How Do I Face My Own Sin?
Chapter Five: Two Healings
1. 2 Samuel 13. Examine Absalom’s response to the hurt done to his sister by Amnon: “But Absalom did not speak to Amnon either good or bad; for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister Tamar” (v. 22 NASB). Then he proceeded to plot and carry out Amnon’s death! This offense also set up the heart attitude of Absalom that later resulted in his rebellion against his father David.
2. The truth is that He is for you! Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (NIV).
3. 1 Peter 5:5-6.
4. Every act of trust is an act of humility. In an act of humility (trusting) I am vulnerable, and I am promised God’s grace. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says that love “always trusts” (NIV). Many live believing that only God can be trusted and, therefore, they don’t have to trust anyone else. Until they realize that their choice to not trust (which is a decision to not be humble before others), they will continue to be robbed of their greatest need—to be loved. There is simply no way to experience love without trust. Therefore, their decision to not trust others, because they don’t have to, is to disobey the clearest commandment of Jesus, “Love one another.”
5. Ephesians 4:32.
6. Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble and by it many become defiled.” In The Message, Peterson says, “Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.”
7. 1 John 1:7:“The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Unfortunately, many have been taught that this is the cleansing power of the cross for sins we have done, without carefully noting that God is capable of cleansing us from all the sin done to us as well. If we miss this point, we will misunderstand how absolutely necessary forgiveness is for our sake. I cannot live well with the unresolved, uncleansed effects of your sin in me.
8. 2 Timothy 2:25 (NASB).
9. 1 Peter 1:17-19.
10. For instance, see 1 Peter 2:21-24, where Peter tells us that Jesus himself, in the midst of his suffering in our place, “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (NASB). If anyone could ever have stamped his foot and decried the injustice, it was surely Jesus at that moment. Instead, he trusted the Father.
11. In Luke 23:34, Jesus did not deny the actuality of the wrongs done against him, but rather asked the Father to forgive those wrongs—for Jesus’ sake. The wrongdoers had not repented, yet He forgave them.
12. Hebrews 9:11-14, 22, 26-28.
(Below is the Repentance chapter from the first edition of The Cure which was called Truefaced. While we consider this teaching valuable, it is not found in The Cure.)
The Sweetest Gift of Grace: Repentance
Few of us would call repentance the “sweetest gift.” For most of us repentance has been neither a gift nor sweet. A more fit analogy, in our minds, would be to compare repentance to a bitter-tasting cough syrup. We know we need to take it to cure our cough, but we hate it. It tastes like liquid linoleum! So we avoid it as long as possible, in hopes that our cough will simply heal itself. When it gets worse, and only as a last resort, we force it down.
When we don’t know how to deal with our sin, we will try to hide it. That’s why The Room of Good Intentions turns into such a masquerade ball. It’s dress-up time! We know what we’ve done...we know what we do. And no amount of sadness, striving, or penance has done anything but compound our sadness. What we really need is a way home. We’ve been told to confess our sin, but we don’t like that answer. We want to do something! Besides, we’ve confessed our sin a thousand times before, and what good did it do?
But when we walk around with unresolved sin, it’s as if we’re wearing a heavily insulated parka on the hottest day of the summer...in the Sahara! We’re suffocating and can’t figure out why. Repentance is the zipper out of that parka.
In the middle of our misery, Jesus taps us on the shoulder and says, “I have something for you that cost me everything to get for you. Here, it’s a gift of my grace for you.” Written across the gift is one word: repentance. The attached card reads: “Take it, apply it, and trust me to make it real. I love you. Jesus.”
Some may question, “How can repentance be a gift if I am the one who’s doing the repenting?” It is a gift of God’s grace because your repentance literally doesn’t have a chance without grace. Grace alone resolves sin. Grace alone heals, and grace alone gives power over sin. Only the power of the cross can break a pattern of sinful behavior. That’s what makes repentance a gift that only Jesus can give. No one else died to bring us such power.
Willpower Is No Power
Yet many of us act as if repentance is a matter of the will. It’s not. We cannot make a decision to stop sinning. We can’t “will” ourselves into change. We can’t “will” ourselves into feeling contrition or remorse. Repentance isn’t doing something about our sin; rather, it means admitting that we can’t do anything about our sin. We cannot woo ourselves into anything but the most external form of repentance.
