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Have you ever had a distinct experience of the power and presence of God in your life? Scripture promises that the Holy Spirit has been given to us (Isa. 59:21; Luke 11:13; John 14:16–20), and we experience this promise in many ways. Think of a sermon that moved you to great thankfulness or to tears of conviction. Think of a “chance” encounter or text message when a brother or sister in the Lord shared a verse with you at a very specific time in your life. Think of a time of communion around the Lord’s Table or a time of praise when you’ve felt so loved by Christ and so cared for by His people. Maybe you’ve been praying for an issue to change or a mission to fulfill, and God has answered those prayers, perhaps even against all human expectation.

Yes, we are thankful for those and so many other evidences and experiences of our Father’s good grace to His children through Christ’s Spirit.

But I want to challenge you to embrace a biblical calling that, if applied, will lead to a great experience of God’s presence in your life and in the life of your fellowship. This is the call to repent of your sin.

Of course, we repent and follow Jesus when we commit to the Lord in faith. The Greek word metanoia literally means “about turn” (Acts 8:22). We are walking in darkness and in sin. We are convicted by the Spirit of Christ about our lifestyle. We “about turn” and march away from the sinful path and toward the life of righteousness. But this call to repent is more than the start of the Christian walk. It is the whole of our Christian lives. Calvin says: “The exercise of repentance ought to be uninterrupted throughout our whole life.”1

But, this is where it gets difficult, especially for the pastor: “I’m a called man. I’m a theologically educated minister. I have been trained. I have experience running a church. I am not going to repent, nor do I need to repent to other Christians. I am full-time. I have to make decisions. I cannot let others, perhaps less spiritual others, stand in the way of the kingdom.”

Do you ever think like that? You don’t have to be a full-time church minister. You can be unrepentant participating in Sunday school, mercy ministry, youth ministry, administration, outreach teams, women’s study group—the possibilities are endless. The main criterion for others to understand and for you to uphold is that you are right and they are wrong.

The call to repent is more than the start of the Christian walk. It is the whole of our Christian lives.

See how dangerous this becomes? Congregations can be filled with unrepentant, proud church workers. This isn’t just because we are sinful beings, even though we have been saved. It’s also for a very practical reason: congregations are by and large run by volunteers. Paid staff are there in many places and need to repent as much as anyone else, but volunteers run most of a congregation’s activities. Volunteer workers have a huge spiritual, emotional, social, financial, and hourly stake in what goes on. So, when volunteers clash over priorities in a church, repentance is called for, but, sadly, often not practiced.

Repentance also has to take place at a senior church government level. Think of that elder who was there when the foundation stone was laid forty years ago. He’s seen it all. He’s seen three ministers come and go. He’s seen good times and bad. He’s poured prayer, time, and money into those four decades. All the youth events, communions, Bible studies, funerals—he’s been to them all. So, when he loses his temper at a session meeting because of a new initiative that an inexperienced young minister has launched with unthinking enthusiasm, who really needs to repent? Him or the new guy?

Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve made those mistakes and many more besides. I shudder to think of some of the ridiculous expectations I imposed on my elders and volunteer workers when I first entered my current calling. I will continue to make mistakes. But by God’s grace, I’ve learned the power of saying, “I’m sorry.” I’ve learned, moreover, the great truths of Christian discipleship: denying yourself, loving others for the sake of the kingdom, and living the “cruciform” life (1 Cor. 9).

Have you ever considered why Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 7:10? He wanted the Corinthians to repent and experience salvation “without regret.” Titus reported that they had repented of their sinful animosity and now desired to reunite with Paul (vv. 6–9). It’s a beautiful picture of the Spirit of Christ blessing Christians together in love. The church in Corinth thereby regained zeal and earnestness to share in the grace of God.

Brothers and sisters, repenting of sin to fellow believers affirms the gospel and releases the power of the Spirit in your life and calling. This is a very tangible picture of how Jesus changes our hearts. If you want to experience this, consider what you need to repent of and who you need to repent to.

 

  1. J. Graham Miller, Calvin’s Wisdom (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth), 294. ↩︎

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