We don’t talk about sin very much at all in America anymore. Sadly, if we do, it is to point it out in someone else’s life not our own. In the church, we tend to emphasize some sins and give ourselves a pass on others. For some, sin is thought to be an old religious term for fundamentalists, members of the flat-earth society. For many Christians around the world, the forty days of Lent is an important time of spiritual devotion, a time to take our personal battle with sin seriously. God is love, but he is also very serious about sin. Lent signifies a time of spiritual preparation that symbolizes Jesus’ forty days of preparation and testing in the desert 2000 years ago. This period came just at the outset of Jesus public ministry following his baptism by John the Baptist. Many sacrifice certain foods or even alcohol for Lent, leading some to ask their friends, “What did you give up for Lent?” If Lent truly will have any spiritual effect on us it must include an honest look at our sin. We will need God’s Word and the Holy Spirit for this journey. The overarching theme of Lent is spiritual preparation, which by necessity involves a conscious reflection on our sin and our need for repentance. John the Baptist is very important for us to look to in this respect.
He was the herald preparing the way for Israel to receive Jesus as their Messiah. His message of repentance was energized by the Kingdom of God coming near in the Messiah Jesus. Repentance comes from the Greek word “metanoia,” literally meaning “change of mind.” It is the change of mind and heart that shows itself in a changed life. John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He baptized with water, but promised that one greater than he would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. The key for them, if they would be ready, would be a deep recognition of their sin and a turning away from it to embrace their Messiah. He said to the Pharisees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” In other words, show the integrity of your public pronouncement by your new life.
Repentance involves a few steps. The first step involves the change of mind whereby we agree with God about our sinful condition and confess it. Matthew writes, “Confessing their sins they were baptized in the Jordan River.” Confession involves agreeing with God. We see our sin as against God, (Ex. pride, lust, jealousy, materialism, gossip, and unforgiveness) we see it from God’s viewpoint, with all of its destructiveness. David states in Psalm 51:4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” We must take responsibility for our sin wherever we have failed in word or deed, in things we have done or left undone. Any unforgiveness towards those who have wronged us is always a good place to look first!
In the next step of repentance we turn away from sin to embrace Christ in the cross. Here we recognize that Christ alone has the power to forgive sins. By His once-for-all sacrifice for sins, we can be cleansed, pardoned from sin’s penalty, and set free from sin’s power over us.
John assures us, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you do 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 ESV
This verse means that Jesus is the one who speaks to the Father in our defense. He is our counselor. Jesus is the righteous one who takes our sin and exchanges it for His righteousness. His righteousness is His holy character. It was credited to us when we were justified by faith. Because of His righteousness we have bold access to our Heavenly Father. This verse also states that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. This means that He is the wrath-bearer who stood in our place. He received all the judgment and wrath of God the Father that rightfully was due to you and to me. Forgiveness of our sins cost God something very great. It cost Him His one and only Son. Grace is free, but it is never cheap!
In the final step of repentance, we demonstrate the sincerity of our devotion to Christ in real-life changes. If we have been lying, we tell the truth no matter the costs. If we have unforgiveness and resentment we are holding on to, we release them and forgive from the heart as we have been forgiven. If we have made an idol of our work, of our children, or of material things, we repent of it and place God alone on the throne of our lives. He must be sovereign. He can have no rival in our hearts. In this way He will restore the healthy order of work, family, and things in our lives. The genuine fruit of repentance will be seen over time. Life change is best measured over weeks and months, not hours or days. It is not necessarily accompanied by a strong emotional release. Don’t judge one’s sincerity in repentance. God alone is judge.
We will need brothers for the courageous work of repentance. James writes, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 NIV
We are Christ’s arms of embrace to express his mercy to our brother. Our prayer of faith can bring him to the cross where he is reminded of God’s great, unconditional love for Him. Only God can forgive sin and take away the accompanying guilt but we can help lift the shame from our brother, restoring him, and identifying personally with his struggle against sin. Our healing is tied up in this transparency of confession and restorative prayer for one another. We need a huddle of brothers to live out our repentance. We will need their patience with us, their prayers, their accountability, and their mercy.
We all need repentance from sin to be a part of our Lenten preparation. But more importantly, we need it to be a part of our daily walk with Jesus.
Director Leo Wisniewski