Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a temple of sacrifice. If I close the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. My eyes will now be open and My ears attentive to prayer from this place. And I have now chosen and consecrated this temple so that My name may be there forever; My eyes and My heart will be there at all times.” — 2 Chronicles 7:12-16
As we continue on this journey to the cross, repentance is becoming more and more important in your relationship with God. At least it should be. Why? Repentance begins with seeking God, embracing the way things really are by confessing them, and then turning from the sins which invade our lives.
The word “sin” has been defined and applied in so many ways that I think most people have adopted a rather trite view of sin that is focused on specific actions that break God’s rules. The biblical concept of sin is not less than that, but it is much more. 19th century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from God.” In other words, sin separates you from God. There’s no way around it. You cannot be in union with God and in your sin.
We were made for God, to center our entire life on him and find our sense of worth and purpose in him. Anything other than that is sin. And truthfully, how often do we place our desires above God’s plan for us? We end up losing our identity as a child of God, hanging our hat on our self-centered identity formed in our own image. Everyone is building his or her identity on something. It’s human nature.
St. Augustine said, “We were made for God, and that our hearts are restless until they find rest in him.”
This is how Israel got to where they were. They made other things ultimate and gave themselves to false gods. Israel was always running to other gods and then coming back to the Lord. This is the nature of our sin. We give ourselves out to false gods and then come running back to the one true God when our life is in ruins.
The gospel sets us free from this kind of false faith. God approves of us in Christ, without condition. We are accepted and adopted into his family. We don’t need anything more than what we have been given in Christ. We cannot accomplish anything more than what he has already done on our behalf. Nothing can separate us from the love of God when we repent and say yes to Jesus Christ.
We not only need to admit that we have sinned, but also that we have sinned because we were tempted by our own desires, and willfully gave ourselves to them. This kind of ownership is necessary for true repentance, and stands in contrast to many of the ways we typically try to deal with our sin. Yes, Jesus Christ put on every single sin we have or will commit. But we do have a responsibility to own it, repent for it, and humbly ask for forgiveness. But we try to justify our sin. When you become aware of sin, do you feel the need to nuance everything, explain how complicated things are, or make excuses? Taking responsibility for sin means we say, “I lusted because my desires are perverted” … “I lied because I am afraid of what people think about me” … “I ate that because I do not have self-control around food.”
We try to downplay our sin, hoping or assuming that God overlooks our sin. Or even worse, we seek to just change the word of God to fit our sinful narrative. We don’t think sin really affects our ability to relate to God, or hinders the flow of his blessing. We think we are the exception. Taking responsibility for sin means we say, “My sin is destructive and grieves God. I will not be right with him until I deal with this.”
We pretend things are better than they really are, cleaning the outside of the cup while we are filthy on the inside. Taking responsibility means we say, “It doesn’t matter how good people think I am. God sees right through me, and is not impressed or tricked by my lip service. God hates hypocrisy!”
Our problems are bigger than our circumstances: we are broken on the inside. And repentance is deeper than what we do: we need to repent of who we are. Remember, repentance is good news. It is hope that God will restore us. Conviction of sin is a difficult pill to swallow, but it is good medicine to the soul.