Someone may ask, “Why does your church spend so much time every Sunday reading the Law and confessing their sins?” To many, this practice is odd, for they have not seen it regularly done in their religious circles. To some, this practice is even unseemly, for it seems to deny the Good News promised by Jesus Christ. Sadly, they see corporate repentance as a remnant of their former Fundamentalist or Roman Catholic days. It reminds them of “walking the aisle” or “entering the booth.” Therefore, in their eyes, serious repentance accompanied by grief is unnecessary, oppressive, and out of accord with the Gospel. “After all,” they say, “has not Jesus Christ already forgiven all the sins of all his saints even before they ask? Why then ought we continually bring up our dirty laundry and wallow in our paid-for depravity when we ought to be singing, dancing, and celebrating?”
Well, we could go down the road of commandment. The Law of God tells us to confess our sins regularly to the Father. It obliges us to mourn, wail, and weep. It even encourages us to find a brother (confessor) and bring them with us into our divine conversation with the Father. Yes, repentance is to be a part of our daily worship because God said so. And when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he instructed them to daily proclaim, “Our Father in heaven … forgive us our trespasses ….” We ought to regularly confess our sins because the Bible tells us to do so.
However, there are other reasons to practice repentance in both public and private worship:
Regular repentance results in increased humility. When we regularly consider the number and magnitude of internal and external sins, our egos are rightly adjusted. We are reminded there is still nothing good in and of ourselves. This makes us easier to live with.
Regular repentance results in an increased desire to forgive. When we regularly confess our sins, we prove to ourselves there is very little difference between us and others. Consequently, we can’t seem to focus so much on the splinter in their eye; the telephone pole in ours keeps getting in the way. In repentance, we realize we are in the same camp. We are in the same boat. We are made of the same sinful stuff. Then, after being reminded of the undeserved grace of Christ granted to us, we find ourselves hungry to forgive and reconcile with those who have done our Savior wrong. Harmony is improved.
Regular repentance results in increased holiness and prayer. As we talk with our Savior about our sin, the Spirit causes us to loath that which he loathes. As we pray, we find ourselves having transformed desires. As we repent, we find we want to understand his Law better and worship him more. Increased are our desires to worship him, please him, keep his Law, enjoy more holy affections, and do more holy deeds. And as we repent, as we realize our ongoing proclivity or “proneness to wander,” we find ourselves praying more. Our repentance results in worshipful supplication, “Please Lord, move in me and grant me greater success in walking like your precious Son!”
Regular repentance also results in increased thanksgiving and joy. It was Tim Keller who tweeted, “For every one look at your sins, take five looks at your Savior.” This Gospel gem was mined from the works of the late Robert Murray M’Cheyne who insisted, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Jesus Christ.” Whatever the ratio, both Christian teachers are encouraging their readers to do two things:
- Take a really serious look at the Law, look at ourself, and mourn over our internal and external transgressions.
- Take a really long look at the Gospel, look at Jesus Christ, and rejoice in his undeserved love, mercy, and grace.
Brennan Manning penned the following about repentance:
We see our darkness as a prized possession because it drives us into the heart of God. Without mercy our darkness would plunge us into despair — and for some self-destruction. Time alone with God reveals the unfathomable depths of the poverty of our spirit. We are so poor that even our poverty is not our own: it belongs to the tremendous mystery of a loving God. In prayer we drink the dregs of this poverty. In a sudden and luminous moment we realize that we are being accosted by mercy and embraced even before we lay hold of ourselves. Not clinging to anything, not even our sinfulness, we come before Jesus with open hands. We drain the bitter cup of self-rejection when we disappear into the tremendous poverty that is the adoration of God.
Friends, we repent because we are told to, and we hunger to obey God’s Word.
We repent because we need to, for experiential reconciliation is so precious.
We repent because it is good and profitable. It encourages us in holiness and harmony.
But friends, we who understand grace most, repent because we want to. For we know that Gospel repentance is the doorway to joy. We have experienced it over and over again. Every time our knees are rightly knocked out from underneath us, and we are laid low by the Law, we then find ourselves picked up by the Gospel and encouraged to dance. Repentance is fantastic. It is not fun but it leads to fun. We do it … daily and weekly … because we love it!
Now go and repent.