repentance is not appropriate or helpful.

    Chris is a cashier. At the end of his shift, he stole $100 from another coworker’s till. Chris is currently in a state of rebellion towards God. As soon as he stole the money, God began convicting him very strongly and pushing him to repent. Finally in the middle of the night, Chris does repent. He sincerely acknowledges how defiant he’s been towards God lately and he decides that he really wants to live for God again. God then instructs Chris to return the money he stole. But the store is closed and it won’t reopen until late the next morning. Does God consider Chris’ repentance incomplete until Chris physically returns the money? No. God is very pleased with Chris’ repentance, and with Chris’ desire to obey God by returning the money.   The fact that Chris still has stolen goods in his possession doesn’t change the fact that he is back in a state of alignment with God.

We learn from these examples that soul repentance is a separate issue than trying to do things to make up for our past wrongs. It is very important to wait until you are sure that you are hearing from God before you try to fix problems that you’ve caused in this world. It isn’t always God’s will for the divorced man to remarry his first wife. It isn’t always God’s will for the molester to personally ask his victims for forgiveness. Be very guarded against the trap of thinking that God won’t forgive you until other people do (see What to Do When People Won’t Forgive You). Even if you’ve done terrible things that have totally wrecked other people’s lives, you need to wait and let God lead your actions. When we let guilt and demons be our guides in life, we end up in a mess. Often God will instruct you to stay out of His way and let Him handle things. Other times He’ll instruct you to have a very limited role in His redemption process.  God never shuffles His Divine duties onto your incapable little shoulders, and that means He never puts it on you to fix lives, spiritually save people, or change the past.

Remember that God is the One running this universe, not you. While your ego might like to think you have the power to make or break other people, the truth is that God is the One controlling how much of an impact you make on other lives. Some fathers aggressively abuse their kids only to have those kids rise above this and turn out as functional human beings. Other fathers try hard to do right only to have a few innocent mistakes held against them for the rest of their lives. People aren’t perfect or reasonable. They overreact, they misinterpret your behavior, and they are very hampered by their own wounds and fears which have nothing to do with you. We do not really have the power to control each other, we just pretend that we do when we tell ourselves that we can make people forgive us or let go of the past if we just approach them correctly or grovel long enough.  Yet in real life, groveling often does more damage than good, so remember how we discussed earlier in this post that you cannot please both God and people. You have to choose one.  If you are wise, you will choose to live for God and make peace with the fact that some people might decide to permanently hate you.  Since God does not judge you according to how other humans feel about you, the opinions of others really aren’t worth a hill of beans.

Q9. SHOULD REPENTANCE INCLUDE ASKING GOD TO FORGIVE ME?

Repentance isn’t about forgiveness, it is about getting back into alignment with God by re-embracing a soul attitude of submission. Repentance is a very simple concept. It is a private soul choice which does not require any words to be spoken out loud.  There’s no need for groveling, crying, or going through emotional theatrics. God doesn’t want your drama, He wants your soul to get back into alignment with Him. He doesn’t want you to sing about repenting, He wants you to do it and move on. He doesn’t want you repenting to other people because other people aren’t the ones you’re defying—God is. There’s nothing wrong with seeking out some guidance and looking for answers to honest questions. But in real life we spend far too much time talking about our need for repentance and bragging about what terrible little prodigals we’ve been instead of just getting alone with God and taking care of business.

What kind of marriage is a woman going to have if she spends all of her time boasting about her husband on Facebook and no time actually relating to him?  To develop a good relationship with someone, you have to spend focused time with them, not just gossip about them to others. In the same way, talking about God is not the same as actually relating to Him. When God says He has a problem with you about something, you need to deal with that problem right then and there in the privacy of your own soul.  Don’t make a group party out of it.  Don’t invite a bunch of humans to get involved in your personal business.  Don’t use your private conversations with God as material for some show that you can star in.  It is very displeasing to God when we stand on stage boasting about how terribly we treated Him and then trying to make everyone admire us by describing our great turnaround. Treating God badly is hardly something to boast about, and since obeying Him is the very least we should be doing, you hardly deserve applause for repenting when God tells you to.

Q10. WHAT DOES REPENTANCE HAVE TO DO WITH SALVATION?

It is commonly taught in the Church that repentance is a vital element of the salvation process.  Yet is this really true?  Let’s remember what repentance is: a change of soul attitude from rebellious to obedient. Before we can say that repentance is required for salvation, we must first assume that all unsaved souls are in a state of rebellion towards God.  Interestingly, this is not always the case.

Salvation is obtained through sufficient submission to the real Gods—Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  We must submit to Them as the only real Gods and as the Supreme Authorities over all that is created.  But before you can even reach this point, you need the real Gods to educate you about who They are and what They want.  That education occurs over time—it’s a process that involves you receiving small insights of truth which build on each other. It’s quite possible to respond to each of those insights with an obedient, receptive attitude of, “Yes, God, I hear You and I receive what You’re telling me. Tell me more.”  If this is your attitude, then repentance will not be a part of your salvation process.  At some point you’ll have an aha moment about how much submission the real Gods want from you, and you’ll gladly give it to Them.

The only time repentance comes up is when we are intentionally defying God with an attitude of, “Stuff it.  You aren’t the boss of me.  This is my life and I’ll do whatever I please.”  This is a rebellious attitude.  If you start rejecting truths that God is showing you prior to salvation, then you will need to repent out of your bad attitude before you can move forward in the education process.  If you refuse to do so, then you will get stalled and possibly never reach the point of meeting God’s salvation requirements.

So then, repentance and salvation are two separate issues.  Not every soul starts off in a state of spiritual rebellion towards God.  Certainly we all sin, but our sin is not what lands us in Hell.  Instead it is our refusal to submit to our Creators.

CONCLUSION

There is no law that says you are doomed to spend a certain portion of your life rebelling against God.  Although many Christians choose to squander a lot of their time in a state of rebellion, others sincerely long to please God even when their earthsuits are wallowing in sin.  As long as our souls are choosing to embrace obedience, there will be no need for repentance.  Repentance is only needed up in cases of spiritual rebellion, and that rebellion is always an informed choice.

FURTHER READING:
Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy
Understanding Conviction: Invitations to Engage
Conviction Q&A
Horrible Repentance Songs: SOUL ON FIRE by Third Day
Repentant Sinners: Is it wrong to stop feeling bad about the past?
Understanding Unpardonable Sins: Lies vs. Truth
Confession, Penance & the Old Covenant Sacrificial System: Unlearn the Lies
Help for Stressing Christians: Is God punishing you?
Help For Murderers: Finding Peace With A God Who Loves You
Overcoming Shame
Temporary Deliverance: How to Interpret the Return of Old Struggles
Growing Close to God: The Critical Role of Choice (The Mountain Metaphor)

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