We often confuse repentance with feeling sorry because of our sin. Sorrow for sin is an appropriate emotion, but by itself, it is not repentance! Remorse is self-pity for our sins, it is not repentance! And the contemporary statement, ‘I am sorry that you are offended/feel hurt by what I have done’ is not repentance!
We should also remember to repent because of good things we have not done, as well as because of bad things we have done. The former are not so obvious to us. But sins of omission can be more damaging to others than sins of commission. Christ tells us to confess both in the Lord’s prayer: sins of omission [debts we owe to God and to others] in Matthew 6:12, and sins of commission [things we have done wrong to God and to others] in Luke 11:4.
I suspect that nowadays we are more likely to be aware of sins against others, and less likely to be away of sins against God.
Here is repentance in slow motion!
Note that repentance is not remorse. We repent to God when we acknowledge our sin, and turn from it. In remorse, we feel sorry for ourselves. Or, in modern public life, express sorrow that others have been hurt! See 2 Corinthians 7:10. ‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation, and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death’.
- Remember that God loves you just as you are, but also loves you too much to leave you just as you are. Praise him for alerting you to your sins, for this act of his love, because you are already one of his saints, and he wants to sanctify you and make you more like the Lord Jesus, and transform you daily from one degree of glory to another. God welcomes you with joy, like the father welcomed his son in Luke 15. He loves you before you repent, and he loves it when you repent. And though we may grow tired of confessing our sins, especially when we confess the same sin again and again, God is never tired of forgiving us. And ‘please forgive me’ is a prayer that God always answer with a ‘yes’ immediately, absolutely, and cheerfully: ‘that why my Son went to the cross”.
- Recognise the sin as a sin against God [and against others]. Feel and express sorrow for these sins Include sins you have done, and good that you have not done [commission and omission].
- Renounce the sin, distance yourself from it, reject it, detest it, separate yourself from it. It is not who you want to be.
- Repent of the sin, and of the pleasure and benefits that resulted from the sin.
- Receive the forgiveness and the cleansing, freely given by God through Christ’s death on the cross [I John 1:7,9], and believe, rejoice, praise and thank him.
- Resolve to die to the sin in the future, and to live to righteousness by the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, to crucify the flesh and reap the fruit of the Spirit [Romans 6, and Galatians 5:16-26]. Recognise that it will take a lot of time to remove habitual sins from your life, and that you will never be sin-less in this life. Remember that God is never tired of forgiving you the same sin, again and again, that he always delights in forgiving us our sins.
- Resolve to do the opposite, or the replacement. Turn from the negative, by doing the positive. Apply this principle: ‘the thief must no longer steal, but rather labour with his hands and give to those in need’ [Ephesians 4:28].
- Restore the damage, if possible and appropriate, to God and to others. Follow the example of Zacchaeus: ‘Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone out of anything. I will pay back four times the amount’ [Luke 19:8].
- Rejoice in God’s overwhelming grace, love, forgiveness, cleansing and restoration of us through the Lord Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, and our hope of our future life with him without sin and sadness.
I think that we should confess our sins as soon as we recognise them, and also take some time at the end of each day to confess our personal sins, and our sins of ministry. In doing ministry.
If you have a habitual sin that you are not able to kill, then it is wise to tell a trusted friend of your struggle, and make yourself accountable to that person, and ask for their prayers. Invite them to question you about your progress, and promise that every time you commit the sin, you will let that person know. It may take some months, but you will see progress! When I take on the role of ‘trusted friend’, then I commit to pray for the person every day, that God will transform them; that if they are tempted they will use the power of Christ’s death and resurrection to die to that sin, and offer themselves willingly to righteousness and to God. That they will not feel contaminated by the temptation. That if they do sin in this matter, that will quickly and confidently ask and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of Christ, and will continue to trust in God’s sanctifying power.
And that if they do commit sin, they will contact me, so that I can encourage them and assure them of God’s compassion, kindness, grace, comfort, and transforming power.
We should include confession of sin and absolution in our Sunday services. However it is rare for us to confess the corporate sins of the church. We more usually use that confession to encourage people to acknowledge and confess their personal sins.
But the call for corporate confession for corporate sins is frequent in the Bible. Most of the prophets condemn the corporate sins of God’s people. Most of the New Testament letters critique the corporate sins of the churches. In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus calls on churches to repent.
The corporate sins of churches are shared sins, sins of the institution as a body, structural sins, sins that are ignored by most people, sins which the leadership and the members do not notice, or they allow to happen. Corporate sins not only damage the church, they damage every member of the church. For example, in a generally prayerless church, when praying is not more than a formality, the minister and leaders do not lead in prayer, couples and families do not pray, friends do not pray, individuals do not pray, and the church’s activities are not prayed for. And in these churches, new Christians learn that prayerlessness is the norm, and the young people pick up the same idea. Any prayer warriors are discouraged. Whereas in a prayerful church, everyone is encouraged and challenged to pray!
It is up to ministers and leaders to identify corporate sins of churches or Christian organisations or ministries, and to lead the members to repentance, corporate as well as individual. People need to be trained to have a strong sense of corporate identity, involvement, and complicity for effective repentance. Ministers and leaders will need wisdom and time to bring congregations or organisations to repentance. But, after all, it is not our weakness or lack or resources which inhibit our usefulness to God, but our sin. Selfishness is unattractive in individuals, but ugly in churches. Gospel confusion is damaging for individuals, but dramatically disabling for churches. A nominal Christian is unproductive, but a church which is merely a Christian club for like-minded people, or a dating agency, is a public abomination.
See Daniel 9 for a prayer of corporate confession; for Jesus’ call on churches to repent see Revelation 2:4-6, 14-16, 20-23, 3:1-3, 14-20; and for Paul calling the Corinthians to repent see 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2, 6:14-7:16.