It is easy to repent of the wrong things. I know, because I do it all the time.
I repent of being a finite human, of not being able to meet everyone’s needs and do everything perfectly. But I often don’t repent when I am mad at God about something in my life or when I avoid someone who irritates me.
With the first kind of repentance, I generally and frequently say “I’m sorry” or just feel sorry for letting people down. This leads to a nonspecific, floating guilt, a general sense that I have done something wrong and am therefore not worthy of love.
I don’t think this is what God has in mind when He says that godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:10). Instead, it seems much more like the worldly grief that produces death.
I am more and more convinced that floating, general guilt is not from God. In fact, I believe it is Satan’s strategic work and delight that effectively distracts and desensitizes me from repenting of the things I need to. It makes me resent and avoid people and keeps me at arm’s length from God. The sheer, vague weight of it makes me not actually repent of anything. It’s a trick, a mirage, a head-fake.
By contrast, I believe the conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit is specific and leads to repentance and a reminder of how very much I am loved. The Holy Spirit wants me to get rid of whatever is blocking my relational connection to God, so I can instead feel freedom in my relationship with God and want to run to His lap. That kind of repentance has a specific purpose to move me toward reconnection and love. Both with God and others. Salvation without regret.
So what should I be repenting of?
Ezekiel 14: 6 says, “Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.”
I need to repent of my idols, the things I love more than God, and when I don’t value what God values—like people. But it is not an abomination that as a human I am finite. God made me that way. I am made in God’s image, but I am not God Himself, who can do and be all things.
I need to repent of what I do, not of who I am. God says that as a person, I am His image-bearer. Furthermore, in Christ, I am His grab-me-by-the-shoulders-and-squeeze-me beloved. Whatever I repent of or feel sorry for can’t touch that.
I don’t need to feel more guilty and be more aware of how many times in any given day I disappoint someone. What I do need to do is listen for the Holy Spirit’s prick of what is actually separating me from connection to God and to others. Specifically. Then actually ask God to forgive me and actually receive His grace.
From the November 16 corporate confession of sin in the City Pres order of worship: Almighty God, who does freely pardon all who repent and turn to Him, now fulfill in every contrite heart the promise of redeeming grace; forgiving all our sins, and cleansing us from an evil conscience; through the perfect sacrifice of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Julie Serven craves shalom for people and places. She enjoys editing, helping people with literacy skills, hearing people’s stories, exploring all things OKC, yoga, NPR, and spending time with her ultracool family.