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 and love. ‘There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinnner who repents’ [Luke 15:10]; ‘God demonstrates his own love for us: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ [Romans 5:8] NIV 11. God 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 joyfully: ‘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]. ‘Your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended …’ [2 Cor 7:9].
  • Renounce the sin, distance yourself from it, reject it, detest it, separate yourself from it. It is not who you want to be. ‘Count yourselves dead to sin … do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires’ [Romans 6:11,12].
  • Repent of the sin, and of the pleasure and benefits that resulted from the sin. ‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ [Galatians 5:24]. ‘Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount”’ [Luke 19:8].
  • Receive the forgiveness and the cleansing, freely given by God through Christ’s death on the cross: ‘if we confess our sins … God will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ [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. ‘Reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ [Romans 6:11, 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. ‘Offer yourselves to God … and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness’ [Romans 6:13]. 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 [gain!]: ‘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.

But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life [Titus 3:4-7]. 


Personal repentance

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! [For example, 15 months to be rid of pornography; 12 months to be rid of too much alcohol]. 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.

Corporate repentance

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 attack 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 the shared common 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.

  1. As a good mentor of mine used to say, ‘Let us go together to the cross of Christ, and ask for his forgiveness’.