All of our effort, striving, and willpower have only momentary, external value when it comes to fighting an opponent as crafty, intentional, persistent, powerful, and experienced as sin. To confirm this, we only have to look at all the legalistic Judaizers and Pharisees who’ve ever walked this earth. They believe they are godly because they have the willpower to deal with certain sin-related behaviors. Yet Jesus condemns them for trusting in themselves and having contempt for others. (Luke 18:14)
Understand this: The intention not to sin is not the same as the power not to sin. God did not design us to conquer sin on our own. To think we can is an incalculable undervaluing of sin’s power combined with a huge overvaluing of our own willpower!
A Classic Oxymoron: Sin Management
Unfortunately, some of us fool ourselves into believing we can manage our sin, because we can stop from doing some things. Sometimes we learn to pick up our clothes after multiple reprimands...or we stop drinking diet soda after friends and relatives keep warning us of the ingredients...or we start driving the speed limit after our fifth speeding ticket. We think that because our will was sufficient enough to change some habits, we can tackle the big dog of sin.
Sin cannot be managed. If we make this our goal in repentance, we are doomed to fail. Think back to what we’ve said about motives, values, and actions. Our goal isn’t to solve all of our sin issues. Our motive is to trust God so we can live out of who God says we are...so that together we can work on our sin issues. When we try to manage our sin through willpower, the process looks something like this:
Sin...confess...do better for a while, then sin again. Embarrassment, confess again, ask God to take away the desire, then sin again, confess again, sin again, confess again, shock, more determination to stop sinning, think about it a lot, examine it. Make promises, create some boundaries, and sin again, now even worse than before. Despair, anger, shame, distance from God, guilt. Self-condemnation, self-loathing...sin again. Disillusionment, doubt, self-pity, resentment at God: Why doesn’t he hear my prayers? Why doesn’t he do something? More anger. Then fear that we allow ourselves to get angry with God. Then real confession, a heartfelt one, and a sense of cleansing. Ah, a new start. Things seem better. Yeah, I’ve finally got this sin under control. Oops, sin again. Desperate efforts, bargains struck. Once-and-for-all healing. Really mean it this time. Sin again. Lose hope, give up, rationalize, minimize, blame, pull away, hide, judge others, put on a mask, go past the sin again, and so on.
This scenario, in varying degrees, depicts the pattern many Christians live out all their lives. This roller coaster ride has no happy ending. It only causes us to feel beaten down, to compromise our integrity, to feel cynical about this second-class life we lead.
Worse, a sin management system shuts off the only resource that can deal with sin: our trust in who God says we are, attracting the power of his grace.
Confession Is Limited
Confession does not resolve our sin either. To be sure, admitting our sin is an important part of the process—but words do not resolve sin. We can be sorry for something we have done wrong, and even confess it, and still desire to continue doing it. Agreeing that we have done something wrong is not the same as trusting God with what we have done. Confession is not the same as truly needing God to free us of the sin we have done. Sin is resolved when we are cleansed of it, and only dependence upon the cross of Jesus cleanses us from sin. There is power there. (1 John 1:7, The verb "cleanses" is present tense. It carries the sense of "goes on cleansing." As we walk with him in the light, his blood goes on cleansing us from sin!)
How does grace make repentance a gift for us—a gift that actually resolves our sin issues?
When grace introduces us to repentance, the two of us become best friends. When anything else introduces us to repentance, it feels like the warden has come to lock us up. But when grace gets involved, the truths of repentance reveal a fabulous world of life-freeing beauty. What, then, are the truths of repentance that grace produces?
First, repentance is about trusting, not willing. Yes, there is choice involved, but if our motive is determined straining to please God, all our striving will be a pile of filthy rags. We can do nothing—absolutely nothing—to make provision for our sin. In repentance we depend on God to turn water into wine. Trust in our act of repentance releases the gift of God’s grace to transform our hope into reality. (Isaiah 64:6. The word translated "filthy rags", or similar phrase, depending on translation, is actually the word for "cast off menstrual cloths." They represented the lack of life.)
What does trust attract? Grace, in the form of power, which comes to us directly from God’s Spirit and then indirectly through others. A striver cannot access this power. We cannot quantify this power, but we can measure it—in the people who actually turn away from their previous path of destruction.
Remember, trusting God with ourselves allows us to receive love—his love and the love of others. And because we’re loved, we can face what we have done to others and ourselves without having to retreat to a cave of hiddenness. Love acts as a safety net that can keep us from destruction as we admit the truth about ourselves. We know that nothing we do can change how God sees us. We also realize that there are people who will not change their assessment of our worth or the commitment of their love. Grasping that single truth makes us alive with creativity and risk, safe in the strong arms of real acceptance. We stop looking over our shoulder, waiting for that shoe we always feared was about to drop. Love catches the shoe on its way down...every time.
