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To Repent Or Not To Repent

Over the past couple months, I’ve had conversations with a few different people about whether or not Christians should continue to confess sins and repent. The topic also came up a few times in the class that I was teaching on Sunday mornings in the Institute of Disciple Makers. And the topic came up again as I was preparing to preach this past Sunday from Revelation 2. So I thought it may be helpful to write an article with some of the Scriptures that have come to my mind as I’ve been discussing this.

“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake” (1 John 2:12). What an amazing truth! If you are in Christ, your past, present, and future sins have been forgiven. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). If you have saving faith in Jesus Christ, you have peace with God. Though we deserve his wrath and anger, he gives us peace. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

The truths and implications of the gospel are astounding. The eternal Son of God became man, living perfectly in our place and dying for our sins. He died for all of our sins: past, present, and future; then he rose again. And “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21). Just pause and think about these truths for a moment. Do you believe these truths?

If we believe that all of our sins, even future sins, are paid for on the cross and are forgiven, why would we still repent, confess, and ask for forgiveness? The shortest answer is that God commands us to continue in these things. Repentance is a turning or a change of mind and actions. We are still commanded to continue turning away from our sins and to continue turning to God. Confession is when we say the same thing about our sin that God does. God says that our sins are wicked, unholy, and against his character. For those who have been redeemed, God also says that our sins are forgiven.

I mentioned that this topic came up in my study of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. The church in Ephesus was called to repent and return to their first love. Ephesus certainly had genuine believers in it. At one time they had deep love for God and others. But they had drifted from that first love even though they continued to have good doctrine and good works. And Jesus calls them to repent.

When Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, he taught us to ask God to forgive our sins. Jesus is teaching his followers how to pray. As followers of Jesus, our sins are forgiven, and in Christ we stand righteous before God. But we are taught and commanded to continue to confess our sins, turn away from them, and ask for God’s forgiveness. We are often taught to pray for things that God has already promised. Asking him to forgive us does not demonstrate a lack of faith in his forgiveness, rather we come to him in complete faith that he has forgiven and will forgive all of our sins.

There is a page on our website and in our weekly bulletin called “Why Do We Do That?” The section about confession reads as follows:

“In each of our worship gatherings one portion of our liturgy is called ‘Prayer of Confession.’ This is a time when we are honest about our own sin before our holy God. As we hear Scripture and sing songs that reflect the beauty of our Creator we are confronted with the stark contrast of our own unrighteousness. This moves us to ‘confess’ our brokenness to God and repent of sin. This is variously expressed in song, a prayer, or a responsive reading. As we come to this time of Confession we are prompted to consider our own sin and then look to the grace of God in Jesus Christ who takes away the guilt of all who believe in him. As we confess our sins, we pray as Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘..forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’”

When we respond to our sins this way, we do so with joyful faith in God’s promises of forgiveness. We don’t need to doubt that God will forgive and restore us. Our forgiveness isn’t based on any penance that we can do, but on the amazing grace and mercy of our God through the gospel of Jesus. Rejoice in the good news that when “we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Pastor Dan Leeper