the weblog of Alan Knox

Confession and Repentance…

Posted by on May 15, 2007 in discipleship | 20 comments

A few days ago, a friend of mine said something very interesting. He had been reading Scripture, and was convicted about something in his life. He recognized that in this area (and the specific area is not important for this blog post), his life did not align with God’s will. He confessed that to God, then paused. He recognized that the next step was repentance. He should repent of his sin and turn back toward God. This means, of course, that his life should change and should begin to align with God’s will. But, and here’s the issue, my friend was not ready for his life to change.

Yes, he knew there was a problem. Yes, he knew his life was not aligning with God’s will and he knew that this was sin. Yes, he freely admitted that this was sin. But, in his heart, he knew he was not really repentant, because he was not ready to see his life changed by God.

First, I want to say that I appreciate my friend’s honesty, not only with God but with his friends. Certainly, my friend could have said that he repented without any real change. But instead, he desired to be real – authentic – both with God and with his brothers and sisters.

His honesty and openness led to a very special time for those of us who were there. I could tell that each person was examining his or her own heart, remembering times when they had also been convicted of sin, but struggled with the desire to change. Several people mentioned their own struggles. So, his confession (public confession, nonetheless) led to further confession.

Second, I admit that I have been in the same position as my friend. There have been times when I recognize sin in my life, and I admit that this is sin, but I honestly don’t want to see my life change. Thus, I want to confess, but not repent. I’m also learning to be real with God and with others. This has not been an easy lesson for me – it is still not an easy lesson for me. I think it has been hardest for me to be honest with my family.

Here is the question for me. Do we allow God to convict us, then push ourselves to change? Or, do we allow God to convict us and also allow God to give us the desire to change? If we wait for God to give us the desire to change, then should we be honest about this, as my friend was?

Has anyone else struggled with this desire to confess, but not repent? Has there been a time when God has changed your heart and desires?


20 Comments

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  1. 5-16-2007

    Alan,

    I struggle with the concept of Holy Spirit conviction which didn’t lead very quickly to repentance. It is the Spirit’s work, alone, to convict, convince, and enable repentance.

    Feeling guilty about one’s sin isn’t necessarily Holy Spirit conviction.

    Whilst sharing Christ with unbelievers, who eventually rejected the Gospel, I have often seen them go away suffering the pangs of admitted guilt, and, to my knowledge, never change.

  2. 5-16-2007

    Interesting topic. Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth…

    What I thought of while I was reading this was 2 Corinthians 7:10 — For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

    I have many times in my life been sorry for my sin, but it has been worldy sorrow that leads to death. The times that I have godly sorrow which brings life I have truly repented and turned from my ways.

    Why does wordly sorrow bring death? I think because it’s mainly guilt and condemnation rather than true conviction. Guilt and condemnation are designed to make us just feel bad & shameful, but conviction is from the Lord and draws us to Him. Guilt makes us feel “good” that we feel bad for our sin – does that makes sense? Conviction, on the other hand, shows us who we are in relation to a Holy God and brings us to our knees in repentence and thankfulness for His grace and mercy and love. And we then desire to turn from our ways. Jesus said, “And He [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…

    But I do have to say that it’s only been recently that I have really been able to distinguish the two – guilt and condemnation from God’s conviction. I often think of David when it comes to this subject. When he finally was convicted of his sin with Bathsheba he said: Against You, You only, I have sinned, And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak, And blameless when You judge.

    The times that I have struggled with a desire to confess but not repent are the times when I am feeling guilty, condemned, and shameful. When I am confronted with my sin I examine myself in light of David’s words and Paul’s words to see if it’s godly sorrow which leads to repentence or worldly sorrow that leads to death. Many times, unfortunately, I realize it’s only worldly sorrow — guilt, shame, condemnation — that I am experiencing and not true godly sorrow from the Lord’s conviction.

    But … there have been many times, recently in fact, that I have indeed been convicted by the Lord of my sin, but I have heard the guilt and condemnation louder, have given it more of an ear. When that happens I wallow in my guilt and shame, unable to rise above my sin.