When we feel safe, we are much more disposed to open our hearts to God. When we feel safe, we let go of our self-defense and call out to him, saying, “God, I no longer have anything to prove. I have nothing to hold on to. I want only what you want for me.” At that instant, we know we did not create such a response. God, in his grace, gave it to us when we chose to trust him. He graced our hearts; he gave the power; he will give the strength.
Many, many Christians do not trust God in the process of repentance. They view repentance as something they should do, but this preempts the power. Perhaps they have been taught that when they sin, they need only confess it, to agree it’s wrong. But what’s missing is the hope of it being defeated.
Every act of repentance depends on an act of redemption. To redeem means “to liberate by payment or to release from debt or blame.” Willpower, no matter how sincere, cannot buy you this freedom. There is no dealing with any sin without a redemptive act. (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: G& C Merriam Co., 1972)
Bill was thirty years old and had been a Christian for thirteen years when he learned what a powerful gift repentance can be. Nobody needed to tell him that he had sin issues in his life, but one night he saw the devastating effect of what that sin was doing to him and those he loved. He had just lost his job, his reputation was damaged, and he was in the worst financial trouble of his life. Yet his internal life was even worse:
I struggled with pornography. I compromised my integrity because I wanted to look good instead of telling the truth. I blamed others for what happened to my career. It was their fault we didn’t have enough money. I knew a lot of it had to do with some bad choices on my part, and yet I couldn’t admit that, in my deep insecurity.
Bill didn’t understand how to be relieved of those sins. Looking back, he can see that his honest confession to his wife, Grace, three years earlier had opened a door for the Holy Spirit to sharpen his awareness for his need to repent of what was true about him. Grace’s love offered Bill a place of safety and acceptance that invited him to trust even more.
Even though he had been a Christian for years, Bill had never realized it was possible that every sin he committed and every sin that had been done to him could be redeemed and healed. And, he didn’t know what repentance had to do with it. The truth that Bill kept hearing on this night was, “As you have received the Lord Jesus Christ, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6) Bill faced the life-changing reality that there is no difference between the power to save and the power to resolve sin. Jesus could release him from the power of the sin that had such an immense hold on his life. By God’s grace, he did and he does. God was healing Bill then, when he received Christ, and he is healing him now. But healing requires Bill to face God with what is true about him and to trust God to cleanse him. Bill had brought his sin to the Lord many, many times before. What was different about that night?
I stopped walking down that road of self-effort. I realized that confessing had only brought temporary relief. That night I walked off the well-worn path of Pleasing God and started walking down the road of Trusting God. Childlike trust pleases God most.
When we repent through trust, it is exclusively and entirely a gift of God’s grace. That’s where the power is. This kind of repentance actually provides a real power over sin. The work of Jesus is for every sin, not just for the forgiveness of that sin, but for the healing from that sin. (Titus 3:4-6)
What Inhibits Repentance?
So why is it that we can say, “This time, God, I really mean it” and yet not see resolution for our sin? By now you know that people in The Room of Good Intentions hold radically different assumptions about how to handle sin than those in The Room of Grace. The environment of the first room actually inhibits repentance, while the second one releases it. Notice three specific inhibitors of repentance.
Isolation. In The Room of Good Intentions, we don’t want others to know about our sin. We want to keep our sin private, between God and us. Many times we begin to trust our own assessment of how we are doing with God. In our private thoughts, we establish our own benchmarks for godliness.
When our “repentance” functions in isolation rather than in community, it almost always indicates that we remain more concerned about personal appearances than the resolution of sin. We don’t want people to think we are ungodly—to think less of us. The fact that our sin remains hidden from others proves we still favor presenting a nicely packaged life to others, while keeping sin quasi-managed and submerged. Yet, genuine repentance desires to resolve anything and everything about our sin. No cover, no posturing, just pure repentance. God built that desire into the gift (2 Corinthians 7:10-11)
Pride. When our environment values striving to please God, we won’t welcome repentance as a gift. Why? We’ve too much to prove to God, others, and ourselves. If we publicly repent, others will know that we have not done very well in our striving. That would be like getting a C– in godliness. Better to spin the truth a bit and tell others we are doing well. Better yet, point out ways in which others have messed up. That takes the focus off of us, moving us precariously close to the precipice of an unrepentant spirit. Pride—trust in ourselves—edges out repentance. Then, as Henry and Richard Blackaby write, “Pride will do what sin does. It destroys.” (Henry & Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership, Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001, p. 237. See also Proverbs 16:18)
In the event that we attempt repentance in The Room of Good Intentions, it will be out of a motive to make God happy with us, to become more godly. When we speak bold words of determined striving to please God, those words do not spring out of a motive of Trusting God. It is so easy to relapse into that willpower kick. It’s us trying to impress God again, without his grace. But trying to repent without grace is like trying to swim without water.
