If you know someone who is not changing, do not despair. There is a way to think about them and the dynamics of change. In this article, I’m going to break down one of the essential elements in the change process. I hope that the Lord will use these thoughts as you serve those you love so well. I’ll begin with a story about an unchanging person.
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You may want to read:
- Rick’s Book on Transformation
- Pre-forgiveness Is Prerequisite before You Can Change
- The Doctrine of Repentance
When the Hidden Becomes Known
Biff was living in secret sin. Biff is a Christian. He did not tell anyone about his secret for many months, and the longer he held on to it, the more personally frustrated, relationally distant, and internally hardened he became.
Eventually, the hidden sin was discovered, which was mercy from the Lord because Biff had no intention of telling anyone about what he was doing. Sin will always ravage the soul if left unattended because it is not a neutral force in our lives. It is a living and active agent that captures the heart while leaving its victims calloused and blind (Hebrews 4:7). You could say he was a modern-day David.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (Psalm 32:3-4).
Sin’s purpose is to penetrate the soul to destroy the inner person (John 10:10). The spirit, mind, will, emotions, conscience, thoughts, intentions, and motives become gnarled, ravaged, and conquered. As a midwestern town after a tornado, sin does not take prisoners. It kills them.
The Lord Is In Your Sin
That kind of destruction is bad enough, but what if I ratchet up the intensity: Have you ever thought about how the Lord is also part of sin’s assault on our souls? Carefully reflect on this verse from Paul.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).
God rains down His wrath on any person who chooses to push His truth out of their lives. Nobody–believer or unbeliever–can escape the displeasure of God or the distortions of sin if they don’t want to come clean. David felt the wrathful anger of the Lord, as well as the deteriorating effects of wrongdoing during his silence.
Biff was also slowly dying on the vine (John 15:5) because of his choice to keep quiet. Sin’s deception had clouded his judgment, which is why repentance is so sweet to the humble soul. The person who has experienced the gift of repentance (2 Timothy 2:25) always testifies to its blessedness.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (Psalm 32:1-2).
Full Repentance, Full Change
You can think of repentance in a similar way you think about the Ordo Salutis (order of salvation). There is an order to repentance (Ordo Poenitentiae). I have written about those elements in my article, The Doctrine of Repentance. I put them in sequential order to show how we should interact with them so complete and effectual change can happen.
Here’s the Order of Repentance:
- Put off the old person
- Renew the mind
- Put on a new person
- Disciple others
Complete repentance is not any one of those things, but all of them–one to thirteen. You will know if you have changed after you go from a sinning self-focused lifestyle to a redemptive other-centered lifestyle (Philippians 2:3-5). This poster visually explains the order of repentance.
Living a Redemptive Lifestyle
It is our lack of working through all the elements of repentance that explains why we live in recurring sin patterns. The Christian life consists of “repentance and ongoing repenting,” which is a redemptive lifestyle that makes any person, friend, family, or church genuinely dynamic.
Caveat – You will never fully repent in the sense that you can attain perfection in the here and now. Nevertheless, every Christian should have a solid functional knowledge of repentance as well as an active lifestyle that is compatible with that knowledge. Without practical knowledge and authentic engagement, long-term, progressive, sustainable change will not happen.
As with all journeys, how you begin a process determines how you will continue throughout the process. This worldview is why it’s essential to understand all the elements in the order of repentance. In this piece, I’m going to focus on a specific component: conviction.
Do You Feel This?
After your sin, there will be guilt from the Lord. This guilt does not require your acknowledgment or acceptance because you are not the one who determines the lines of transgression. Guilt is not a feeling, but a forensic fact: You are declared guilty (Genesis 2:16-17; Romans 5:12, 6:23). Though you can twist sin to mean whatever you want it to mean, you cannot change what God says about His righteous morality: You sin, you’re guilty.
When you sin, you are guilty before God. You can dance around it, make excuses, or point out the faults of others, but none of those things reduce the guilt or change God’s opinion about what you did. Here are three of the more common ways folks try to make wrongs right.
- Blame – To excuse sin by placing the reason for it on some other person or event.
- Justify – To declare yourself not guilty, which is to say, “I am not wrong for what I did.”
- Rationalize – To declare sin as no big deal, or at least not big enough to repent.
The Kindness of Conviction
A working analogy is like two people standing before the judge in traffic court. Both of them were driving too fast; they were speeding. One of the speeders makes much of what the other speeder did, while never owning what he did.
This tactic is smoke and mirrors. It is game playing. It’s intellectual dishonesty, which is a more pleasant way of saying the person is either willfully lying or is self-deceived. Self-deception is the precondition for the conscience to blur the lines in a person’s mind between right and wrong.
It is a cool thing for the Lord to send conviction immediately on the heels of our guilt. Conviction is our way of feeling (or experiencing) God’s guilt over what we have done wrong. This experience is what David was talking about in Psalm thirty-two. He felt the Lord’s guilt. He felt heavy conviction for what he did, and it was affecting him spiritually and physically.