    I appreciate your friend’s honesty also, because it helps us to look at confession and repentence in light of God’s Word. Once I realized the difference between godly sorrow and worldy sorrow I was much more able to tell the difference between true conviction from the Holy Spirit and guilt, shame and condemnation.

    Honesty is best — we need no more masks in the church. When people are honest it allows us to examine ourselves, and examining our hearts is always a good thing!

    Peace…
    ~Heather

  3. 5-16-2007

    Heather-
    Well-said! How easily we deceive ourselves into thinking that guilt and repentance are one and the same.
    Kat

  4. 5-16-2007

    Heather-
    Well-said! How easily we deceive ourselves into thinking that guilt and repentance are one and the same.
    Kat

  5. 5-16-2007

    Heather-
    Well-said! How easily we deceive ourselves into thinking that guilt and repentance are one and the same.
    Kat

  6. 5-16-2007

    Heather-
    Well-said! How easily we deceive ourselves into thinking that guilt and repentance are one and the same.
    Kat

  7. 5-16-2007

    Heather-
    Well-said! How easily we deceive ourselves into thinking that guilt and repentance are one and the same.
    Kat

  8. 5-16-2007

    Heather-
    Well-said! How easily we deceive ourselves into thinking that guilt and repentance are one and the same.
    Kat

  9. 5-16-2007

    Heather-
    Well-said! How easily we deceive ourselves into thinking that guilt and repentance are one and the same.
    Kat

  10. 5-16-2007

    Heather-
    Well-said! How easily we deceive ourselves into thinking that guilt and repentance are one and the same.
    Kat

  11. 5-16-2007

    I appreciate all the comments. And I agree. I do not think my friend (or myself when I’ve faced similar circumstances) was experiencing worldly grief.

    I wonder, do you think it’s possible that “godly grief” and the “repentance” that it produces always happens simultaneously? Could there be a time gap where God is continuing to change the person, even changing his or her desires?

    -Alan

  12. 5-16-2007

    Alan, You asked, “I wonder, do you think it’s possible that “godly grief” and the “repentance” that it produces always happens simultaneously? Could there be a time gap where God is continuing to change the person, even changing his or her desires?”

    I don’t know. I think that our hearts and minds are so messed up with sin sometimes that even though we are being convicted we don’t see it for what it is, or we ignore it or whatever, so we don’t have to deal with ourselves.

    I’m sorry if I seemed to say that your friend was only experiencing guilt. That’s not what I meant. What I was trying to say is that it’s important when we are confronted with our sin to examine ourselves and the “conviction” that we sense to see if it’s truly from the Holy Spirit or simply guilt and condemnation.

    Peace…
    ~Heather

  13. 5-16-2007

    I’ll be honest. I’m having trouble understanding how conviction and repentance can be separate elements of a process.

    Or should I say that I’m struggling with the idea that repentance doesn’t happen because God is doing some process of a work.

    It seems to me that if we view our relationship to sin the way Paul describes it in Romans 6 and Romans 8 (as well as other places in his writings), it doesn’t really leave much of an excuse.

    I say none of this to be judgmental of anyone else, though. I just think that we can’t be slow to repent and then say that God was doing some work that took that long.

    Once in our gathering, a brother shared about a period of time where he was allowing a certain sin in his life. (As you said in your post, the specific area is not important.) He allowed it to continue for a while, and then came away from it with the opinion that God wanted him to “struggle” with that sin so that he (the brother, not God) would learn something from it.

    I think this is dangerous theology. James warns us against attributing our temptation to God, and I think that the same concept might apply in crediting God with a time lapse between conviction and repentance.

    I’m open to critique on this, however, and welcome any dissenting opinions.

  14. 5-16-2007

    I see this as a good example of free will.

    Juan

  15. 5-16-2007

    Heather,

    Thank you for clarifying. I think I’m with you on this. I don’t understand it completely. I do believe that my friend was being convicted, and I believe him when he said he didn’t want to change, although he knew that God wanted him to. Since I’m trying to listen and accept, and since this brother admitted his sin, I (and others) tried to encourage this brother.

