How Repentance Gets Hamstrung

When we realize that we have sinned, our next move should be to make a beeline to the Lord in repentance.  But instead, we sometimes (often?) cut ourselves off from the source of help and relief we so desperately need in Christ.  Like Adam and Eve, we deal with our own sin in our own way.  It may not be hiding among the trees or sewing fig leaves together to make loin cloths, but it is just as troublesome.  In the wake of our sin, we need God’s fatherly forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9) and the grace necessary for spiritual growth (Titus 2:11-12), but there are several ways that we keep ourselves from experiencing these generous provisions that are ours because of Jesus.  Consider the following examples.

When You Don’t Call Sin “Sin” – This can easily be seen in how we speak of anger.  There is a multitude of new names that we give to the sin of anger, and they all sand down its sharp edges.  We call it irritation, annoyance, frustration, venting, letting off steam, being upset, being hurt, needing a vacation, etc.  When we do this, our anger doesn’t seem all that bad, and therefore, we don’t see the need to confess it to the Lord, receive His mercy, and walk repentantly in His strength.  Wouldn’t things be different if we called our venting “fits of anger” (Galatians 5:20) and our irritation “wrath” (Ephesians 4:31)?

When You Claim Infrequency – When we tell ourselves how scarcely we’ve committed a certain sin – “It’s only every once and a while” – we can keep feelings of guilt at bay.  But this is to forget that Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3), Achan (Joshua 7:10-26), and Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11) directly felt God’s wrath because of a solitary sin.  Clearly, every sin, no matter how infrequently it is chosen, is offensive to our holy God.  This does not mean that we should expect the same end as these men and women, but it does mean that their example should propel us to Christ for grace and help each time we recognize sin.

When You Compare Yourself to Others - We can also remind ourselves that other Christians do it too, whatever the sin may be. This is especially powerful if we convince ourselves that these Christians are particularly godly – “If ‘so-and-so’ does it, then it can’t be all that bad”.  On the other hand, we may compare ourselves to people we consider significantly less moral than we are, which creates a confidence in ourselves that leaves repentance hamstrung.

When You Argue that No One Got Hurt – If we can persuade ourselves that our sins are victimless, then the urgency to run to Jesus is weakened as well.  But this is to forget that God is the one we primarily sin against – “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4).  This matters because He is the righteous, sovereign ruler of the universe, and as such, He is infinitely more important than anyone else we might offend with our sin.

When You Don’t Pray – We sin far more frequently and far more deeply than we realize.  That’s why we need God to reveal our sins to us.  One of the ways He does this is through answering prayers like the one David prays in Psalm 139:23-24 – Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!  If we’re not praying these kinds of prayers, then our spiritual eyes will not detect our sins, and, therefore, we will keep ourselves from the resources we need in Christ.

When You Neglect the Word – Scripture shows us the holy character of God and His perfect will for our lives.  Therefore, when we disregard it, we don’t see where we are failing to reflect His image and please Him with our obedience. Without a regular in-take of God’s Word, we don’t get a spiritual diagnosis, so we assume the best and don’t see the need to seek out the remedy.

When You Apply Scripture to Others, But Not Yourself – Do you nod your head enthusiastically as your pastor is preaching because the important truth he is explaining is something that your brother, Brad, desperately needs to hear…or your co-worker, Karen...or your friend, Steve?  With the right attitude, there is nothing wrong with wishing a certain person were there to hear the sermon, but if that is habitually where your mind turns when the truth is being driven home from the pulpit, then it is likely keeping you from experiencing God’s grace in Christ.  May we listen to God’s Word with an expectation that it will “[discern] the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) for us as individuals and not just the Brads, Karens, and Steves of our lives.  Then, we will each seek Christ for the help we need to address whatever the Word exposes.

It’s always hard to recognize that you’ve sinned.  No one enjoys that discovery or the realization that your sin is as bad as God says.  But this is the only road that leads back to Jesus, where forgiving grace and transforming grace overflow for those who trust in His name.

Note: This article originally appeared on We encourage you to visit the Center for Biblical  Counseling and Discipleship where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

Brent Osterberg




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