The Beauty Of Repentance
A few years ago out of the blue I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me about a time in my life, over 15 years earlier. At that time I was living away from home while studying at university, and I set a tone for my life that was indulgent, self-gratifying, prideful and certainly not representative of God and His Spirit in my life. The timing of this conviction surprised me; for while I had always felt bad about that time knowing that how I lived wasn’t pleasing to God, looking back now I can see how I had tried to run away from that time and put it behind me. I had excused it away as a time when I was young and immature and it was in the past.
Yet now, years later, I felt the Holy Spirit convict me of how I had misrepresented God back then and that He wanted me to know that He held me responsible for my choices. I cried with shame as the Holy Spirit showed me the truth of what I had done to God and other relationships. Even though it happened 15 years earlier it felt like it had happened yesterday and I knew that, out of His love and care for me, God wanted me to face it with Him so that it was no longer something which I was ashamed of and no longer a blockage in our relationship.
This started a joyous experience with God, one that was painful yet freeing. It included walking through all the details that God had convicted me of and sharing what I now saw with those I had lived with at the time. In the process more was reflected to me about how I had affected relationships and how I hurt my friends by living a self-centred life.
As a result a beautiful restoration of relationships took place which I can only thank God for because this only happened because of Him and was only possible because of His grace.
But through it all I experienced more of God. I faced a lot of things about myself that I felt ashamed of, yet at the same time I discovered more of God’s love, forgiveness and strength in each step along the way as He led me. I also felt equipped by the Holy Spirit and experienced a real hunger to pursue everything for God’s sake and the sake of relationship. I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned and had a real desire to face everything I had done and the effect I had on others; not so I would feel better or bring closure but because God had brought this to me and I knew it was important between Him and me. God wanted me to face it with Him, for His sake and instead of avoiding it that is what I now wanted too. As a result a beautiful restoration of relationships took place which I can only thank God for because this only happened because of Him and was only possible because of His grace.
In writing about repentance, and what I experienced I feel reminded of the parable of the prodigal son as an example of what true repentance is and how God responds. The prodigal son left his home and squandered all that his father had given him to live a self-centred life. Only when he had lost everything, and because of a lack of food – eating from the same trough as the pigs he was feeding – did he finally come to his senses facing the reality of what he had done. He knew where he belonged and that was now where he wanted to be, on any terms.
Returning to his home the prodigal son knew what he wanted to say to his father but before he had even reached his father’s house, his father, seeing his son returning, ran to him, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Only then was the prodigal son able to express what was on his heart: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:21 NIV) That to me is an expression of true repentance: focussed on his father whom he loved he knew that because of his choices he had forfeited his right to be called his father’s son; he knew he had not only broken his relationship with his father but in so doing had sinned against God. So he returned to his father happy to just be a hired hand on his farm. He didn’t try to excuse what he had done or why he had done it by saying ‘Well father, you did let me go with a lot of money’, or; ‘I got led astray by the wrong crowd’, or; ‘I was young and needed to find myself’, or; ‘It was just a phase of rebellion I went through’, or; ‘It’s simply the type of person I am and what I struggle with’. He gave no excuse, for he was living in the truth that he knew in his heart – he had by his deliberate choices separated himself from his father. He knew it and he wanted his father to know he knew it. His only desire was to restore the relationship and he wanted to do that however he could and no matter what the consequences were for him.
So what did his father do in response? He rejoiced saying ‘Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:24 NIV) He had his son back and his son now wanted relationship with his father just as much as the father had always desired it with him. All that mattered to the father was that his son had returned home and they could once again live in a true love relationship together.
It is important that I live in God’s truth that any separation – no matter how big or small, how long or short it lasts – is still separation from God
It can be easy, for any of us, to quickly identify what the prodigal son needed to repent of but not see its application in our own lives. But it is important that I live in God’s truth that any separation – no matter how big or small, how long or short it lasts – is still separation from God. Jesus made this point clear in the Parable of the Vine (John 15), namely that it doesn’t matter if a branch is separated from the vine by a millimetre or a metre, the result is the same. As Jesus said ‘If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned’. That is how seriously God sees any separation between me and Him and so must I because I am responsible before God for making sure I do not tolerate any separation between Him and me for any reason.
I know from experience that as soon as I separate myself from God to any degree everything changes.
As Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest: “Never disregard a conviction that the Holy Spirit brings to you. If it is important enough for the Spirit of God to bring it to your mind, it is the very thing He is detecting in you. You were looking for some big thing to give up, while God is telling you of some tiny thing that must go. But behind that tiny thing lies the stronghold of obstinacy, and you say, “I will not give up my right to myself”— the very thing that God intends you to give up if you are to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.” (Sep 24, https://utmost.org/the-go-of-preparation/)
I know from experience that as soon as I separate myself from God to any degree everything changes. The way I give of myself changes: the way I love my wife changes; the way I parent changes, and; the way I love those God has given me to love changes. All because I am focused on myself and have separated myself from God. Like the branch, I start to wither because God’s life is no longer able to flow freely from Him to me. It doesn’t have to be some ‘big’ sin or heinous act but it always happens when, for whatever reason, I choose to take my eyes off God and so separate myself from Him.
That’s why I know from my own life experience that repentance is not something to be avoided but embraced. It is not something which we do once or on occasions but is part of our personal love relationship with God. I only have to look at any of the times when I have taken my eyes off God to know that I am just one choice away from separating myself from Him. That is not a threat to my relationship with God for it is never inevitable and is always subject to my free will. The reality is that any of us can at any moment separate ourselves from God by our choice. However, instead of focusing on not doing that, all we need to do is to make loving God the complete focus of our lives, so that He fills our gaze and is always at the very centre of our lives.
Our motivation must be our love for our Father and our love relationship with Him, without any regard for ourselves: what it costs or how it makes us look or feel.
Whenever we have separated ourselves from God, we must acknowledge the truth to ourselves, turn around and, in repentance, come to Him and look Him full in the face. Our motivation must be our love for our Father and our love relationship with Him, without any regard for ourselves: what it costs or how it makes us look or feel. That is true repentance and something all of us have to give when we have sinned. The fact that we even have that option available to us is just another expression of God’s amazing love for us and His desire to always have a relationship with each one of us.
This doesn’t mean repentance is easy or free, which is why many of us can baulk when it actually comes to responding to God in this way. True repentance is not controlled by us but instead determined by our love relationship with God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Each time I feel the sting of what I have done by my choices and the hurt I have caused God but I also experience the freedom and joy of being back in a true love relationship with Him. Every time the redemptive power of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for me becomes more real and tangible to me. I am humbled but loved and back in His presence, which is where I want to be.
True repentance is not controlled by us but instead determined by our love relationship with God and the leading of the Holy Spirit
Whenever I think about that I feel amazed at how vast and powerful God’s love is, that He brings us back to Himself when, out of our love for Him, we turn from our ways and come back to God desiring to be back in relationship with Him no matter what the cost. Out of His love God always offers us the opportunity for true repentance and the Holy Spirit within us urges us to respond. I have loved discovering a real desire in my heart to pursue Him and identify anything that separates me from my God, the one I love.
– Joel Egan