It's time for you to feel God's Mercy: Repentance is not about suffering
The word “repentance” comes from a Greek word that means “a change of mind and heart” or “a change of consciousness.” In Hebrew, the idea of repentance means both “to feel sorrow” and “to return.”
You repent by first feeling remorse about what you’ve done (the sorrow), and then by returning to God for a change of mind, heart, and consciousness. Repentance is all about “Remorse and Return.” I call it “R&R” for short. If you want repentance to change your heart and change your behavior, you’ve got to get that R&R.
The Christian Roadblock
Christians are really good at the first “R”— we feel tremendous Remorse for our sins. But we often can’t quite get to the second “R” of Returning to God and being changed. Christians often get to the point of suffering remorse, but don’t go any further. They just keep suffering.
For so many of the Christians I work with, this is precisely the problem: Christians try to get closer to God by suffering through repentance. When we stop with remorse and don’t return to God to be changed, we stop the process in the middle. We suffer, but we are not made new. We stay discouraged and stuck with our sinning behaviors.
Why Would You Stop with Remorse?
It’s one thing to try to repent once and not be changed. But it’s another thing to try a dozen times, or a hundred times, and still not be changed. When that happens, what’s a Christian to do?
That’s when Christians give up. After failing repeatedly at having their sinful behaviors changed through repentance, they unconsciously conclude that, when it comes to changing those behaviors, God isn’t really there for them. They give up on returning to God to be changed.
Once you’ve given up on God changing you, there is no returning to God to be for a change of mind, heart, and consciousness. There’s only the pain of remorse. If returning to God to remove our sin doesn’t seem like an option, then we have little choice but to turn to ourselves. And when we turn to ourselves to overcome our sin, we always take the same approach: Instead of experiencing God’s mercy, we become harsh with ourselves.
And when harshness doesn’t stop our sinning — and it never does, not for long—we feel even more remorse, and become even more harsh with ourselves. It’s a vicious cycle that feeds on itself and keeps us from truly going to God.
The Christian Challenge
Christianity is a challenging path. One of the challenges is that you are called upon to keep returning to God until you are remade.
God has promised that “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). But if you only feel the remorse for your sins, and give up on returning to God to change them, then that promise never gets a chance to come true. If you stop with remorse you never get that “heart of flesh.” You end up struggling through life with a heart of stone.
You have to Keep Asking
The Bible says “Ask, and ye shall receive.” Yet for so many of us, if God doesn’t give us what we ask for pretty quickly, we stop asking. But Scripture doesn’t say “Ask until you get tired of asking, then give up.” It says “ask.” When Christians stop with the remorse, we stop asking.
Continuing to ask God to remake you is hard. It doesn’t “just happen.” Experiencing the joy of returning to God and being remade requires daily practice. It requires asking again and again. And living that way is challenging.
We need to let go of the idea that just because we are called to return to God and be made new, that therefore that process is easy. It’s not. It’s actually easier to suffer in remorse, and to keep beating ourselves up about our sins, than it is to keep returning to God to be remade.
After all, beating ourselves up is our default human behavior. Mercilessness is what we’re used to. So it’s difficult to let go of that familiar pattern and return to God. And it’s especially hard when we don’t get the transformation we are looking for on the schedule that we would prefer. It’s easier to give up, get in the driver’s seat yourself, and scold, shame, and otherwise try to fix your sins yourself. The problem is, it never really works.
It’s time for you, today, right now, to decide that you are done with beating yourself into repentance. Decide right now that, even if you don’t yet know how, you are inalterably committed to seeking the life of living in the Mercy of God. Turn away from the dark path of “self-abuse as repentance,” and keep seeking, with a full heart, for God to make you new.
You are not just forgiven — you can be made into a new creation. Isaiah tells us to “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past…I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19). A way can be made through the “impassable wilderness” of your life. Streams of renewal can flow through what you once thought was a wasteland of incorrigible sin. You don’t have to dwell in the past. Through Him all things can be made new.
Commit yourself to keep seeking that, now.
– By Dmitri Bilgere
Dmitri Bilgere is a personal coach, Crucible Project leader, and author of “Gateways to God: Remove Your Roadblocks and Live His Love.” Get a free mini-course on How to Feel God’s Love at http://GatewaystoGod.com/
Photo Credit: Georgie Pauwels via Creative Commons