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Taking God at His Word
Repenting the way the Scriptures prescribe
“I thought upon my ways and I turned my feet to your testimonies. I hastened and did not delay to keep your commandments.” (Psalm 119:59–60)
One of the awful tendencies of fallen and faithless sinners is to heap up numerous additions to repentance that the Lord does not require. For instance, rather than turning immediately to confession, we frequently delve into bogs of self-loathing, rooting around in our shrivelled souls for some feeling of remorse we deem appropriate to the transgression. Or, if we do move to confession right away, we tend to confess our sins to God over and over again, as if bare repetition will wrest grace from Him.
In all these things the error is the same: we are not approaching repentance from a posture of faith, asking what God requires. Instead, we are substituting our own standards for those of God’s Word and reaping the ever-expanding cloud of guilt that comes with such folly.
But sin can only be dealt with by the means God has prescribed. Any other recourse is unbelieving madness. Thus we need to turn to the Scriptures, not our fallen intuitions, to see what repentance truly looks like.
When we do we find that the pattern of repentance outlined for us in Scripture looks very different from the elaborate inventions I have just described. In fact, repentance is startling in its simplicity. Consider the words of the psalmist quoted above as just one example: “I thought upon my ways and I turned my feet to your testimonies. I hastened and did not delay to keep your commandments.”
The thing to note here is the immediacy with which the psalmist acts. Upon sensing that his way of life is somehow out of step with God’s commandments, he doesn’t sigh and buckle up for a week’s worth of self-flagellation and grovelling. Rather, he simply adjusts course, quickly and obediently, and continues on his merry way. He turns his feet to God’s testimonies and hastens to keep His commandments.
Further, the reason this is possible is not because the psalmist is making light of sin — far from it. Rather, it is because he knows that sin is so grievous only blood can atone for it. He thus wastes no time with paltry, pietistic offerings. Instead, he looks in faith to the place where God has promised to provide atonement and continues in the path of obedience.
This kind of liberating repentance is open to all who are in Christ Jesus, and it is so because the blood of Christ has done what the impotent force of our half-hearted remorse could never do. His blood has actually atoned for our sins; it has actually purified and cleansed us; it has actually reconciled us to the Father; and it has actually brought us peace. There is therefore nothing left for us to do. Our condemnation is gone (Rom. 8:1).
This being the case, we saints are freed in Christ Jesus to be just that — saints. We are purified and set apart to run in the way of obedience, assured of the Father’s love in the Son and empowered by His Holy Spirit. We can therefore leave behind all vain attempts at making amends with God that have nothing to do with the cross, and simply get busy with the good works He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10).
As Paul said, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14).
If you are in Christ, the liberating joy of repentance is your daily inheritance.
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