It had been an hour since Patty* knocked on my door, hoping to find the answers to her problems. Over the last 3 months of her life, she had been living a lie, hiding her sin under the guise of perfection. But in one foul swoop, one unforeseeable chain of events, it all came crashing to a halt. She lost control over the proverbial balls she was juggling and she didn’t know how to pick them up. She wasn’t even sure where she had gone off course. But nonetheless, there she was…a blubbering mess, a shell of a woman hoping to get right with God. She came to me to find the cure for her damaged heart, to map out the steps she needed to take to redirect her life. She figured it had taken months to get to this spot, so it might take months to get back to where she started.
But all she needed was five seconds.
Five Seconds of Heaviness.
When it comes to true heart repentance, we have this idea that there is a series of emotional hoola hoops through which we must jump in order to experience fundamental change. If the level of tears isn’t comparable to the level of the sin we’re confessing, then we must not really be sorry for it. So we seek to conjure up the emotions, the devastation, the mournful state we think should be exemplified. The problem occurs when we return to the sin we swore to forsake, and confusingly admit that we must not have really been sorry for it in the first place. So back to the prayer closet we return in hopes of finding more emotions to prove our repentance.
Repentance is not an act of emotions; it is an act of the will.
While repentance is serious, sobering and mournful, an emotional upheaval is not a validation. There is a difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow, and Paul outlines this in 2 Corinthians 7. This was Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, the first in which Paul quite harshly called out certain persistent sin among the congregation (1 Cor. 5:2, 10-13). In his second letter to them, there is joy because the church has changed. “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it – As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:8-10) Paul goes on to characterize godly sorrow as having eagerness to “clean house,” indignation over the state of one’s heart, fear of God, longing to be right with Him, and the zeal and tenacity to do whatever it takes to reach that goal! With true repentance, there’s a grave realization of how far from God you have strayed, coupled with a sobering choice to turn from your sin and to your God. This is repentance. This is a decision that takes five seconds to make, but it must be five seconds of heaviness.
Five seconds of Honesty
Some of us come to repentance in a self-condemning state brought about by emotional self-abuse. We beat ourselves up, spiritually speaking. “I’m never going be good enough. I am a horrible person who will never have success over this area of my life. I expected better of myself! If I was really sorry I wouldn’t still struggle with this issue.” The problem is our starting point is wrong.
Repentance is not having a low self-esteem or emotional self-abuse; it is having a correct and biblical perspective of self and God.
When it comes to having an honest and biblical perspective of self and God leading us to true repentance, we can take our cues from the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 6, the prophet receives a vision from the Lord in which he is called into service. Isaiah sees the angels shouting “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Then the foundations of the thresholds shook at His voice, and the house was filled with smoke. Then Isaiah said: “Woe is me! I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Be honest about God and honest about your sin. In order for true repentance to occur in our lives, an accurate view of God is paramount. God is holy, and the holiness of God is insurmountable. It has no possible comparison. Isaiah witnesses this first hand, and in experiencing the holiness of God he cries out, “Woe is me. I am undone.” It is the evidence of God’s holiness that produced in Isaiah a biblical response to his sin. God is also eternal and immutable, and the promises we possess in Him have been granted to us before our creation, or any creation for that matter. Ephesians 4:3, 4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” So since he chose us before the foundation of the world, he’s also chosen how to relate to us then too. This realization leads us to a right understanding of who God is and who we are in relation to Him. This is repentance. This is a realization that takes five seconds to grasp, but it must be five seconds of honesty.
Five seconds of Humility
So often we can come to our heart in need of repentance and think, “What do I need to do to stay right with God? What are the steps I need to take in getting back in that euphoric state of relating to God? How do I get that mountain-top feeling back in my relationship with God? How do I…I…I….
Repentance isn’t about you; it is about moving you in line with God’s agenda.
The problem with questions like, “What do I need to do to stay good with God?” is that they spring from pride and its works-based mentality. The reality is there is nothing you can DO to gain right standing before God, and for two very good reasons. First, you can’t do it because you are incapable of doing it. Even if you wanted to, you don’t have the ability to do so. Scripture says that if you gathered all the goodness you could ever gather up in your life, it still wouldn’t be good enough. After all, even all the good things we do are like nasty menstrual pads compared to the good that God IS. I didn’t say that; Isaiah did (Isaiah 64:6)! Second reason why you can’t DO anything to gain right standing before God is because it’s already been done. As a child of God, your sin has already been covered. Christ removed it all.
Romans 8:1-4 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” In his book, The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee said, “We think of the Christian life as a ‘changed life’ but it is not that. What God offers us is an ‘exchanged life,’ a ‘substituted life,’ and Christ is our Substitute within. This life is not something which we ourselves have to produce. It is Christ’s own life reproduced in us. The sooner we give up trying the better, for if we monopolize the task, there is left no room for the Holy Spirit. As long as we are trying to do anything, He can do nothing.”
Psalms 51 is a beautiful psalm of repentance in which David cries out to God for forgiveness for his sin and says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The danger is, however, in looking at our repentance within the context of degrees of contriteness instead of a state of being contrite. We think if we continually struggle with sin, we must not have been contrite enough. So, we cycle back into a depressing routine of trying to do better, not being able to so then stumbling, picking ourselves back up and willing ourselves to do better. All the while this keeps the focus back on us and not on the real issue. Allow the Holy Spirit to do the convicting.
When we seek to conjure up God’s grace by acts of goodness, thereby proving our repentance, we have reduced a contrite spirit to a work of the flesh – the focus is now on us, and we’ve made God’s grace something to earn.
Instead we must humble ourselves before the Lord. Luke 15 holds one of my favorite stories in the Bible, the story of the prodigal son. After the entire drama unfolds, the climax is right at verse 17: “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ And he arose and came to his father.” In order for true heart repentance to take place, a coming to the end of one’s self has to take place. This is repentance. This is a crossroads that takes five seconds to come to, but they must be five seconds of humility.
“It only takes 5 seconds to get right with God.” That’s all Patty needed. It’s all you or I need as well. Five seconds of the heaviness, the honesty, and the humility to say five little words:
“God, I’m wrong. You’re right.”