Repentance Brings Renewal
REPENTANCE BRINGS RENEWAL
The Unexpected Source of Refreshment for Our Souls
I often lay in bed at night, exhausted from the day, and think, "Isn't it amazing that God made our bodies capable of recharging as we sleep so we can get up and do the same thing again tomorrow?" We can be utterly spent in the evening and wake up refreshed in the morning. But sometimes, it's not that simple. Sometimes, life is overwhelming and we need more than just physical refreshment. Sometimes, our hearts need to be revived; we need spiritual renewal.
The Lord often has things to say to us and teach us that go against our natural inclinations. You would think that searching for God's instruction on receiving refreshment and renewal for our souls would produce an inspirational article about approaching the throne of grace with confidence, that God knows the plans He has for us, and that with faith we can move mountains. But, as is often His way, God had an unexpected lesson for me to learn.
In the Bible, the term "renew" is most often used as a figurative term, meaning "to regain inner strength and resolve in our pursuit of God" or "gain knowledge for spiritual renewal". That is the kind of renewal I am referring to—an inner spiritual restoration of some kind. My first search for God's instruction on refreshment and renewal yielded this:
"Repent and turn to God, so your sin may be wiped away and times of refreshment will come." (Acts 3:19)
Interesting, and very important. But, not what I was looking for. I tried another one: "If you repent, I will restore you, so that you may serve me" (Jeremiah 15:19). Again, not what I expected. This went on for a while. I did find several verses where the mention of renewal is not directly tied to repentance—be transformed by the renewing of your mind; our rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit; those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; outwardly we are wasting away, but inwardly we are being renewed day by day. Still, we see in these examples that the renewal offered is dependent on an initial act of repentance leading to saving faith, for we know that this kind of refreshment could only come to those who belong to God.
The word repent, as most of you know, does not simply mean to have sorrow for our sin, but to actually turn away from it. RC Sproul says, "True repentance does not mean sinlessness in this life, but it does mean a full reorientation of one’s direction and love of self and sin, a marked turn from what opposes Christ to Christ Himself." When we confess and turn away from our sin in order to choose the things of God, we shed the awful weight that sin brings upon our hearts and lives. Repentance yields the fruit of a changed life, one freed up to live in joyful service to the King. And so, it is no wonder that God calls us to repentance. It brings a renewed sense of vitality to our faith.
As we seek to live as citizens of God's kingdom, it is worthy of our time to explore the area of repentance and confession. Here are 3 ways that confession (leading to repentance) restores our souls:
First, confession gives us proper perspective.
Psalm 38:18 says, "I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin." When we are troubled by our rebellion against God and we acknowledge our low estate, we also acknowledge our need to be saved from it. True confession demands that we see our offenses clearly; it brings us to our knees and lifts our eyes to the only One who can provide forgiveness and freedom. As Daniel 9:9 says, "The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him". In prayerful confession, our sinfulness contrasts with God's holiness and mercy, and a proper biblical perspective is restored to our lives.
You see, if renewal is to come to you and to me, God will be the One to accomplish it. These familiar words remind us: "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quite waters, he restores my soul." And in Isaiah 26:12, "Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us."
We have to be very mindful that a Christian retreat, or an exciting new Bible study, or a day of silence, or even a day at the spa does not produce the renewal our souls so desperately seek. These are not bad things; in fact, they are sometimes the means God uses to bring about change and restoration, but they are never the true root cause of it. We may know this truth intellectually, but in practice we seem to put our confidence in anything but God. Let's be careful not to expect worldly things to produce other-worldly results. Only God can give renewal.
Second, confession restores relationship.
This is sometimes true of our human relationships, and it is an absolutely vital part of our relationship with God. As fallen human beings, we participate in sin which separates us from God. And while God's interaction in our lives cannot be reduced to a specific formula (for He can work in all situations), we can say with certainty that living in disobedience strains our relationship with Him. We cannot expect to receive the renewal He desires to give us when we are living in opposition to His will. 2 Chronicles 7:14 shows us the way back to Him: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin." 1 John 1:9 tells us, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and purify us of all unrighteousness." Confession restores our relationship with God.
However, we might want to take a moment and address the secret things we avoid confessing, or those habits that have become so second nature that we shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, that's just me", even though we know they do not please God. We like to call them character flaws (instead of sin), but the problem with continuing on in these patterns is that they make us less available to hear Him, to receive His blessings, and to be used by Him.
Third, confession breeds a willing heart.
Humans don't naturally have a desire to obey God. But, as we begin to mature in our faith, our sins begin to pain us because now we know better, and naming them can bring spiritual and even physical heartache. We rebel against the God who has been so good to us, but as we are transformed over time, our rebellion loses its appeal. Of course, we can never escape sin completely here on earth, but we can pray as King David did, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me." Confession, if we let it, will lead us to a greater desire for Christ-like righteousness.
As we consider these results of heartfelt confession—a proper perspective, restored relationship with God, and a willing heart—do you notice the character trait that is central to all of them? The quality of humility is not an esteemed virtue in our day, but it is absolutely necessary to coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and to partaking of the blessedness that comes from being in God's family. Our culture hates this principle. It pushes back with all its might against God's rightful authority over us—so much so, that its disdain has infiltrated the Christian's life.
Jesus, our King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was not afraid of humility. Philippians 2 tells us that our attitude should be the same as Christ's, who humbled himself and became obedient, and God exalted Him. Jesus didn't have any sin to repent of, but he came and "made Himself nothing" so that you and I could be made new. The renewal we look for is a gift we do not deserve. It is not something we demand to receive from Him; instead, we fall on our knees in humility, repentance, and obedience and ask to be renewed for His Kingdom's cause.
Confession, repentance, obedience, and humility are not things to roll our eyes at in boredom, but are, in fact, the marks of Jesus' most effective disciples in this world. And, therefore, this is what He says to us: "Repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." (Acts 3:19)