    Steve,

    I appreciate your honesty and your desire not to be judgmental. I do not think this brother thought that God wanted him to sin in order to teach him something. I agree that this is dangerous theology.

    Juan,

    Welcome to my blog! Could you explain how this is an example of free will?

    -Alan

  16. 5-16-2007

    Alan,

    You asked, “Could there be a time gap where God is continuing to change the person, even changing his or her desires?”

    My reply would be to ask, “How much time elapsed between the prodigal son’s conviction and his repentant return to his loving father?”

    We have a loving Father who doesn’t work to the same blueprint on every life. I know from personal experience that the Hound of Heaven never gives up on those who are His! If He never gave up on me there’s hope for every sinner who is genuinely convicted!

  17. 5-16-2007

    The way I look at it. The Holy Spirit came and told you there was sin in your life but and you know it but you choose to keep doing it because you like it. I look at it like I am telling God “I know this is wrong but right now I like it. I will repent later.” I have just grieved the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30) and sadly the sin will keep me from being filled by the Spirit each day. I have know allowed something else to take charge of me and I have allowed whatever sin it was to control my life. I have become or am an immature Christian. In the end it was my choose. I may be wrong about free will but to me it makes sense. I really enjoy your site!

  18. 5-16-2007

    Aussie John,

    That’s a good question… how much time did the prodigal son spend feeding pigs? How long did it take him to “come to himself” – as the ESV translated Luke 15:17.

    Juan,

    Thank you for explaining and that you for the encouragement. I hope you will continue commenting.

    -Alan

  19. 5-24-2007

    Joining this conversation late, I realize. :)

    I’m wondering if we, the redeemed, make this life in which we have become the righteousness of God, too much about sin, and confession and repentance of every sin. If it were about that, then wouldn’t we all be fooling ourselves, because the truth is that by the time our lives are over we’d have sinned and confessed and repented 100,000,000 times (give or take). :) Our entire days would be filled with the acts of confession and repentance. We tend to think the Holy Spirit is “convicting us” of some of those more obvious sins. Or if we’re hyper-introspective, as I am, then we run the risk of feeling “convicted” all the time, because we’re very, very sensitive to so many areas in which we fall short.

    I do believe that there are times to intentionally repent (turn from what you’re doing), and I do believe it’s good to confess some of our sins to one another, that there may be healing.

    But overall, I believe that the way to overcome sin and to walk in righteousness is not to walk in a continuous, ongoing cycle of sin/confess/repent, but rather walking with a continuous a conviction of righteousness. We miss Jesus’ words that the Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers of sin, but because Jesus goes to His Father (His death and resurrection provides for a new covenant), the Spirit can now convict believers of righteousness! (John 16:8-11). Not our own righteousness, of course, but God’s very own righteousness that is ours as a gift. This would mean to walk with a continuous focus on our true identity as a New Creation, rather than a focus on our sins.

    Another way to put it, we don’t overcome sin by focusing on sin or by focusing on trying to change (repenting). We overcome sin by walking in the Life of Jesus Christ that is abundantly ours as a gift. We understand that throughout our entire lifetimes, we will constantly be “changing,” but it is always a work of the Holy Spirit, and never a work of our own repentance that we conjure up in our own strength. We walk in the reality that “in Him we live and move and have our being,” and that reality is what provides far more victory than worrying about whether or not we’re truly changing when we realize we sin.

    This is simply one perspective of many, adding my own thoughts to the conversation. I guess I would add that I’ve begun to see 1 John 1:9 as a word about how unbelievers come to receive forgiveness and to be cleansed from unrighteousness. I believe Paul’s epistles make it clear that for believers, this has already happened! For example, Col 2:13, “He has made you alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us…” 2 Cor 5:21 “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

    I believe all this means that we are walking in a continuous state of already having been forgiven, and that we are the righteousness of God. My focus in life has slowly been changing from a “me” and “sin” centered focus to a “God” and “righteousness” focus.

  20. 5-24-2007

    Joel (jsbreeze),

    I agree that we need to learn to walk in the righteousness of God that we have in Christ. Thanks for the comment.

    -Alan