Repentance for Christians – Doubting Cheap Grace
There’s a paradox in God’s grace–it is free, but never cheap. It is widely available to all, without any restrictions on who may receive it. But having received it, it demands of us our very lives. God’s grace does not come cheaply to us due to the fact that while He freely pours out His grace for our aid, we must continue to sacrifice everything and give all of ourselves to Him for that grace to be fruitful in our lives.
Some doubt the possibility that the Lord could keep forgiving sins–70 x 7 times, as it were. Some say that if God were to just say, “Okay! You said sorry, so everything’s good now,” that people could just keep sinning and saying sorry, never really changing and leaving the sin behind. But as the Apostle Paul said, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Romans 6:2-3
Christ made God’s grace available to us with His sacrifice of complete and perfect obedience, the pouring out of Himself unto death. Entering into the life of Christ through faith, we do the same. To repent is to take up a cross and continue to carry it unto our death. If we choose to sin, we put the cross down and seek after our own will and pleasure. But should the Spirit of God convict us and we yield to Him once more, we pick the Cross up again. There is no repentance without taking up His Cross and dying to self. For that reason, no truly repentant sinner simply skips away from God with a pardon.
Even the woman caught in adultery, after Jesus stopped her accusers, was told to go and sin no more. (John 8:11) Christ’s pardon was the opportunity to repent and follow God. She received God’s grace, which is available to us all for one purpose–to know Him and to love Him. There is a Eucharistic prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, from the Anglican liturgy that says “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” Seeking pardon without seeking renewal of life is to seek cheap grace, which is not what the Lord offers.
Sometimes Christians find themselves confessing the same sins again and again. When people are confessing sin and choosing to sin over and over again in the same cycle (while these cycles do happen, they most certainly do not have to) a possible cause is that one hasn’t yet reached the level of genuine repentance. Discussed in the initial post, repentance is essentially a bowing of the knee to Christ. It is an assent to God’s way of thinking about things and the recognition that one has followed one’s own will above God’s and then relinquishing one’s own will in submission to God.
And so, there are many things that one can experience emotionally and psychologically that make for less-than-authentic repentance. One might be very grieved over the consequences of one’s actions. One might be disappointed in one’s failure to meet God’s expectations, or acknowledge that one has hurt others or failed to meet their expectations. One might cry and recognize what a terrible thing one has done, perhaps feeling very sorrowful. But not even sorrow for sins committed suffices for true repentance. We ought to have contrite hearts regarding our sin. But beyond having an emotional response to the reality of one’s sin, one must lay down one’s will and submit it to God, choosing to obey Him rather than oneself and doing that which one failed to do before. Sorrow for sin that results in renewed obedience is the godly sorrow the Apostle Paul speaks about, saying “I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief…For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 Think of this–Judas Iscariot recognized the evil he had done in betraying Jesus and took his life rather than submitting himself to God. He felt bad, but it didn’t result in repentance.
I should note that while making restitution where necessary should follow repentance and certainly amendment of life should follow as well, our will is to be directed toward God rather than simply trying to fix and change whatever is bad. The difference between the two inclinations can be subtle. Speaking of Judas Iscariot again, before his suicide, he took the silver he received for betraying Christ and attempted to give it back to the religious leaders. They wouldn’t accept it from him and he left it in the temple. What Judas had done was done and there was no way to go back from his betrayal of Christ aside from casting himself at His feet and doing what he would not do before–submit to Him.
Choosing to sin is, in essence, a denial of God’s right to be Lord of our lives. It takes us out of our proper relation to him. The same night that Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied knowing him at all. Peter, who, when Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?” was the first to proclaim Jesus’ identity as the Christ. (Matthew 16:16) But when confronted with the possibility of suffering in order to be faithful to Him, Peter gave in to his own desire to avoid pain.
When we choose sin, we may not think of it as denying Christ, but that is what it is at its core–a denial of His identity and right to our obedience. Both Judas and Peter sinned, but Peter ultimately repented and was restored by Jesus after His resurrection. In restoring him, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” In His preaching, Jesus defined loving Him as obeying Him (John 14:21). So where Peter had denied Jesus’ Lordship, Jesus had Peter confess it. And having done so, Peter went forth to build the Kingdom of God.
And so, it’s less important to introspect on just how bad we are than it is to make sure that whatever sin has been identified, our response is the denial of self where self was indulged before and the laying down of one’s own will in exchange for the taking up of God’s. Repentance comes not simply in recognizing that we’ve done wrong, but in answering “Yes!” to the question–“Despite what you want, think, feel, or what anyone else does or says, will you obey God above all else, thinking as He thinks and doing as He wills?” A heart with such a posture has reached the point of repentance, which is what enables Christ to enter in and transform our hearts.