The church is supposed to be a place where we are able to openly and without shame repent. Paul understood this and in his letter to the church in Rome, he declared:
Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law [with all its intricate demands] shall live by it. But the righteousness based on faith [which produces a right relationship with Him] says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into Heaven?’ that is, to bring Christ down; or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ that is, to bring Christ up from the dead [as if we had to be saved by our own efforts, doing the impossible].”
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word [the message, the basis] of faith which we preach— because if you acknowledge and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord [recognizing His power, authority, and majesty as God], and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
For with the heart a person believes in Christ as Savior resulting in his justification [that is, being made righteous—being freed of the guilt of sin and made acceptable to God]; and with the mouth he acknowledges and confesses his faith openly, resulting in and confirming his salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him [whoever adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Him] will not be disappointed in his expectations.” (Romans 10:5-11).
Sure it’s a mouthful, but simply put, we are saved when we freely and openly confess our weaknesses and repent of all failures. Jesus said, “I haven’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). And that means you and me! And, he says that repentance is how we are healed and restored: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do. I didn’t come to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:31-32). That is certainly you and me!
This really is good news! Jesus is telling us, “In my church, everyone is healed through repentance. It doesn’t matter who you are — the physically broken, the mentally ill, the spiritually sick, or emotionally worn out. Everyone must come to me the same way. And we all find healing through repentance.”
How many churches still open their altars for people with broken hearts to come forward and repent? Does your church? I don’t remember the last time our church did. How many pastors have stopped giving invitations for this all-important spiritual work? Does your pastor? How many believers have lost all sense of their need to confess sin? Not enough.
What is the central message of Christ’s gospel? He makes it plain throughout the four gospels. He tells us, “Here is what I preach in my church. This is my message to all sinners.” This made clearer by something Jesus said,
“Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of the kingdom of God” and saying, “The appointed time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is here; repent [change your inner self — your old way of thinking, regret past sins, live your life in a way that proves repentance; seek God’s purpose for your life] and then believe with a deep, abiding trust in the good news regarding salvation.” (Mark 1:14-15)
This was Jesus’ message. He preached repentance!
To some Christians, this sounds like strong language and something they have heard so many times it has lost its meaning. They say, “Okay, okay. But how strongly did Jesus preach repentance? I mean, I’ve already confessed my sins and all that. I’m born-again and filled with His Spirit.”
Well, that’s a good point, but Luke repeated something that Jesus said, “I tell you again that unless you continually repent, you will perish, too” (Luke 13:5).
This isn’t a one-time and “everything is fixed” kind of repentance. It is a complete change of mind for the better and heartily amending of our ways; it is an abhorrence of our past and current sins. James, writing to believers, people had already come to faith in Jesus,
“Confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (someone who is already saved) can accomplish much when put into action and made effective by God — it is dynamic and can have tremendous power” (James 5:16).
I repeat: This was written to believers. Not those who had never given their hearts to God and have never met the Lord. This is a permanent attitude of submission and cleanness. We are told to “confess our sins” and to “pray for each other.” Why? “So we may be healed.” It i’s when you maintain an attitude of openness and the purity of your heart and mind that our prayers become earnest and powerful! It is the earnest prayers of a person who is now “righteous” that has great power! If you have never submitted to Jesus, then that verse in James’ letter doesn’t apply to you.
However, if you have surrendered to Jesus, and given your heart and committed you life to Him, and maintain an attitude of rebellion, resentment, anger, and unforgiveness, your prayers will be weak and meaningless. Did you yell at that other driver give flip a one-finger salute to him? Then confess it and repent of it. Did you say something sharply to your child? Then confess it and repent of it. Did you criticize your boss or coworker? Then confess it and repent of it.
If you have failed to honor and respect other people; if you have been anything but loving and supportive, then confess it and repent of it. It is real simple you know? “Father, I dishonored you when I _______ (fill in the blank). Please forgive me and allow me to walk in love, controlled and directed by your Spirit.” That’s it. (Oh, by the way, don’t just mouth the words, develop a true broken and contrite spirit).
Father, you are my Master and I lovingly join with you. I seek to honor you with every conversation and action today. Please, Holy Spirit, help me today. Whenever I fail my Savior, quickly alert me. I want a heart that is sensitive to your guidance and instruction. I want a heart that is quick to respond to your voice. Be Glorified through me with every person I meet.
I thank you that no matter how things look in my life, you will continue to work and bring perfection in my life. You will crown my year with your goodness and my path will be overwhelmed with abundance (Psalm 65:11). So I will continue to keep my heart open to your corrections.
I worship You, and praise Your Holy Name, blessed be Your Holy Name. Father, as your Psalmist said, “show me the path where I should go, O LORD; point out the right road for me to walk. Lead me; teach me; for you are the God who gives me salvation.” Today, Lord, continue Your work in my life.
- Here is an interesting tidbit. In the early church, repentance was an involved process. Sin wasn’t seen as a personal matter but as something that destroyed the unity of the whole church. Penitents fasted and prayed for the forgiveness of their sins, appeared before the church to make public confession, and were barred from the Lord’s Supper until they gave evidence of a change of heart and were absolved. (The only exception was for people facing persecution. They were readmitted to the Lord’s Supper so they could receive strength.)
—John O. Gooch
You can learn more about Worship in the Early Church in the archives of Christianity Today.
Go ahead, and take on the day!
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