I have attended churches which had altar calls every Sunday and almost every Sunday you would see the same people down at the altar crying and telling God that they are sorry for committing the same sins yet again and that they would try better this week, knowing in their hearts that they were never intending on actually fighting those sins; they were hoping that those sins would just go away.
Then there are people on the other extreme who know that repentance is not an emotional show but must come from the heart. They believe that if a person truly repents of a particular sin, then that person will never commit that sin again. If that person does commit that sin again, then that person’s so-called repentance was just a farce.
As is usually the case, when people are deceived about a subject, they have not taken into account everything the Scriptures have to say about it. The first group has not taken into account Prov. 28:13, which says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” They think they are repenting of their sins when all they are really doing is confessing them. True repentance is the second part: forsaking them. As we saw in my previous blog, repentance simply means “to change your mind.” When a sinner repents, he decides to forsake his sinful lifestyle and begin to live a righteous lifestyle. Sins simply do not “just go away.” The sinner must make a decision to make them go away. That decision may involve emotion, but it does not have to do so. But it does require a change in one’s mind and one’s heart.
That does not mean, however, that a person who has truly repented will never commit that sin again. Jesus did say, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Notice that Jesus never doubted the brother’s repentance, even though he repented seven times in a day. Jesus recognizes that just because we have decided to never commit a sin again does not automatically mean that we will never commit it again. He recognizes that our decision to stop sinning means that we have just signed on to join a war.
Paul reminds us in Galatians that “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17). Within your body there is a fight going on between the Spirit and your flesh, and it is a fight to the death. You may have repented. You may have decided that you are no longer going to commit a particular sin. But your flesh is going to fight you every step of the way. That is why repentance is not an emotion. That is why repentance is a commitment. It is a commitment to fight that sin until it is completely gone.
Some people treat repentance like some people treat marriage. They stay married as long as the good emotions are there. But as soon as the bad emotions come in, they think the love is gone and this just isn’t going to work anymore and they give up. They do not realize that good marriages work because the couples are committed to making it work. Sure, the good emotions are nice to have and make it easier to work, but the couples make the marriage work even when the good emotions are gone or when the bad emotions come around and tell them to quit. So, too, with repentance. Repentance is a commitment that says, “I am committed to my relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ no matter what, which means I am also committed to eliminating this sin from this relationship no matter what.” The emotions that make you feel like you are winning are nice to have and make the fighting easier, but your commitment makes you press on even when those emotions are not there or the bad emotions come around and tell you to quit.
Your flesh will rise up and tempt you to commit that sin. You will fight it but in your weak moments you will give in. You will then go before the Lord and confess your sin and ask for forgiveness. The Lord, of course, will forgive you. Then, when you least expect it, your flesh will tempt you again. This cycle may play itself out over and over again until you are sick of it. But stick to your commitment. Your flesh wants to keep sinning because it gets pleasure from it (Heb. 11:24-25). And even though you confess your sin, the Lord will chastise you for sinning because your flesh must learn that not only does sin produce pleasure, it also produces an inordinate amount of displeasure (Heb. 12:11). When your flesh finally says, “The consequences are not worth doing this sin anymore,” it will die, and that is the day when you will have finally won.
Before I became a Christian, I became addicted to a particular sin. I fought this sin for more years after I became a Christian than I did before I became a Christian. After fighting this for a few years, I became very frustrated and said to the Lord, “Wouldn’t I be a better witness for you if you would just deliver me from this right now?”
The Lord spoke very clearly to me about this.
He said, “Who is the Lord here? You or me?”
I said, “You are.”
“Am I the Lord over only certain parts of your life or over every part of your life?”
“Over every part of my life.”
“Then I am the Lord of your sanctification, which means I decide in which order I will sanctify your sins and how I will sanctify your sins.”
That conversation took a load off of me. Until then, I had not realized that I had been frantically trying to perfect myself so that I could be a better witness to the world. The Lord knew that the Glory of his Name was at stake. But he also knew that he could clean me up better than I could. Yes, repentance is a commitment to put the old sinful lifestyle behind me and live the new righteous lifestyle, but it is more than that. It is the commitment to obey the Lord of my sanctification who will determine which sins we will fight and how we will fight it. If that meant fighting that particular sin for the rest of my life here on earth, then so be it.
Many years later, I woke up one morning and realized that I had not been tempted to commit that sin for at least two weeks. To this day, I do not know when that particular sin left me. I just know that the Lord one day quietly delivered me of it and it took me at least two weeks to realize it. Does my flesh sometimes tell me that it wants to do it again? Of course. But it no longer controls me. I now control it. The battle has been won.
That conversation with the Lord was also a reminder that I am not alone in this fight against sin. My flesh is fighting against me. But the Spirit also fights against my flesh. And he who is in the world also is fighting against me. But “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). And some day, if I keep fighting the good fight with the help of my Lord, I will stand before him with a new body that is completely free of sin, a body that my Lord bought for me when he died on the cross. From that day forward, I will never have to fight sin again. I am so looking forward to that day.