Repentance. I don’t think there’s been one word that has created more confusion in my relationship with Jesus Christ. At least, that’s how it used to be. Repentance. A word that’s used in both the Old and New Testaments. The term was brought up by priests, prophets, even our Lord and Savior Himself made sure there was no misunderstanding about the significance of the term.
Mark 1:15: This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.
In case you’re wondering, those words are written in red in many translations of the Bible. How then, was I able to be so confused about one little, giant word for so long? I read the word “repentance,” and my mind would see words such as failure and damnation. My thoughts told me I wasn’t good enough. That regardless of how hard I tried, God demanded I always try harder.
Yes, there is some truth in every one of those thoughts and feelings. Repentance and believing in the gospel aren’t simply friendly suggestions Jesus makes. They’re commandments. Statements that He made intending us to follow.
I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on the word and where it’s most needed in my life right now. This is quickly becoming part of a routine as I plan on making going to confession every month one of the most important parts of my schedule again. Perhaps I’m spending too much time thinking about it because of the newness of its significance in my life. Or, maybe repentance needs to be something I contemplate much more than just a few days while preparing for confession.
In the past, when there has been a struggle in my life, writing about the subject is a method that helps bring about the most progress. Regardless of the battles with drinking, lust, or laziness, when I spend time writing about the effect that’s created in my life, it tends to stick with me a little more. Kind of like a big brother I am automatically held accountable to. That’s what I’m aiming for anyway.
What leads to repentance?
While this may look different in your life, the experiences I’ve had are all I can write about. It’s my hope and prayer that I will write something I’ve had to deal with that you’ll be able to relate to. So, if I write about something you’ve yet to experience in your walk with Jesus, that doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong and the other is right. It simply means we each have a unique and personal relationship with Jesus. Enough of the small talk though. I need to dig into the topic.
Have you ever put so much effort into something that you’re driven to tears of pain once you’re forced to admit defeat? You’re so sorry for what has happened. You didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Definitely not those closest to you. However, it’s not your intentions that matter. Your character is shaped by your actual actions. Maybe you can’t relate to this. There’s a good chance you’ve never started your morning with begging God to help you get through just one more day without taking a drink of alcohol or looking at pornography on your phone.
I’d almost bet you’ve never given into one of these two battles just to have your eyes fill up with tears and feel your heart being torn to shreds over and over again. I have. More times than I could ever count. But, I bet if you’re willing, to be honest with yourself, without anyone else knowing, there’s something there that does the same exact thing to you. Or, at least, did at one time. Anguish is the only term I know to describe the feeling.
“There are water and tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance.”
I can completely relate with this quote by St. Ambrose I found it tonight in the Catechism of the Catholic Church before writing this article. That is one blessing I pray everyone is able to receive at least once in their life. To experience a need for repentance so painful that crying out to Jesus is the only response left to make. Especially when you know there is a very high possibility of going through the exact same thing, sometimes the following day.
Without each of these many nights, I think it would’ve been next to impossible for me to truly encounter grace and mercy. I think I had to grow so completely disgusted with myself before I was able to identify the love Jesus so freely gives each and every one of us. When I read about forgiveness and love in the Scriptures now, they are no longer just black words on a white page.
They are feelings I’ve encountered. Sensations I had to go through very dark times in order to appreciate it. Both feelings and events that have played a part in a desire to live out a life of daily repentance. And yet, while the battles are now different, I still fail. Every day.
Who is in need of repentance?
I’m going to keep this short and simple. As I mentioned before, no, your battles may not look anything like mine. However, if you’re unable to find an area of your life where repentance is needed, you may be one of the many of us who should be going to church and as many Bible studies as you can.
1 John 1:8-9 If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.
Before you spend too much time reading over these two verses, allow me to save you some time. Yes, I know exactly what they say. However, I spent several years continuing to pursue the false sense of comfort that accompanies giving in to sin over and over again, simply to confess the same exact sins regularly to God. Eventually, the tears from a lack of repentance in my life became so heavy that I had to do something different. I finally reached a point when growing closer to Jesus became so important that something had to change.
No, I am not perfect. Ask my wife. But I no longer fight the same temptations which controlled me at one time. My current struggles are representing Jesus and His love for my wife and daughter. It’s been brought up I fail to do this as much as I pretend to on Facebook. I also need to stop being so lazy at work. Yes, my patience is getting better. But the Bible doesn’t say be patient with your neighbor and wait for them to get their act together. The Scriptures say to love them. Huge difference. My new struggle.
How do I battle temptation?
The answer to this is tricky. Obviously, if I knew this answer, I wouldn’t have the experiences of pain and anguish that mean so much to me today. Temptation sucks. The worst part about temptation, it’s tempting. The more effort you put into fighting it, I think the bigger the bulls-eye becomes on our backs the enemy is shooting at. I recently read something written by C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity.” One of the five books I’ve read every year the previous six years, and just now seemed to notice.
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting it, not by giving in.” My favorite author of all time goes on to say, “A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.”
I once had a discussion with the Deacon at my parish. He mentioned a temptation for saving some ice cream in the bucket for his wife instead of eating it all himself. I am able to very vividly remember growing angry at the comment. His response was the result of a question I’d asked during the RCIA class. I tried as hard as I could to hide my frustration from the rest of the group.
Here I was, struggling on a regular basis not to fantasize about what I wanted to do to the woman in front of me at a gas station or grocery store. And this man wanted to talk about his great sin is not eating all of the ice creams before his wife gets home. Since I’m obviously being completely honest about what I was thinking and how I felt, I came close to changing my mind about converting to the Catholic Church that night. While I didn’t say a word to anyone else in the group, it had been a long time since I’d felt so ashamed of myself.
After letting it eat me up enough, I called my RCIA sponsor about how I was feeling. He was in the group that night and had heard both my question and the answer. He was also able to teach me the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned concerning temptation. I say that as someone who has a degree in theology. I also contribute as a writer to several Catholic and Protestant websites.
No one determines how strong or weak a temptation is in my life. Each of us fights a spiritual enemy every day. An enemy who is far smarter than we are as individuals. He knows exactly how strong or weak we are in our spiritual maturity. I saw a temptation concerning a bucket of ice cream weak and silly.
However, the enemy was battling a man so far advanced in his spiritual walk that ice cream was needed to create a battle. At the time, I was weak enough that all it took was an attractive woman or a case of beer. I’ve grown a little since then. But, I can’t wait until I’m strong enough the enemy has to determine whether it’s going to be rocky road or butter pecan that does me in.
Jeffrey has a degree in theology from Aidan University and is the founder of Gospel Grammar in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. His goal is to inspire others to seek a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.