True repentance is hard to come by. At least it is in my life. There are lots of "I'm-sorry's," plenty of good intentions, loads of transformational plans, and a good number of "I-should's" and "I-need-to's." Short-lasting resolutions of all shapes and sizes are often the name of the game. Overzealous, unripe decisions (with precious little follow-through) seem to outweigh real enduring change. I've known this for a long time about myself, but that hasn't made the fight any easier. There's no cease-fire in the war between flesh and Spirit. The battle rages.
I am learning more and more that true repentance, while it is many things, is always at least one thing: specific. Biblical repentance is pointed. It is precise. It is surgical. When my heart is truly repentant, I don't toss spiritual grenades over my shoulder in the general direction of sin. I choose a strategic position, slide my sniper rifle off my shoulder, hand-pick some hollow-point verses, lock the heart of sin in my sights, and systematically execute my iniquity in its tracks. This is what I do when I'm serious about advancing in righteousness and killing sin.
But when I'm not sober-minded and watchful and battle-ready in the fight against sin, my "repentance" gets ambiguous. I think and talk generally about my law-breaking. My confession is vague, my resolutions are grey, and my goals are nebulous. I try to drop unguided bombs on the enemy from twenty thousand feet in the air instead of parachuting into his territory, fixing bayonets, storming his long-held fortress, and doing hand-to-hand combat until the flag of holiness is raised unchallenged.
It's one thing to mumble to yourself, "I really should stop procrastinating." It's quite another to humbly and thoughtfully admit, "Lord, when I look at myself in the mirror of Your Word, I see the sluggard of the Proverbs. I am a lazy man who is dishonoring Christ by putting off hard work and pursuing whatever is right in my own eyes at any particular time. I have rejected Your commands to redeem the time and to do my work heartily for You and not for men. I am a lazy man; please forgive my sin because of Christ."
It's one thing to think, "I probably spend a little too much time in front of the mirror in the morning." It's quite another to confess, "O God, I am full of myself. My heart is overflowing with vanity and striving after the wind of self-glory. I love myself, and in loving myself, I hate You. I do not only gaze pridefully at myself in the glass mirror in the bathroom; I also stare vainly at myself in the mirror of my reputation with others, in the mirror of my grades, in the mirror of the athletic ability You gave me, and in the mirror of my own perceived spirituality which we both know amounts to sheer Pharisaism."
Likewise, it's one thing to pray dispassionately, "Lord, help me overcome my laziness," and then go forgetfully on your way. It's quite another to decide to study the sluggard in Proverbs, to journal about what you're learning, to cut three specific distractions out of your life, to confess your sin to your three closest friends and ask them to pray faithfully for you, to make concrete and realistic resolutions regarding diligent work in your life, and to map your progress (or lack thereof) so that good intentions don't sprout wings and fly away, never to be seen again.
Again, it's one thing to toss up a prayer like, "God, help me not to be self-focused," and breathe a sigh of relief that that's taken care of. It's quite another to make your pursuit of vainglory a matter of daily confession and prayer for the next thirty days; to dig into Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 5:9-10, Titus 2:3-5, and 1 Peter 3:1-6 over each of the next four weeks; to decide to spend only fifteen seconds looking into your closet to decide what to wear in the morning; and to seek out an older godly woman to help you walk through heart-idols of appearance, attention-seeking, and envy.
I hear myself think so much about change, but I see so little of the real thing. I listen to myself talk so much about repentance, but the real deal is rare. And one of the main reasons why this is the case is that I attempt to deal with my sin in generalities and abstractions and ambiguities. In this regard, I need to be less of a schemer who pores over maps and develops glossy battle plans and gives fancy-sounding orders, and more of an assassin who gets up close, sees the enemy, and pulls the trigger. The planning is important, but it is meaningless without the killing.
True repentance is hard to come by. It's "hard to come by" in that it's rare, and it's "hard to come by" in that it's difficult. And no doubt its rarity is precisely because of its difficulty. May God give us the violent grace of mortification so that we might repent early and often and with precision. Then our repentance will be biblical, and our hearts will be like Jesus.
3 thoughts on “True Repentance: Hard to Come By”
Barbara & Lori: Thank you for letting me know how you were encouraged by the post. It’s always uplifting to know what God is doing in the hearts of others. Press on.
Hi, yes, Barbara above just referred me to your essay, Gunner. I had mentioned that I was getting lax in my daily devotional reading and prayer and she said, read this. Very powerful, very convicting. Thank you for not being shy about speaking the truth.
I’ve returned to this essay several times and pointed my friends in this direction as well. Specificity is the key. I am old to learn this–but learn and practice it, I will. Thanks.