Years ago I told a friend of an embarrassing, recurring temptation. Over the next month, he shared my secret with dozens of people, spicing up my story with the lie that I had yielded to the temptation. Though I hadn’t. His betrayal of my confidential sharing shocked me. I skipped multiple lunch appointments, unsure who had heard what.
His treachery also infuriated me: How could he have divulged my secret temptation? Why inflame my shame with the sneering proclamation I had done it! I would never have betrayed a friend like that.
One day, as I obsessed over his relational-adultery, I sensed God speak into my seething self-pity: Sam, why are you so angry? I thought it obvious: My friend had stabbed me in the back! Then a verse came to mind:
“I tell you, when one sinner repents, there is joy among the angels of God.” (Luke 15:10)
I thought, Sure, I suppose there would be joy in heaven if this jerk repented. His public confession would certainly bring me a bit of joy here on earth.
I immediately sensed God say, “I’m not talking about his sin; I’m talking about yours.”
We Hate to Admit Our Sinfulness
What’s so bad about what I did? My friend actively told people of my faults, I only thought about his.
But from God’s perspective, my thinking was just as active. I wholeheartedly imagined friends discovering his duplicity. I visualized his humiliation. I poked pins in my mental image of him. I caricaturized him: he hadn’t just broken faith, he was faithless; he hadn’t just lied, he was a liar.
Imagining the unearthing of his treachery was like delighting in a feast. I savored every mental morsel. I relished each thought. The very idea of his eventual discovery tasted like the sweetest dessert I had ever eaten.
I recently saw a Facebook post that claimed that Christians no longer need to repent. The writer said, “We have already died to sin (Rom. 6:2), so how can a dead man repent?”
That writer is not only wrong but dead wrong. And when we reject personal repentance, we snub God as we reject a chance to hear His voice.
What Does God’s Voice Sound Like When We Sin?
We think God speaks only to the Mother Teresa’s of this world. But that isn’t biblical. Think of Adam and Eve’s very first sin. Every evil you’ve ever seen or experienced—every rape, betrayal, ethnic-cleansing, and oppression—resulted from their dreadful disobedience.
But God didn’t send an avenging angel to wipe them out. He didn’t stew over their betrayal or simmer in his wrath. Instead, God came to the Garden for conversation.
Before that first sin, we see God speaking to himself (“Let us make man in our image”) and giving direction (“You can eat of any tree but one”). But the first time we see God in a dialogue with humanity is only after their world-changing sin. He starts the conversation with a question: “Adam and Eve, where are you?”
This is God’s pattern: He woos us when we sin, He pursues with kind questions:
- After Cain murdered Abel , He asks, “Where is your brother?”
- After Job doubts God’s justice, He asks, “Where were you when I formed the earth?”
- After Jonah smolders in self-pity, He asks, “Are you right to be so angry?”
What does God’s voice sound when we sin? Invitational. He seeks a divine dialogue with us even when we stumble.
The Feast of Repentance
Jesus tells of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to look for the one stupid sheep that ran from God. He concludes: “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
When we finally repent for what we did, we light a fiery party of celebration in heaven.
We don’t need to wait for personal perfection before we hear God’s voice. We need only be open to hearing God ask: “Where are you?” and “Why are you so angry?”
When we honestly answer Him with, “I’m stewing on the wrongs of others,” and “I want the world’s praise than Yours,” something magical happens. Heavenly maybe. Our hard hearts can be melted to confess our own cosmic treachery.
But will we?
God invites us to a choice: Join the joyful feast of repentance with Him, or gnaw on the dry bones of past hurts.
We must always examine ourselves before judging others. The scriptures say “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24, 1 Cor 5:12) which is not possible if we are guilty of the same sin we fault another person for (Romans 2:1).
I’m afraid much of what is preached today is not even slightly tinted with an exhortation to NOT sin or even to repent of it. Repentance is not just confession; it means to change your way of thinking and turn away from the bad thing that you are confessing you are guilty of. Partnered with the pervasive emphasis on “God’s love is unconditional” is a focus on telling folks to believe God is pleased with you no matter what. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is pleased when we obey. Period.
None of us are perfect, but we cannot expect blessings when we continue in sin without acknowledging it and repenting of it. What God promises is consequences for our bad deeds that are the opposite of blessing.
I COMPLETELY agree with your comment, “Much of what is preached today is not even slightly tinted with an exhortation to NOT sin or even to repent of it.”
When I was growing up, every church I went to included a Confession of Sin (and Assurance of Pardon). Now: now one church I am asked to preach at includes a confession in their service. NOT ONE!!
I asked an elder at one church why they removed it (they used to have a confession), and he said, “We just don’t want to make people fee bad.”
The problem is, why do I need a savior if I don’t need help? Besides, if someone was drowning, would you neglect to throw them a life preserver since you didn’t want them to feel bad?
Thanks for your comment
Thanks, Sam. I think this is a good explanation for why we, as a church in America, are so ineffective in changing our culture for the better. Becoming politically focused instead of God focused?