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Fruitful Repentance

Some years ago, the futility of it all crashed in on me with unexpected force. I was having a bumper crop of laziness. Other people might not have even noticed it because I had learned to control its obvious manifestations in public where everyone thought of me as a model husband. But the truth was that I hardly did anything at home. I had a fundamental unwillingness to inconvenience myself to help my wife change diapers or do housework.

While such a corruption may not seem major in contrast to other plagues of the heart like immorality, stealing or lying, for me it was. In fact I even attempted to console myself in my sin by thinking I wasn’t as bad as some other husbands—the kind who stole and lied. My laziness was a clear, unmistakable violation against God and my family.

The usual repentance scenario in my life used to be a cycle of the same sin, followed by repentance, followed by asking God to forgive me. Over and over. As I continued to commit the same sin I had only recently repented of, my succeeding attempts to repent became more earnest and filled with promises of how I would never again do that sin.

So often and so willfully did I continue in my sin, that I ceased going through the exercise of coming to the Lord and specifically bringing up my sin as an issue or our conversation. I just pretended that, even though God knew everything in my life, if I did not talk to Him about my sin, I wouldn’t have to feel so badly about committing it again.

Repentance left me feeling worse. I knew God could forgive the fact of my sin, but somehow I imagined that the repetition of that sin tried His patience and loving kindness beyond what they could withstand.

Being so thoroughly disgusted with myself for not doing better, I presumed that God likewise held me and my feeble attempts at repentance in contempt and disgust.

I lived with the prevailing feeling that God was angry with me.

I lived with the prevailing feeling that God was angry with me. So I developed and unspoken agreement with God: I would not tell Him about my sin, although I know He knew it; and He would not tell me He was mad at me, although I was sure He was. I was a repeat offender, and He was mad at me—all the time.

Reading the Bible, praying and going to church became ways of trying to get back on God’s good side, back in His favor. Instead of doing them in hope and love. I did them in dread and added that to my list of repeated offenses. None of those activities did anything to get at the root of what was troubling me.

I had expected repentance to accomplish something good in me despite its unpleasantness as an exercise. After so many workouts, shouldn’t I be in better shape? I asked myself. I repented of everything so many times without seeing a victory over those things that I quit repenting.

Such was my personal experience with repentance. The folklore about repentance made matters even worse. By folklore, I mean all those unstated impressions I had picked up throughout my life which characterized repentance as something angry. Every time I had heard someone say, “Repent”, the tone of his voice was angry, stern and demanding. I remembered strange-looking doomsayers carrying placards which read, “Repent. The end is near.”

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2005

About the Author: Daniel A. Brown, PhD, planted The Coastlands, a church near Santa Cruz, California, serving as Senior Pastor for 22 years. Daniel has authored four books and numerous articles, but he is best-known for the sorts of resources that help local church leaders excel in their spiritual assignment. For more about Daniel Brown, see his ministry resources website: CTW. Facebook. Twitter.

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