I had the privilege of teaching high school science in an urban high school for six years before taking a break for my current gig(s). Every day was an adventure and in all reality, I probably learned more from my students than they learned from me. It was amazing how quickly the Lord could use them to convict me of sin, and one of the lessons the Lord taught me through them was the necessity of repentance.
In my mind, confession and repentance were basically the same thing—acknowledging my sin for what it was to the Lord and expressing sorrow over it. Turns out I was missing a really key element of repentance that could literally made all the difference in my relationship with Jesus.
Repentance, according to one commentary, “always requires a recognition of need, a sorrow for sin, a decision to turn from sin to God, and a subsequent obedient lifestyle.” It involves a “complete turning of the whole person which engages the mind, emotions, and will.”
Did you catch that? Not just recognizing, sorrow, and confession, but a subsequent obedient lifestyle. How many times do we think about our sin and even confess it to the Lord, but never change our behavior afterwards?
(Or is that just me? Am I the only one who wrestles with that?)
Nothing illustrated the idea of repentance for me better than fourteen-year old boys taking freshman biology. In case you’re wondering, let me assure you that most freshmen boys aren’t really all that interested in biology class. (Shocking, I know. I could hardly believe it myself!)
As you might imagine, getting freshmen boys (And girls! But especially boys…) to turn in homework was often a challenge. I didn’t give homework every night, but I did use it 2-3 times a week in an attempt to help them rehearse the material and interact with it outside of my classroom. Every year, on the first day of the semester, I’d talk about my expectations with my students. And without fail, every year, there would be students who agreed that my expectations were fair, but would never actually do the homework.
My follow-up conversations would go something like this:
Me: “I see that you haven’t turned in any of your assignments from last week. What’s going on?”
14-year old boy: “Um… I don’t know. Just didn’t do it, I guess.”
Me: “Okay. Were the assignments confusing? Do you need help to finish it?”
14-year old boy: “No, it was pretty easy.”
Me: “Great, glad it’s making sense. I’m really disappointed you haven’t finished it yet, though, and it’s affecting your grade. Do you think you can complete it and bring it to me tomorrow?”
14-year old boy: “Yeah, probably. I’m sorry I didn’t turn it in yet.”
Me: “Terrific – that will really help your grade. I’ll look for it tomorrow.”
Any guesses on how many times that little speech actually produced make-up work being turned in? Approximately 30% of the time. What would drive me crazy is that I could have this conversation multiple times over the course of a semester and never see a change in the student’s actions.
In other words, the student knew what was expected, he could see the benefit of what was being asked, he could identify the problem and acknowledge there was a problem, and yet, he would never choose to change his behavior.
Ugh. Is this starting to sound familiar?
As soon as frustration with my students would settle in, the Holy Spirit would show me how I do the same exact thing:
I know what God has asked me to do because of His Word.
I can see the benefit of walking in obedience.
I can identify the problem and confess my sin.
And yet, I might not choose a different action.
I am just as bad as my students! They wonder why their grade is so bad, but never actually turn in the homework. I wonder why I keep getting stuck in the same sin but never turn away from the sin to walk in obedience.
Lent is designed to be a time of spiritual preparation as we move toward the victorious celebration of Easter. It’s been described as, “. . . a season of repentance, a time of dying to self that anticipates new life on the other side, just like the last days of winter anticipate the arrival of Spring.”
So how are you doing when it comes to repentance? It’s what we’re called to as followers of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul instructs us:
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
Are we experiencing a godly grief that leads away from sin and toward obedience? Or a worldly grief that confesses sin without moving us to obedience? Because that worldly grief leads to spiritual death.
As we move through the last week of this Lenten season, let us be a people that repent of our sins, so that we may rejoice in God’s victory over sin and death as we celebrate His resurrection!
1. David Turner, Matthew – Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic Publishing, 2008), 106.
2. Vroegop, Mark – http://www.yourchurch.com/sermon/the-relevance-of-repentance/
3. “25 Meditations for Lent/Easter”,Trevin Wax, https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2009/02/25/25-meditations-for-lenteaster/