Repentance

Religious Word Alert

Understanding repentance is critical to our understanding of how we fit into God's story.

We define repentance as:

To turn from our sin Lamp Lighters Y2Q1, Page 1, Green Answer

If sin is choosing what God doesn't want for us, then repentance is turning back to those things that God wants for us. If we truly understand God's character then we would be constantly trying to find what he wants for us. He loves us more than we even love ourselves and showed us this type of self-sacrificing love by giving his son for us on the cross.

Therefore our repentance declares that God’s will is better than our own.  Repentance is better for us and for our community. God's will is so good that it has taken not just our own interests into account, but also the interests of our friends, family, community, nation, and the world into account.  And not only is God’s will perfect for today, but it is also perfect for tomorrow and forever.

What’s the point?

When we ask our Lamp Lighters “Why do we need repentance?” We answer:

Repentance aligns us with the truth and helps God use us for his good. Lamp Lighters Y2Q1, Page 1, Yellow Answer

The truth that we hope we can see from reading slowly through God’s story is that God chooses flawed people to carry out his perfect will. No one in the Bible (besides God himself) acts without making mistakes or poor choices.  The good news is that God continues in love and patience to work through his imperfect partners to bring about his perfect plan.

When we make mistakes, the best way to move forward is not to ignore our mistakes by pretending they did not occur.  Nor is it to cover them up. When we sin, repentance helps us re-align ourselves with God’s truth. Namely that we are incapable of God’s holiness.  In this state of humility, God can better partner and use us to accomplish his will.

God sometimes uses people to accomplish his will who are deeply involved in sin and destruction.  We should not confuse this with God’s approval of their actions. When we see stories in the Bible of God using terrible figures to accomplish his purposes, we should not think, “If God can use a flawed villain like the king of Babylon, he can surely use me,” but instead think, “Imagine how much more God could have used this sinful person if they had repented and more closely aligned themselves with God’s ways!”

CHALLENGING QUESTIONS

  1. How would you know if you have turned from your sin?

  2. What does God’s will have to do with repentance?

  3. Can you imagine a situation that you handled poorly, that if you had more closely carried out God’s will, things might have gone better for you and everyone around you?

INTRIGUING METAPHOR

Have you ever tried to get a pet, or younger sibling to do something they didn’t want to do?

  • What about when the thing you were trying to get them to do was unpleasant, but for their own good?

  • Feeding a dog medicine or keeping a younger sibling out of the street is sometimes difficult.  How does this relate to how God views our own actions?

Repentance as a process

The red level question for this section deals with showing repentance.  Repentance is a continual process we all need to undertake to align ourselves with our father’s perfect and pleasing will.  Here are the steps for us to consider when repenting:

1. Search your heart 2. Say sorry for what you've done 3. Ask for forgiveness 4. Do better than your bad 5. Grow from it Lamp Lighters Y2Q1, Page 1, Red Answer

First three steps - Interaction with others

STEP ONE - SEARCH YOUR HEART

Repentance starts from within.  Others might accuse us of wrongdoing, and God might pull our hearts (or conscience) to understand that we have sinned.  If we do not believe that we have done wrong, though, we will be unable to move any further down the path of repentance.  

Telling others we are sorry, asking for forgiveness, and changing our future behavior will mean nothing if we are never convinced of our own wrongdoing.  For many, this is the most difficult step. People often tell themselves a story about their own life and they are the hero. It is hard to think that the hero of your story is doing anything wrong.  There are also lots of excuses to be made about why you acted in a way that you should not have.

Be angry, and do not sin;    ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Psalms 4:4 (ESV)

We think this verse embodies what it means to reflect on your own actions and consider what your part in any sinful behavior or broken relationships might be.  One of the most convicting ways to read the Bible is to continuously imagine yourself as the villain or the non-heroic characters in the stories. In what ways do you often act like them in your own life? How do you fail to live up to God’s perfect and holy standards? If we can first convince ourselves that we often fail, then we are ready to move on to taking ownership of that failure.  If we are unable to convince our own hearts of our inadequacies, then there is not much point in trying to convince others.

STEP TWO - SAY SORRY FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE

Name your sins.  Have you ever been around a little kid who just shouts, “Sorry” across the room for something their parent has asked them to apologize for? Does that ever seem very sincere? We want to get into the habit of confessing aloud to others and to God the ways we acted wrongly.  This serves two purposes. Often when we verbalize our own wrongdoing, we better understand the tugs of our heart. Sometimes something might be gnawing at our conscience that is difficult to put a finger on until we express it verbally. Secondly, if we apologize for something, we may find that the other person did not even know it happened, or worse, is actually upset or hurt from something else we did not even know we did.  Either way, we need to put into words the thing we are sorry for.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 ESV

This apology should be both to the person you have wronged, and to God.  An oft-overlooked aspect of sin is that it breaks down both human relationships and one’s relationship with God.  Sinning against another person breaks down your relationship with God. Just as sinning against God negatively affects the community (read about Achan’s sin in Joshua chapter 7).

Once you have apologized and clarified the wrongdoing, there may be more discussion needed.  Perhaps you apologized for one thing which starts a longer conversation with your friend who brings other bad things they think you have done to light.  This may convict your heart in other ways and cause you to apologize for those things too. A good friend will try to take ownership for the ways they have contributed to a bad situation, too, but always remember that you cannot control another person.  All you can do is listen and respond in love and in truth. Try to take responsibility for all of your action or inaction and tell the person that you are sorry for the ways you have failed to live up to God’s standard.

