I was driving with my sister the other day and made an offhand comment about a situation that was frustrating to me.
"Man," she said, "at least admit you're bitter about that!"
I hadn't realized I was bitter, to be honest. I had couched my feelings in nice Christian phrases, “It's just a little frustrating.” “I'm praying God convicts them.” “I'm ok with it, but....”
And God used her words to remind me yet again now, much as I hesitate to call sin by name in my life.
The practices of confession and repentance are deeply biblical, but I have been convicted lately at how rarely I practice them in my own life and church community. There is clear instruction for confession, both publicly (James 5:16) and privately (1 John 1:9). As great sinners with a great Savior, there will always be the need for me to recognize my own sin and expectantly seek the grace of God, by the blood of Christ, to cover my sins.
Years ago I heard Anne Graham Lotz speak, and wrote this quote in my Bible, “The thing that will harm my ministry most is my own personal sin, so I keep a short account with God, and make space for repentance daily.”
In my personal life, there are specific ways I choose to repent.
When I recognize the sins that will harm me, I speak openly with God about them.
As I grow older, I find that these are more and more often the heart attitudes: bitterness, pride, lust, and anger. Because they are between God and myself, these are often private confessions.
Confess my sin as openly as the effect of that sin.
If, for example, I have harmed another individual, or even a group of people, I believe it is appropriate that the acknowledgment of that sin reaches the person or group affected.
Allow His kindness to lead to my repentance.
When my soul is distressed, when my heart is heavy, when my guilt is clear, these things are simply my reminder to seek the presence of Christ (Hosea 5:15).
Our culture is not conditioned to repentance. It is not a common or easily explained word. Equally, it is not an easy or painless activity. By default, our need to repent reveals that we are not yet where we ought to be.
There is a beautiful old story in which G. Campbell Morgan began preaching at a church near F. B. Meyer. Many people left Meyer’s church and services to hear Morgan, and Meyer found himself gripped with a deep envy and jealousy, his heart full of sins he thought he had dealt with long ago. He later wrote, “The only way I can conquer my feelings is to pray for Morgan daily, which I do.”
Repentance requires action. For some sins, that is the action of turning away from the people, the places, and the activities that will harm us. Often that requires accountability from trusted friends who will speak to us with honesty, as my sister did with me. Above all, it requires the presence of Christ, the submission of our hearts to His Spirit, and the daily dedication of expectant prayer.
The way we repent is vital to our spiritual health. We are great sinners, but Jesus…He is a great Savior.