Practical Repentance

Joe Dallas

Did sin ever yield real pleasure? If so, go back to your old drudgery, and wear the chain again, if it delights you. But inasmuch as sin did never give you what it promised to bestow, but deluded you with lies, be free. ‘Charles Spurgeon

When you’re angry enough, scared enough, or frustrated enough, you take action. So it is with sexual sin. If you’re ready to repent of it, you’re probably angry (‘I’ve had it!’), scared (‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’), or feeling the futility of it all (‘There’s no future in this for me!’). All three roads lead to repentance.

To repent is to turn. That’s what distinguishes repentance from confession, which is a simple acknowledgment of sin as opposed to actively turning from it. It is through confession, according to John 1:9, that we are forgiven of sin: ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ I John 1:9 But confession doesn’t necessarily change us, important as it is.

God not only calls us to acknowledge our sin; He also commands us to put it away. Now ‘repent’ is a word we associate with dour men in sackcloth warning us about the coming doom. That’s too bad, because repentance is a valuable concept. It means ‘to think differently, reconsider, turn around.’ No real changes are made without it.

Repentance is the willful act of discontinuing a thing which is destructive, followed by an earnest effort to do what is constructive and right. In short, without confession nothing is forgiven, but without repentance nothing is changed. To repent, or turn, you need to first identify what you’re repenting of, then determine the most effective way to do it. Exactly what do you need to repent of? Of course, you can’t repent of having sexual impulses. You can’t rip them out and abandon them, and you can’t just will them away. Repentance applies to acts of the conscious will, whether they are outward actions or inward indulgences. So you are not trying to repent of sexuality per se but of conscious sexual sins. These would of course include sexual contact apart from marriage, and the use of pornography. These are direct forms of immoral behavior, easy to detect and obviously immoral.

‘We can’t keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building a nest in our hair.’ -Martin Luther

Sexual fantasies are similar. They, like sexual lust, are conscious acts of the imagination. And they too need to be distinguished from fleeting sexual thoughts. Martin Luther, speaking of impure thoughts, said that we can’t keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building a nest in our hair. That’s pretty well put. Wayward sexual thoughts come to everyone, I suppose, but when we indulge those thoughts by orchestrating sexual fantasies, then we’re not just having fleeting thoughts; we’re creating mental pornographic home movies.

But repentance shouldn’t stop there. You should also consider any activities that contribute to them or encourage them. Here you need to be very honest with yourself. Are there parts of your lifestyle’habits, places you like to go, forms of recreation’that encourage sexual immorality? That’s a question every Christian has to ask himself; it’s a question that’s doubly pertinent to you. So often, men can go on kidding themselves, then wonder why they’re not making any progress. They claim to want freedom, and seem willing to give up overt sexual sin, but show an unwillingness to give up the very things that lead them back into that activity. In all matters, the question should never be ‘Is going to such and such a place an overt sin?’ but rather ‘Do I have the liberty to go to this place without setting myself up to stumble? Will it encourage me toward my goals, or will it encourage me toward a setback?’

If you’re serious about repentance, bring every part of your life under scrutiny. Remember, you’re trying to emerge from the mindset of a child to that of an athlete, putting aside anything that interferes with your ultimate goal. That, in the truest sense, is repentance.

For more help see Every Man’s Battle.

Fresh Start

hand&treeSeptember is just around the corner, and for many people September means a new start, a fresh start. Students, from kindergarten to graduate school are preparing to begin a new year of classes which will equip them to be successful in life. In churches around the country, September means a new start; pastors starting a new series, Sunday School classes starting new curriculum, and men’s ministries starting new topics of discussion. How about you? Do you feel the need for a fresh start right now?

Let’s look at a couple of areas where a new and fresh start might be just the thing that you need to get you out of the ‘dog days of August.’