Resolute striving to please God begets a pride that keeps us focused on our own “power”—which is not a power to write home about. In contrast, repentance that comes from God is outfitted with otherworldly power—potency secured by Jesus’ death and activated by his resurrection. Repentance is formidable against sin only because of actual power—the power of the cross. Our words or religious techniques have nothing to do with it. The power in this gift reminds us of the power in the ark of the covenant, a power so mighty that the Hebrews dared not come in contact with it. (2 Samuel 6:6-7). The same power that resided in the ark is the power in this gift. But now, God invites us to come near his grace-wrapped power.
When we receive this sweet gift of repentance, a force is unleashed that can transform our hardened, contemptuous, alienated hearts into the most tender, loving, and gentle of souls. The word sweet has synonyms like “gratifying,” “satisfying,” and “fulfilling.” They aptly define repentance. How sweet it is! (Romans 2:4. Pauls says that it is the riches of God's kindness, tolerance, and patience that lead us to repentance. Not the fear of punishment. Not self-striving. God's kindness! How sweet indeed!)
The Mindset of a Grace-Filled Community
By now, we understand why the community of good intentions experiences far less repentance than the community of grace. When we venture in that direction, we will do so without the grace needed to resolve our sin. Yet, in a grace-filled community, a different view of life in God biases the whole culture toward repentance. For starters, this community expects and anticipates imperfection. Yes, we honor others in the community as saints, but we also face the reality of each other’s sin. We applaud vulnerability and view godliness as something much more than the presence of good behavior and the absence of bad behavior. We’re too busy dancing to hold on to that dead weight. The individuals in this community trust God to mature them from the inside out, by the power of his Spirit...in his timing. No one feels a need to hide, for no one’s parading his or her own righteousness. Everyone feels safe to be real and alive.
In such a community, repentance is as accessible to its members as fast food is to city dwellers. This community keeps repentance handy in the cupboard, ready to draw on its grace-power at a moment’s notice. This group wouldn’t go to bed at night without embracing repentance to ensure ongoing healing and love. It’s a community of saints, after all. Saints who sin.
Picture this. Into the community of grace comes a hurting, tired, broken-down saint who has spent all her Christian life in a community of folks with good intentions. She’s plowed through a number of relationships and hurt a lot of people on the way to this door. Now she has stumbled into an environment filled with people for whom trusting God in repentance is a way of life.
What difference will this community make in her life? A mask-shattering difference—a miraculous, life-changing reformation. These folk treat her for who she is: a saint. They deal with her sin the way God deals with theirs: by standing with her, with their arms around her. They commit to loving her, and they begin to show her how to receive their love. They accept her. They choose to see her like Jesus does. They let her into their own lives.
So far, so good. But what happens when one day she confesses, “I have lied. I have hurt those closest to me. I have betrayed my husband. I’ve deceived all of you too.” Oops. What does the community do now? Do they cower from her? Tell her that what she did isn’t that bad, that she’ll get over it? Convince her she was probably right? Do they give her nonverbal signals that they don’t approve of such revelations? No. After maybe one or more share their own story of failure, they tell her a new story about this beautiful gift used quite routinely in the community. Then, they ask her, “Do you remember how you’ve learned to receive love? You trusted God and others for it. Well, my friend, that’s how you get this gift too. Just lean into God. Depend on what he tells you and trust his lead.”
Don’t you think this woman might actually try trusting God for his gift of repentance? In such environments repentance becomes a way of life. And, when that happens, grace heals, matures, reconciles, and unleashes the love of God through people. And the community of broken healers becomes more beautiful by the day. One day this woman stands near the door, waiting for the next wounded soul to stumble in, so she can be one of the first to tell the new story of this gift...a gift “used quite routinely in the community.”
When failing strivers stumble into a community of grace, safety, and vulnerable repentance, it radically disrupts their game plan. Suddenly, they are face to face with a real, tangible option of sweet freedom. And the ongoing environment of the community tells them that they have not dreamed up this way of life. As the community treats them as they have never been treated before, their confidence grows that grace can support the full weight of their sin.