This step can be especially difficult for people with a sensitivity to fairness and justice.  After all, no one is perfect and another person who has been harboring anger or resentment is liable to lash out with those feelings.  God does not ask us to take responsibility for another person first, though. Jesus tells us to first deal with our own sins to see clearly enough to help a person with their sin.

STEP THREE - ASK FOR FORGIVENESS

Sometimes we expect forgiveness when we deliver an apology.  But we should not expect forgiveness, even among our Christian brothers and sisters.  Why? Forgiveness is a gift that was graciously given by God. If we think that God’s grace was cheap or expected, we should re-examine the costs at the foot of the cross.  

Asking for forgiveness may not be necessary among people who love one another, but should not be taken for granted.  After acknowledging the wrong you have done, asking for a person to forgive you is an offer to begin fixing the relationship.  

Forgiveness does not mean instant forgetfulness.  After all, sin is the kind of disease that poisons the land, relationships, and all of God’s creation.  Sin brings death. A relationship with sin will only be restored by God’s miraculous, glorious, life-giving power and grace.  We are a people who believe in the resurrection of the dead. If Jesus can give up his life on the cross and bring himself back into a newer and better body, then he can surely resurrect our broken relationships through this same power, especially when we are filled with the same life-giving spirit!

Granting forgiveness is difficult.  As difficult, in some ways, as bringing dead things back to life.  So we should not expect forgiveness, but we should ask and hope for it.  As we stated earlier, we cannot control others, and our own journey of repentance will not end if we cannot find forgiveness in another sinful human.  But we should always ask God and others for forgiveness, hoping for that miraculous grace that comes from Jesus.

Compelling Questions:

  1. Do you find it hard to take ownership of things you have done wrong?

  2. Is it harder to realize when you’ve done something wrong, or to apologize for the thing you’ve done?

  3. Why is it so important to understand the effects sin has on both our lateral (human to human) and upward (God to us) relationships?

  4. Why is asking for forgiveness important? Even if we aren’t given forgiveness?

Compelling Metaphor:

In the garden, God tells Adam and Eve that eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil will result in death.

  • How does choosing things that God doesn’t want for us bring death into our relationships?

  • How does God’s and one another's forgiveness bring resurrected life?

Building the New Kingdom

This quarter, we will begin discussing God’s kingdom.  We will explore how God’s human project extends into uncharted territory of the human project.  God’s plan for humanity is far better than we could imagine. The next steps of repentance lead us down this new, harder path.

STEP FOUR - DO BETTER THAN YOUR BAD

The first thing to understand about this step is that it in no way will rectify or make-up for the wrongs we have done.  As we stated in step three, sin brings death. The only way to overcome death is through God’s power. Step four is not about creating a better situation in our own power.  “Doing better than your bad” is about embodying the heart changes through our actions.

At Lamp Lighters we believe that God will bring us into his story by reading, singing, and praying together.  We can believe that reading, singing, and praying are really good things, but the act of actually doing those things are what truly bring us into God’s story.  In the same way, God will surely convict you of your sin in your heart. You can understand that you are wrong, but until you start embodying the acts of seeking forgiveness, the changes that God wants will not take root in your life.  

We recommend acting like a short guy named Zacchaeus.  After Jesus shows Zacchaeus grace and mercy, Zacchaeus tells people that he will give them back the money he has cheated them four times over:

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10 (ESV)

This type of restorative action does not restore these relationships.  Zacchaeus has acted in corrupt ways that have hurt people in real ways over his whole life.  One can imagine a family with young kids who went hungry because of Zacchaeus’ greed. Does his offer to give four times as much money back cure these children of their malnourishment? No, certainly not.  

Only God can restore this kind of death and damage.  Zacchaeus’ actions rather show a new kind of heart. He was shown grace and mercy which he allows to fill him up until that same kind of grace and mercy overflows from himself.  

Interestingly, we see these kinds of loving acts following forgiveness not because they make up for the sin that was committed, but precisely because we know that nothing but God’s generous grace can do that restoration.  As such we are committed to acting in accordance with God’s grace, which shows bountiful love even when the object of our love refuses to show that love in return.  

STEP FIVE - GROW FROM IT

If Zacchaeus restores money back to all these folks but goes back to his same, corrupt ways a few months later, not only is the whole process pointless, but it actually makes things worse than when they started in some ways.  If we fall back into the pit that God worked so hard to free us from, then an outside observer would comment that we have been working at all of this in vain. All this effort and only death and destruction results.

We have to reflect on our experiences and grow closer to God to complete the repentance process.  Part of God bringing us into his story is him shaping us into the people he created us to be. The story we see in the Bible begins with humanity falling away from God’s plans as his image bearers.  His rescue plan is kicked off with the person of Abraham and climaxes in God uniting himself to his human project in Jesus. We have the resurrection hope, now that we can change. That God will bring this sinful, death-filled flesh to new life.   

Without this hope of change, we do not have a story worth telling.  Without a God that transforms us all, we only have a slave-master who is continually disappointed in us.  We are fully responsible for our sin and also fully responsible for growing and learning from our failures and leaving that sin behind.  

COMPELLING QUESTIONS

  1. What is the purpose of doing good after we have done wrong? Does it make up for the bad we have done?

  2. How does God restore our relationships with others? With himself?

  3. Why is growing and maturing essential to the repentance process?

  4. What kind of testimony is given from one who does not mature and grow through the process of repentance?

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