How about a fresh start in your relationship with God? Are you spending time with Him each day, in His Word and in prayer? There is no way to have a relationship with someone, anyone, if you don’t spend time with them. The first point of Joe’s after-care action plan is to have a quiet time, even if it’s only about 10 or 15 minutes, with the Lord each day. You really don’t have the desire to do that? My encouragement would be to do it anyway. My guess is that your desire will come around after awhile. C.S. Lewis said, “it’s easier to act your way into a feeling than it is to feel your way into an action.” If you wait till you feel like having a quiet time you may never do it. Just go ahead and start your plan of 10-15 minutes a day with the Lord and watch Him work on your feelings. The quiet time with the Lord is the first and most important way to get, or continue on the road to sexual sobriety and purity. Remember that you can do everything through the One who strengthens you.

How about a fresh start in your relationships with your wife, or other significant relationships? This is the perfect time to suggest to your wife that you sit and read ‘Every Woman’s Marriage‘ together. After she’s picked herself up off the floor from fainting, suggest a night that you can sit together and read, and experience some emotional and spiritual closeness. This fall can be the perfect opportunity for you to initiate that emotional connectedness that you’ve been missing in your relationship. That connectedness is one thing that will help you in your quest to get victory over the hurtful, inappropriate connectedness that you may have been trying to get through pornography. You’re not married? How about a fresh start with your friends, or family? How about reaching out to that buddy who you know would make a great accountability partner? How about making a fresh start with that son or daughter that you’ve hurt in the past with your actions and haven’t talked to in awhile. God’s forgiveness has felt fresh and new to you since Every Man’s Battle, so let’s pass it on to others. Come on, let’s make a fresh start in September. It’ll take a little work, but it will be worth it.

Love Of The Familiar; Fear Of The Unknown

Never underestimate the power of the familiar. It has kept countless people from change, even when change would save their very lives. The familiar, after all, may be unhealthy, but at least we know it. We relate to it. And we’re all too prone to cling to familiar territory.

When that ‘familiar territory’ is sexual activity, it becomes perversely dear to us. Even though we admit it’s wrong, we also come to see it as an old friend. It’s reliable and available, and it works. It eases our pain and temporarily satisfies us. To repent of habitual sexual behavior is like abandoning a trustworthy buddy.

Compare this to drug addiction. A person doesn’t just fall into it. Somewhere along the line he discovers satisfaction through a chemical. It temporarily eases pain, helps him forget troubles, comforts him. It is his anesthetic, deadening his anxieties like a nurturing parent. Of course there are other ways he could deal with his problems, but the drug is familiar and has a good track record. Why give up something that works? What began as a comfort, is now a necessity!

Meanwhile he is becoming addicted. What began as a comfort is now a necessity, emotionally and physically. To give it up means to go through physical withdrawal, which is hard enough. But it would also mean finding another way to cope with the inner conflicts which remain long after withdrawal. In fact, without the familiar coping mechanism, those conflicts will be stronger and more painful than ever. The truth is, he must find other coping mechanisms, because the one he uses now will eventually destroy him.

Look at the Jewish people’s journey out of Egypt. They lived in bondage and prayed for deliverance, and God intervened. He brought them out of Egypt miraculously. But when faced with difficult situations in the wilderness, they were prone to long for the familiarity of Egypt and to dread the unknown Promised Land. Think about the power the familiar held for them! They had been treated worse than animals in Egypt, yet at times they would remember it fondly, saying, “At least we were fed regularly and had our basic needs taken care of!” The unknown frightened them, making them turn toward the bondage that they could at least relate to. And when they finally approached the Promised Land, the terror of its giant inhabitants overshadowed all the benefits that would go along with their new location. In Egypt at least they had survived. How could they be sure they would fare as well in new territory?

If you’ve been engaging in sexual immorality, you may also wonder how you’ll fare in new territory. It’s tough at times, to be sure, but it also opens up a way of freedom, new relationships, and peace of mind. What will it be? Cling to the old, destructive and familiar or move into freedom and the unknown?

The question, then, is this: Are you going to cling to familiar, destructive ways simply because you can relate to them, or are you willing to abandon them in favor of a new way of living which is better, even though at this point you can’t relate to it?

I trust that you’re ready and willing to try something better, which means that you’re ready and willing to repent.

See Every Man’s Battle for help in breaking out of the familiar.