One of the most humiliating events in my life is genuine repentance. Humiliating in a good way, though. It’s the sort of thing that reminds me who I really am and, more importantly, Whom I really need.
I am not as personally righteous, as upright or full of integrity, as I would often like to think I am. I am called to be blameless, as our father Abram was in Genesis 17, but I am still a petty and fleshly man in a hundred ways. I lash out when something I idolize is taken from me (comfort or approval come to mind). I ignore the Lord when tired or frustrated. I harbor bitterness in the recesses of my mind and heart, replaying conversations over and over in my head, with the other person cast in the worst possible light and myself in the best.
Paul said in an inspired, God-breathed way (in Romans 7) what I am trying to communicate imperfectly:
“For we know that the Law is spiritual but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. for I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.“
Repenting of doing what God has helped me to hate, of my idolatry, my anger, and my self-centeredness, is humbling. My church has other men who follow Jesus who are faithful, humble, and bold enough to hold me accountable. So I confess my sins to them. And it’s a very painful and yet gratifying thing to tell two other men who love you that you threw a temper tantrum at home for not getting your way, and that you don’t want to do it again because it’s being a bad husband and dishonoring your Savior. That’s a pride-killing, illusion-deflating event. When you do it, you realize you’re not really all that grand. You aren’t a breathtaking, special example of the best humanity can offer. No epic Hans Zimmer soundtrack is going to play as you fulfill your honorable and righteous destiny of perfect self-sacrifice. No, you’re one in a long, long line of wicked men and women redeemed by Jesus Christ who must be led, like stubborn sheep, to what is good for them.
That is a far less attractive option to someone who desires to be god. So the solution is for me stop trying to be god.
I am a citizen of a kingdom with a gracious Sovereign. I am a former traitor whose old cowardices and treacheries run deep in the habitual parts of his blood and marrow, so deep that they fling out at even the slightest inconvenience. Though my King lives in me (and what a glorious a truth that is!), I am still warring with my flesh, my carnality, my sarx. I am still trying to beat into submission the Wade who wants to be god and be praised, who wants everything to serve him instead of living as a grateful slave to the only One truly worthy of worship.
To confess and then turn away from (the definition of Biblical repentance) that behavior, and the fleshly heart that courses it through my veins, is difficult. It means admitting I’m one of those many sheep, and that I still wander from the path. It means honestly confessing that I still need a Messiah every bit as much as I did when I was an unregenerate rebel, though my sins are now thankfully atoned for by His blood. It also means that the Jesus who pleads my case and disciplines my soul will get all the glory, because I am clearly still a greedy young man who can’t keep his act together. That it’s ultimately by the sheer grace and the steady hand of God that I have been kept in the faith. That He acknowledges my sweat and work to serve Him, but that those steps were already prepared for me to walk in anyway, and if He hadn’t given me the strength, breath, and friends necessary to complete them, I would’ve staggered in the opposite direction long ago. Turning away from sin and towards the Jesus who forgives and changes me is humbling.
But it is also sanctifying, maturing, helpful to others, and (most importantly) God-glorifying. It produces a Wade more dependent on the Father, His Son, and His Holy Spirit and less dependent on himself. It brings God glory because the people who hear my confessions or see my repentance are confronted with where the glory really lies.
If you haven’t repented of your sin and you are a follower of Jesus Christ, I encourage you to do it right now. Confess to Him (and to a trusted brother or sister in the faith if possible) and turn away from it and towards the Messiah. He knows our sins, and we are not impressing Him by pretending to be better than we really are. He knows that we are worse than the masks we wear.
If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, or are not sure if you are, I entreat you to give up on any illusions you probably have of self-goodness or righteousness. I’m sure you were the victim in the past of some wrong, but your greater identity is as a perpetrator and not a victim. I know that that is tough to hear, but it is the only place where healing and forgiveness are. Before being adopted by God the Father through the power of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit, my greater identity was as a violator of God’s commands, an assaulter of His authority, and a traitor against His goodness. I needed to stop replaying all the wrongs done against me and instead ask forgiveness for the far greater wrongs I had committed against God.
Repentance is a terrible violence done against the pride of the self. It is merciless in bringing down the self-righteousness in our hearts. So I ask you, plead with you, to surrender that pride and repent. I’ll be doing it later this evening, and so I know the stubborn pull of the flesh in the opposite direction. It is a daily one. The “I’m not in the wrong!” or the thoughtless, formless, furious defense of your take in an ongoing debate or your position in a fractured relationship. I know that pull. But sin always begets death, and so those pride-defending, sin-denying avenues lead only to graveyards and ghost towns. Repent. The death of pride is always a good thing.
Its bones make great fertilizer.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
From 1 John 1