When you hear the words “sin” and “repent”, does it make you want to run screaming in the other direction? That was me. I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life and I had absolutely no interest in anything having to do with God or Christianity. Thankfully, that all changed in 1994 (you can read that story here: Joshua the Prophet).
After following Christ for about 20 years, I felt like God gave me some clarity on the words “sin” and “repent” and I wrote a very short post about them last year. Have you read it? If not, you can check it out here: Two “churchy” words
For the past year, every time I read the Bible, I read it in the light of what those words now mean to me. And it’s brought such clarity that I want to share more with you. How can I make it crystal clear?
How about this? I have a swivel chair in my office. I can choose to turn it in all different directions. I can turn toward the computer, the printer, the file cabinet or the hallway. It’s my choice.
Imagine that there is a swivel chair in each of our minds. We have the choice of which direction we turn our thoughts. But unlike the swivel chair in my office, imagine that this chair can only face one of two directions. It can turn toward God or away from God. And, just like in my office chair, we have the choice of which way we turn.
If it were up to God, there would be one moment in every human being’s life when we realize that we are not the king of our own universe, but that He is the King of the universe. In that moment when we turn to God, acknowledging that He is our creator and the ultimate authority in our life, thanking Him for sending Jesus to take on our sin, we are what Christians call “saved”. That decision is called “salvation”, when we are “born again” (John 3:3).
But it’s not up to God. That’s not the kind of world He created. Instead of creating robots, He created human beings with free will. Why? Because He created us to be in a love relationship with Him. If He demanded that we love Him, that wouldn’t be love. Love requires choice. And the choice is up to us. He already made His choice. He loves us no matter what. But His desire is that we would choose to love Him back.
And when we choose to love Him back, accepting His love and forgiveness, we’re “saved”, as the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church in Ephesus:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
But God speaks in the Bible over and over again about “repentance”; changing our mind and turning to Him. Why do we need repentance if we’ve already turned to God? Isn’t once good enough? Are we unsaved and then we get saved again and again and again?
Nope. Salvation happens one time. But we are human. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7 that our fallen human “sinful nature” draws us back to our own devices over and over again. Probably a million times each day, our thoughts turn away from God and back to our own selfish desires. And that is “sin”. That is turning away from God. That is “missing the mark”.
Think about that swivel chair in our mind. There are only two directions:
- Sin (pride, “missing the mark”) = trying to figure out life on my own
- Faith (humility, repentance, “changing one’s mind”) = turning to God for His direction
Romans 14:23 says that “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
From the swivel chair, that makes perfect sense. There are only two directions: Faith or Sin. We can look to God and see the world through His eyes (Faith) or we can look at the world however we think is best (Sin). “There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.” Proverbs 16:25 (NLT)
God created us to have a relationship with Him. Intimacy with Him is the goal. Not following the rules, but following Jesus. Not perfection, but following the Perfect One.
In Beth Moore’s “Living Free” study, she quotes a friend who was far from God, depressed and broken. Her friend said, “I thought I couldn’t come to God with this sin in my life.” When I read that, my heart broke for her. I wanted her to understand that not coming to God WAS the sin in her life. Turn around. Come to Him. That is repentance. That is faith. That is humility.
In “Living Free”, Beth goes on to say that “prayer keeps us in constant communion with God, which is the goal of our entire believing lives. Prayerless lives are powerless lives, and prayerful lives are powerful lives; but, believe it or not, the ultimate goal God has for us is not power but personal intimacy with Him.”
He loves us. He created us. He wants us, warts and all. He knows we’re messed up. He knows we’re broken. But that brokenness is not sin. That is part of being human. Our sin is our turning away from Him. Repentance is turning back, confident that He is waiting to receive us with open arms. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)
Beth Moore continues her study with the question, “How is intimacy with God different from the goal of being good enough to be acceptable to God?” Here is my answer. And my prayer is that it can be your answer as well.
Intimacy with You, my God, is knowing that, because I turned to Jesus who took on my sin, my “turning away”, and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior, I’m already good enough, covered in Your grace, reclining at Your banqueting table, resting with You, my creator, enjoying Your presence and knowing that You enjoy me, just as I am.
Go ahead. Read that again. In the swivel chair of your mind, turn to God, seeing the huge smile on His face, and read those words to Him. He’s so happy to see you.
“For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
-Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)