A friend of mine recently helped me to see that I don’t understand repentance at all. Which, ironically, I was surprised to discover since many of my friends tell me that I’m one of the most honest people they know when it comes to confessing my sin. In confessing my sin I learned that I was feeling all kinds of regret and circumstantial guilt, but the regret was selfish, and what masqueraded as guilt was really an annoyance over how my sin made me feel, not how my sin affects God or the people around me. Even my naive repentance was self salvation that minimized the extent of my sin.
To be honest I can’t bear to be honest about what I’m really like. Israel’s prayer in Nehemiah 9 is just this though. “Enough talk about all the trouble we were in when our city was destroyed,” says Nehemiah. “And for a time, we must set aside our celebration at rebuilding it, and simply confess our sins and repent. Slowly, with detail, in a way that doesn’t minimize or “spin” the truth about who we truly are. We must own our sin.”
However, this becomes difficult for us the day we are born. We come into this world like businessmen and athletes (which as it turns out, is what many of us are when we grow up), we want to win, and we hate to lose. Whether it is a match or money, a championship or an investment, an admittance that we fell short is to be utterly avoided. And it is the same with our relationship to God. Our nature is to be our own savior. Self salvation is our modus operandi, it is what we do as sinners who are cosmically separated from God. What are we to do but claw our way towards Almighty God by believing that we are not that far from him after all!?
Do you get so caught up in the give and take of everyday life that you forget how far Jesus had to come to rescue you, and that it was your specific sins that made such a rescue necessary? Confession is simply an honest recognition of this reality. Confession is to call sin what God calls it, not what we spin it as. Confession is to simply come, in honest and stark detail, and own your sin. And confession leads to repentance and restoration, which is what our souls ultimately need more than victories and fat profit margins. Repentance is what the people of Israel do here, and that is our Father’s invitation to us today.
But how do we do such a thing!? It sounds so burdensome and scary, but consider what Martin Luther said in his 95 theses: all of life is repentance. Repentance is not an ominous burden, but a gracious blessing. The burden is in the weight of our sin carried only by ourselves. When we tell God what he already knows about our sin, an amazing thing happens. The forgiveness that is already ours in Jesus can actually sink into our hearts and supernaturally change us. The absolute security of the unconditional love of Christ gives us the freedom to be honest about who we are, and when we are honest, Jesus seems to show up. Don’t delay, friend. Come today and tell God who you really are, and let him affirm you to the skies with his grace and forgiveness.