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Fruitful Repentance

Lose your folklore and gain biblical insight about this misunderstood gift from God.

Jesus is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5:31


The subject of repentance is widely misunderstood and misapplied even by sincere believers who want to participate in everything the Lord has for them. Part of the confusion about repentance comes from so-called mature Christians who wrongly imagine that spirituality is measured by how little sin is in a person’s life. Because they want others to think highly of them, they try to maintain a facade of near perfection; or they consider repentance as something they already did at the time they were converted.

Although we should be making steady progress in turning away from the sins God has already pointed out in our lives, we should also be increasingly aware of additional sins He is presently uncovering in our minds and hearts. If we claim that we have no sin left in our lives, we are calling God a liar because He says we do (right now) have sins over which we should repent (1 John 1:8-10).

Repentance is not something to dread and avoid, but a spiritual activity to embrace. Once you understand how fruitful repentance operates, you will want to repent as often as you can. According to Mark, the beginning of the “Good News” is the invitation to repent. Admitting we have been wrong and welcoming the Lord to straighten out our thinking is a lot better than trying to pretend that we are just fine and dandy the way we are!

Fruitful repentance says, “Oh Lord, I’m wrong again.”

Bad Taste in Mouth

Part of the confusion about repentance comes from so-called mature Christians who wrongly imagine that spirituality is measured by how little sin is in a person’s life.

For much of my life with the Lord, the thought of repentance discouraged me. I dreaded repenting of my big sins because no matter how earnestly I repented, I found myself in the unenviable position of doing the same wrong things again—and feeling doubly guilty. It was bad enough to sin, but it was even worse to have now lied to God: I told Him I was sorry for my sins, but there I was doing those very sins again. My shame for committing a just-repented-of offense was greater than the guilt I felt for not repenting.

I felt unspiritual and unworthy because the roots of habitual or “personality” sins (in my case, laziness, willfulness and selfishness) seemingly went too deep for my meager attempts at repentance to get at and dig out. In my futile attempts to live up to my promises to God “not to ever do that again,” I heard an echo of my father’s instruction about how to weed our garden when I was a boy: “You have to get the roots, or the weeds will just grow back.”

Repentance is not something to dread and avoid, but a spiritual activity to embrace.

Repenting was like trying to tackle a dry field of large, deep-rooted weeds with a light hoe. The weeds kept coming back, mocking me with their entrenched durability. I learned to resent repentance. I did not like repentance because it didn’t seem to do any good. Why bother repenting and going through all those self-flagellations of the soul, only to have to do it all over a few days or weeks later? After all, I thought, there are only so many times I can say I’m sorry for doing the same thing.

The usual repentance scenario in my life used to be a cycle of the same sin, followed by repentance (I’m sorry), 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 ever more earnest and filled with incredible promises of how I would never again do that sin. With every imaginable adjective, I described my sorrow again and again, and I began to require of myself certain religious rigors—punishments, if you will—vainly trying to protest to myself and to God that I really meant I was sorry, and I really did repent, even though I had few fruits of repentance to show for it all.

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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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