REPENTANCE AND GOD’S FORGIVENESS
WE aren’t perfect, and never will be in this life. We often find ourselves in the same situation as Saint Paul when he said: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21). Fortunately, as Christians we can also praise God that Christ’s sacrifice has won the victory over sin. We have been put right with God in spite of our tendencies toward sin. Our efforts to obey God and to allow ourselves to be remade in His image are not guilt-laden, hopeless struggles but thankful offerings. Like children’s flower offerings at Easter, each triumph of obedience is a blossom for the cross of Christ.
Scripture assures us that God stands ready to help when we struggle with temptation.
“Because He Himself was tested by what He suffered, He is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrew 2:18).
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1Corinthians 10:13).
The armor of God is our best defense against temptation (see Ephesians 6:10-17). Truth, integrity, willingness to share the Gospel of peace, faith, consciousness of God’s salvation, God’s word and prayer are means that God has given us so that we can withstand evil. The more we use these tools, the stronger we’ll be when temptation comes.
Temptation itself is not sin. Even our Lord was tempted. Surrender to temptation, or disobedience, is sin. We will all succumb to temptation at one time or another, but our inevitable fall is not the end of the story. God’s cleansing forgiveness is available for every contrite heart. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), God is eager to restore us to Himself. On our part we must examine ourselves honestly, confess our faults and repent our sins. We must acknowledge our sins to God before His forgiveness can benefit us. Blaming our shortcomings on others or on circumstances, thinking ourselves better that our neighbors, or expecting an automatic, easy forgiveness are attitudes which can keep us from honestly confronting our sins. If we don’t see the sickness, we won’t take the cure. Confession is the outward sign of our inward attitude of remorse. Confession enables us to name the sin, accept the guilt and ask for God’s mercy.
Besides being sorry for our sin, repentance include a resolve to avoid it in the future. Repentance means that we want God more than we want the pleasures of the sin. Asking for forgiveness while planning to continue willfully in sin is not true repentance. If our attachment to the sin is so strong that we feel we can’t give it up, we can start where we are and pray for help. We can ask that God might strengthen our desire to renounce sin and help us break with it.
After we have repented, we should accept God’s forgiveness and let go of our guilt. Many of us stumble at this step. We find it impossible to accept forgiveness. Remember, we don’t have to deserve forgiveness. All we have to do is ask for it with an honest, repentant heart. If God were to heal us of a physical illness, would we say, “No, Lord, I don’t deserve health, make me sick again”? After Jesus healed the blind man, the man followed Jesus and glorified God (see Luke 18:35-43). When our sins are forgiven and our spiritual sight” restored, then we should commit our lives to Jesus with thankfulness and praise, just as the blind man did. If God who is all-holy says that He forgives the repentant, then we can’t presume to insist on guilt. We should, instead, allow ourselves to believe God, humbly accept His forgiveness and praise Him for His mercy.
Jakarta, 11 April 2014
A Christian Pilgrim