By: Shane James O’Neill
Repentance. What a dirty word. In the West, we’re all about independence. It’s one of our greatest values. Words like obey, submit, apologize, and repent, strike against our notions of independence. Autonomy is our entitlement, our privilege. We get to live however we want, and there’s hell to pay for anyone who would tell us otherwise.
This shows us (at the very least) one thing about ourselves:
- We’re violently insecure: Owning a wrong is no easy thing, it requires a special kind of foundation: a foundation which allows a person to be able to admit wrong without it destroying their identity. In the West we’ve mastered the practice of self-justification. If we can explain why we did something awful, then it is no longer awful; if we can explain why someone else got hurt by our actions or words, then we shouldn’t have to say “I’m sorry”. Post modern thought says that everyone’s truth is as real as anyone else’s. Post-modernism has given us a foundation to acknowledge other people’s worlds, but not honor them.
What is repentance, anyway?
Repentance is hard. To repent is to validate another person’s perspective and admit wrong doing. We’re also admitting hurt and, in a real sense, we’re submitting our world to someone else’s world. All of that stuff is scary and un-intuitive. And honestly, maybe it’s impossible without a proper foundation.
St. Paul talks about this:
Godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly sorrow produces death.
He is making note of how our foundations allow us to engage sin. The world has no way of admitting failure, hurt, evil, sadness, shame and guilt, without it destroying their sense of identity. Worldly sorrow can only bring death.
Whereas the gospel grants Christians the ability to look at Jesus and His cross and admit the worst of ourselves, then look at Jesus and His resurrection and be built up in hope.
To practice the justification of the gospel is to confess shortcomings, but it is also to confess great value. It is to affirm the death of our hurt, shame, anger, and lust, while it also affirms the resurrection gift of healing and dignity and gentleness and contentment.
HOw’s it all work?
Lust is a frightful thing to bring into the light. And if you bring it into the light with a worldly foundation, it will produce death and leave you there unable to stand. But if you keep lust in the dark then you will experience the same decaying result. The gospel is the only foundation that gives you a light that is safe to step into. Yeah, you’ll have to admit the addiction, the cheating, the fantasies, the mental and/or physical abuse, the manipulation, the lack of intimacy, the loneliness, the hopelessness. Your lust is suffocating you. But when you do that in front of His cross then you get to see those things die, and then you get to see a resurrection.
To be a Christian (a Christ follower) is to let people in, grow in community, practice the assurance of the gospel, and serve other people in love. To be a Christian is to know Jesus and submit to Him as God’s Son. But hey, you won’t be a slave to self-hate, and darkness, and lies, anxiety, manipulation, insecurity, and emptiness. You’ll gain an identity and foundation that you were made to live from.
For those of you who are practicing repentance, keep burrowing into it — keep harmonizing it with the gospel. It’s a fight worth making. And really, it’s just a fight of learning to believe the war has already been won.
For those who have yet to begin, it’s time. Get right with your God and Father and walk out repentance in the areas of your life that have been in darkness.
Stop embracing the justification of our age and let the justification of Jesus embrace you. Quit lying to yourself, get with Jesus, and don’t let yourself settle for anything less than resurrection. It’s a process, but like St. Paul said, there’s no regret and it leads to eternal life.
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Shane James O’Neill is the Editorial Director for ProvenMen Ministries. He is currently working on a graduate degree in apologetics at Liberty University’s Rawling School of Divinity.