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.

Shame On Me

shame

“Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” – Job 42:6

In January of 1984, I had my crises of truth. I was a Christian who had back-slidden into destructive sexual behaviors, and the conflict between my sexual and spiritual desires reached its peak. That was the beginning of my recovery and oddly enough, the darkest time of my life. All my porn had to go, of course. I had my cable service turned off, canceled my subscriptions to erotic publications and relocated to another city.

Only then did it hit me that I’d ruined everything good I had been given. By indulging in my sins, I had abandoned a fruitful ministry, a loving family, great potential – all wasted in a public, shameful way. The more I thought about it, the more I sank into a bottomless disgust with myself. I began sleeping through the days, then waking up horrified at myself, remembering what I’d done, each time seeing it in a worse light. I would cry, thrashing around in my bed in fits of weeping and moaning.

The poet Robert Bly wrote: ‘Where a man’s wound is, there he finds his genius.’

As part of my ‘penance’, I called all my old friends to apologize and to let them know that I had repented.  I could only find a few, but one of them permanently interrupted the ‘I Hate Joe’ cycle I had gotten myself into. When I got him on the phone and told him what was happening with me, the dam burst and I poured out my guilt, the miserable state I was in, and my fear that there was no future for me.  ‘Well, Joe’, he said, ‘if banging your head into the wall is going to build up the Body of Christ, please keep doing it. But if it won’t, don’t you think all this energy you’re putting into self-pity could be put into doing something useful with what’s left of your life?’ That shut me up. ‘And who knows’ he continued ‘but someday, after you get through all this, you might have learned something worth passing on?’

I had been drowning in shame, beating myself up but accomplishing nothing worthwhile in the process. That night I decided to find something more useful to do with my pain. Oddly enough, it was that very pain which led me into my own counseling, and then into a desire to become a trained counselor, and finally into the opportunity to work with hundreds of other men who’d made mistakes so similar to my own.

Be sorry for your sin, by all means. But don’t wallow in shame. Instead, take the time to prayerfully consider how God can convert your worst failures into useful opportunities. You just might be amazed at the genius lurking behind the wound.

For more information on Every Man’s Battle, please call 1800-NEW-LIFE (639-5433)