Repentance Will Set You Free
During his late teens, Bruce battled the dark-heartedness of “guilt trips” when he didn’t live up to either his own or others’ expectations of him. He wanted so much to prove himself to God and others. Drivenness would kick in during these seasons and, not surprisingly, his behavior hurt others and himself. Bruce says, “About that time, I could’ve really used a spiritual director like the one who told Brennan Manning, ‘Brennan, give up trying to look good and sound like a saint. It will be a lot easier on everybody.’” Even though Bruce tried his hardest, he could not break loose of this pattern. He wore out many pairs of shoes on the try-harder path of Pleasing God. Strange, how directions get confused—God didn’t even want Bruce on that dangerous stretch of road, and Bruce was never quite convinced that his sold-out efforts of moral striving to make God happy and impress others were working. He grew exhausted struggling to overcome this pattern, while at the same time, devaluing the wounds he caused others. (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Sisters, Oregon.: Multnomah, 1990, p. 154)
During these months, deepening pain eventually prompted Bruce to self-reflection on power—the power of grace versus what he brought to the table. That season eventually freed Bruce into a powerful repentance that broke the old cycle and began a whole new life pattern. His words went something like this:
All right, God, I cannot conquer this recurring sin. And it is hurting people. I will not build my life around creating a security for myself that you’ve already secured. I trust your conclusion about me, not my own. Lord Jesus, I lean into your power for breaking this cycle.
“Leaning into” (trusting) these truths applied the power of the cross directly to Bruce’s previously unbreakable pattern. Has Bruce ever relapsed onto the Pleasing God road? Oh, for sure. He knows that trail by heart. But, the cross—not Bruce’s prayer, not his confession—powered a whole new way of living for Bruce. It is infinitely more relaxing, more freeing, and more maturing. He will not go back to that way of life.
When grace brings truth to light, it sometimes does so through love (as we learned in the last chapter), sometimes through forgiveness (as we’ll learn in the next chapter), and sometimes through repentance. The principles of God’s grace play off of each other. Grace begets repentance, and repentance nurtures forgiveness. Trust attracts grace, and grace helps saints to trust. Even goofed-up, compromised, failed, and confused saints. Especially them. When repentance becomes a constant, recognizable part in an environment, the people in that culture experience freedom they never knew. They have amazing stories to tell. The truth always sets us free. Free to love God and others, free to trust even more truth, free to heal and reconcile, free to bring reconciliation to those who still don’t know the Reconciler, free to follow our callings and dreams.
Learning to Trust Like We Did the First Time
Do we really trust God? Even more specifically, do we really believe the God we trust is strong enough and powerful enough to heal us? That is the bottom line. It may be easier to believe that Jesus died for all our sin so that we can go to heaven, somewhere out there in the distant future. But the power to heal habitual, present sin? Sin that’s here and now; that’s noisy, agonizing, hot, angry, and very, very real? We typically reason, I think God will get me to heaven, but I’m really not sure he can handle this one.
So, trusting God for his grace in repentance prompts us to ask:
- “God, are you strong enough to heal my patterns of self-destruction?”
- “God, do you always have my best interests at heart?”
- “God, are you able to take care of me if I live without the mask, if I walk around with no devices for self-protection?”
- “God, are you able to vindicate me if I do not vindicate myself?”
- “God, are you able to deal with my sin if I make the decision to turn away from my willpower to trusting in your power?”
- “God, are you able to protect me when in disclosure I am vulnerable to others knowing what is true about me?”
As we exercise our trust, we receive his grace. Just like we did the first time we met him.
A Prayer for You
Don’t dismiss the unstoppable force of repentance, or once again you’ll resort to cheesecloth and bailing wire. When you are ready to trust God’s provision for resolving your sin, you will pray something like this:
God, here we go. Here is a sin I trust you to do something about. I am convinced I cannot deal with this sin. I trust what you did at the cross is powerful enough, not only to bring me to heaven one day, but powerful enough that it can break this very sin’s power that is now plaguing my life.
Did You Discover?
- Repentance is a gift of God’s grace because your repentance resolves nothing without grace. Grace alone resolves sin.
- Only the power of the cross can break a pattern of sinful behavior.
- Repentance isn’t doing something about our sin; rather, it means admitting that we can’t do anything about our sin.
- Sin cannot be managed.
- A sin management system shuts off the only resource that can deal with sin: our trust in who God says we are, attracting the power of his grace.
- Agreeing that we have done something wrong is not the same as trusting God with what we have done.
- We can do absolutely nothing to make provision for our sin.
- Every act of repentance depends on an act of redemption.
- Three common inhibitors of repentance are isolation, pride, and a wrong motive.
- When grace brings truth to light, it sometimes does so through love, sometimes through forgiveness, and sometimes through repentance