walk in the word
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10, esv).
You’ll know you’ve repented when ______ .
How would you fill in the blank for that statement?
Throughout the Old Testament, the physical expression of repentance was sackcloth and ashes. People would convert a scratchy piece of burlap into some sort of garment, then they would smear ashes from the fire bed onto their head and face, in what could only be called a radical rejection of externals. They were essentially saying by their altered appearance, “See? I don’t care about looking the part anymore. I’m not posing as somebody different than who I really am. I only want to be right with God, and I don’t care what it takes or what it looks like.”“True repentance says, ‘I only want to be right with God. I don’t care what it takes or what it looks like.’” Click To Tweet
Sackcloth and ashes.
But the sorrowful impression made by this outward display of contrition is what true repentance actually feels like on the inside. It hurts internally. It’s a state of soul anguish. Repentance means experiencing deep grief for the choices you’ve made. The contrast between your own sins and God’s holiness makes you feel . . . like a worm.
But that’s okay—because sometimes we need to feel like a worm. In order to go higher, we must first get lower. That’s why, as you study the Scripture, you discover this pattern: those who made real contact with God, those who met Him in a genuine way, felt reduced to their actual size after coming face-to-face with Him.
When Abraham conversed with God about the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, he approached Him with the words, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). Job, too, with his complaints and self-pity silenced by God’s awesome recounting of His divine power, said he’d been wrong to accuse Him of being unfair in His dealings. “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
Isaiah was equally struck by his own unworthiness after seeing God enthroned—“Woe is me . . . I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). As was Peter, cowering before the omnipotence of Jesus—“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). John, too, surprised by his vision of the glorified Christ—“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17).
Yes, it’s possible to feel only “worldly grief,” even when see your sinful self against the standard of God’s holiness. That feeling of being sorry you got caught. Or sorry you’re experiencing the pain of consequences; sorry you don’t look good in this unflattering light. But true repentance is realizing that your sin is first and foremost a rejection of God. You’ve communicated by your unholy actions that His ways are not the best, that His commands are not good. And having spit in the face of mercy, you now feel wounded in spirit. How could I have said that? How could I have done that? As Joseph said, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).
You’ll know you’ve repented when your heart feels like that.
Father, I desire a deeper grief over the sins I’ve committed against You. I want to feel tangible sorrow for it, as deeply as if I were seeing my sin the way You see it, in its true, dark colors. Most of all, help me not turn back to it—to not be foolish enough to think that any sin is able to take me anywhere else but into regret and discouragement. I look to You, Lord God, the One who graciously leads me from grief to joy, from mourning to dancing, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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