Friday, 5 October 2012

Narrow


So what do I do when I find myself one day seemingly repentant for a sin but the next day resentful of the change required, a situation I found myself in, earlier in the week? 
Shameful I know. 
How do I get godly repentance when I seem incapable of it? 

These were the questions I was asking myself and God before, rather ironically, opening my bible to 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 – a passage on repentance. So typical of God in my life. My next daily reading actually answering my current questions. I think I actually laughed out loud. So this is my journey this week, in how He led me on the issue of repentance.

It's funny because I would have said I understood repentance. I have been a Christian since early childhood, yet I must confess, I actually learned a lot. Not sure whose fault that is. Probably mine, although I must say, it doesn't seem to be a popular topic in Christian conversations these days. Not really the standard opening line at a BBQ. Way too confronting. It is an uncomfortable subject, well at least it was so for me. So hopefully you'll stick with me as I share my journey.

The purpose of the law is to make us conscious of our sin. (Rom 3:20). If we don't have a line in the sand telling us when we are missing the mark, then we will not see our error and continue on in an erroneous manner. Sin is a missing of this mark, this God's standard, as defined in the Greek. The problem is I so often don't want to know where this mark is because I don't want to change. I hate change, I have all my life. I like things the way they are. They're comfortable. Does this mean I hate repentance? Yes. At times I have to confess I do hate it. I find myself welling up with anger, resentment, frustration at the thought of having to change. At having to repent. That doesn't sound like godly repentance does it? It doesn't sound like a contrite heart, a humble heart. A heart acknowledging it's own inadequacies, it's own lack of knowledge. It's a cold heart. A proud heart. A heart that rejects the anguish and sorrow required with true repentance. The anguish of the narrow gate. In true repentance anguish and sorrow are integral. You can't have one without the other. To choose willingly the path of pain. Pain over my own sin. When I reject the pain, I reject the cleansing.

Matthew 7:13, 14 says we are to enter through the narrow gate. I looked up what the word 'narrow' means in the Greek – it means to groan. It is the opposite of my natural inclination. I like to avoid things that make me groan in anguish. The path is described as narrow also. A path of groaning, of sorrow and of repentance.

2 Corinthians 7:9,10 says godly sorrow leads to repentance. The word sorrow is used a lot in this passage. 'Sorrow' in the Greek means grief and signifies pain of the body or mind. 

Paul says “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (v10). I guess that was a new concept to me. This idea of pain and grief being involved in repentance. Pain of the body and mind. I don't like pain. I like to avoid it. But it's integral whether I like it or not. I thought back over the times when I have been truly repentant for things in my life. There has always been a grieving, a lamenting, a wailing, an anguish over my sin. A horror at my sin. A begging of God to change me, I think that is the difference.

Paul says that godly sorrow leaves no regret.
No regret of being disciplined.
No regret of being shown the line in the sand.
No regret of being shown the sin.

The opposite is resentment, anger, self-justification, frustration. It's an issue of the will. I'm seeing God's standard as an expectation, not as something that He lovingly longs to do in me. What's missing is my desire to change.

 So what do I do when I find myself seemingly repentant for a sin and resentful all at the same time? I yield my will. I choose to become a slave to righteousness and not remain a slave to sin as Romans 6 puts it. It's a matter of choice. 

Often for me, it's just a matter of saying, even through clenched teeth, I choose your will, your way here Lord. Now help me get my emotions there! Godly repentance has gratitude and thankfulness included. Gratitude for being shown the error of my ways and thankfulness for the rescue. The opposites of regret.

Most of the time I want to keep my brokenness buried, so I can be unaware of the pain and grief it is causing in my life and in other's lives.

I deny it's existence.

But when it is exposed, by God's word and His Holy Spirit, that pain and grief becomes visible to me and I have a choice. I can either bury it again or allow God to bring healing and cleansing. You see, the Corinthians had been doing this sin for a while, but it wasn't till Paul pointed it out that they had the opportunity to be repentant. Imagine a society where we never actually pointed out sin. Where we never actually revealed God's mark in the sand to our society.

There would be no repentance.
There would be no desire for change.
No desire for a turning back to God.

You can't have repentance if you don't see the horror of your ways and your need to change and your need for God. You can't have repentance if you don't know God's mark in the sand. What if we only portrayed God's grace to society yet never explained why we needed it? I thought about it in terms of my children. If I never taught them right from wrong, I should not expect them to ever understand the concept of being sorry. If they were never sorry then they could never be repentant.

This was the situation in the time of Ezekiel. He was called to speak to people of the same language as himself. To God's people. He was to tell them where they were missing the mark, whether they listened to him or not. In fact in chapter 3 God tells him that the people weren't going to listen because of their sin, but if he Ezekiel stopped exposing sin, it was going to be on his own head. I wondered if the same principle applies to me. That God holds me accountable to expose sin, to lead others to repentance. Paul certainly seemed to think it applied to himself. In Romans 1:18,19, suppression of the truth is called wicked and godless.

Jeremiah was put in a similar situation. In chapter 23 he tells the then leaders of the church that they are strengthening the hands of evildoers and preventing the people from turning from wickedness. How does he say they are doing this?

By not revealing the people's sin (v22). 
By telling them they will have peace with God when that is not the case (v17). 

God then goes on to say rather sarcastically in verse 29 that such leaders are false prophets and they are feeding the people lies of straw. In turn His word is likened to nourishing grain, a fire and a hammer, breaking down the hardness of peoples' hearts and turning them from their sin.

Hebrews 4:12 says it is God's word that judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart revealing them and leading us to repentance. Jeremiah 1:9,10 says that God's words in Jeremiah's mouth were able to uproot, tear down, to destroy, to overthrow, kingdoms, nations and strongholds. Wow! To build and plant good instead. His words in our mouths can do the same today. He is the same God.

I wondered what strongholds were and discovered Paul outlines it in 2 Corinthians 10:4,5. Strongholds are “arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God”. I'm pretty sure that covers all sin. God's word does it all.

Why did I think repentance would be pain free, sorrow free when God uses words like narrow, anguish, sword, circumcision, hammer, fire to describe this process of change?

How could a cutting away of the flesh not be painful?

He is circumcising my heart and mind, cutting away the dead flesh, the brokenness, to bring His life, light and love. This is no minor op! There is fleshly behavior that's been there for generations! It's well ingrained and I don't like change. The dead flesh are the strongholds in my life – the arguments, thoughts, pretensions that oppose God, the knowledge of God and obedience to God. They are destroyed by His word. Without the revelation of sin, without the word and the law there is no demolishing. There is only “she'll be right mate”. Only through embracing change can I become a new creation. I suspect the areas of my life that I don't want changed are the ones that need it most.



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