I suspect the reason for the heaviness David felt was because of his profound affection for God. He had a massive heart for the Lord. The higher your love is for God, the more significantly you will feel the weight of your sin. The opposite is also accurate.
To be desensitized to sin is a dangerous place to be. Paul talked about this in 1 Timothy 4:2 when he wrote about the seared conscience. To sin repeatedly, over and over again without genuine repentance is the beginning of a layering process where you can no longer feel the conscience, and there is a quenching of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). It grieves Him (Ephesians 4:30).
If a person does not feel conviction for sin, they will not be motivated to confess their sin, which is the fourth step in the Ordo Poenitentiae.
Agreeing to Agree
To confess is to agree with God (and with anyone else) about what you did. True confession cannot happen if you do not experience real conviction because if you’re not aware of your guilt, you won’t be able to confess the sin committed.
One of the instructive things I have observed in Christianity is a process of repentance that marginalizes conviction. You can hear it by the casualness in which a person talks about what they did wrong. When David confessed his sin, you felt his conviction, which communicated humbled brokenness over his actions. Though every confession should not read like Psalm 51, every confession should be heartfelt.
You should not frame your confession in a casual “I’m sorry” or “Will you forgive me for what happened” Christian-speak that follows a formula where there is a detaching of the heart from the words. That is not a person engaged in the change process. That is damage controlling the situation or a conflict resolution technique that preserves the reputation. The wording of our confession must be more than Bible sounding Christian-speak.
A Weak Forgiveness Request
I can say, “I’m sorry” or “Will you forgive me” to work through conflict, but am I changing? Am I humbly engaging God and others so I can effectively turn from what I have done? You may have seen this “kind of repentance” in a child:
Son, did you sin?
What do you need to do, son?
Say, “I’m sorry.”
Well? Are you going to say it?
What else, son?
(Sister) will you forgive me?
(Sister) what are you going to say to your brother?
I forgive you. (Sigh)
That scenario is not repentance. It is a formulaic Christian-speak that is not motivated by a person who feels God’s conviction for what they did wrong. This issue does not mean you should refrain from teaching your children the ropes of repentance, but it does say that this essential element (conviction) between the Spirit of God and the sinning person cannot be fake.
Conviction and Love
We may inwardly smile as our children walk through false repentance, but it is a much bigger problem when adult Christians learn the language, but there is no noticeable change. You might as well train your parrot to do this because it will save time.
The weight of conviction you feel over your sin will be proportional to the love you have for the person hurt by your sin. This truth will be hard for some people because there are folks they have sinned against that they do not love or do not love well.
Think about it this way. When you lose something you love, you feel the weight of that loss. You can apply this concept to any cherished treasure or a cherished relationship (Ephesians 5:29). When you damage that thing or a person whom you love in any way, you feel it.
Pain Proportional to Love
Every loving parent feels this when their child is hurt or, in some cases, the child dies. The pain you feel in your heart is proportional to the love you have for that child. Conviction is a form of grief you have for someone who is hurting.
In the early part of our marriage, I could sin against my wife and blow it off as though it was not a big thing. The reason for this was because I had underlying anger and unresolved unforgiveness toward her. I was a bitter husband.
It was even more damning because I could blame, justify, or rationalize my actions away. That made it easy for me to sin against Lucia and then make excuses while never truly owning what I did wrong. There were times when I said, “I’m sorry” or even “Will you forgive me,” but those words were not born out of a broken heart (convicted) over my sin against her (and God).
Sinner, Meet the Gospel
Then the Lord introduced me to the gospel, which opened my eyes to see what a low-down, dirty, rotten sinner I was. My soul began to sink into the worthlessness (Romans 3:12) of my depravity, as the Lord was simultaneously lifting me by the realization of the riches of His mercy (Ephesians 2:1-10).
My self-righteousness was turning into confusion, which opened a portal to see my wife in a new light. Rather than belittling her or being mean to her, I began to be grateful for the Lord’s gift to me: I did not deserve His salvation or my wife.
She became my treasure, and to sin against her created brokenness that I had never felt up to that time. If you feel little conviction about your nastiness toward someone, your love for them is minimal, and your process of repentance will fizzle out.
David was a man after the Lord’s heart (Acts 13:22), which explains why the weight of his sin was killing him. I am not sure how much longer David could have continued in his sin if Nathan had not confronted him (2 Samuel 12:1-13).
Call to Action
I would like for you to discuss these questions with a friend. It would be helpful to talk through the content of this article and work through these questions. If you are not a conviction feeling repenter, ask the Lord to help you see what you may not be able to see right now and to feel the weight of your wrongs so you can effectually change.
- When you sin, how broken are you? Do you feel the weight of your actions to the degree that you are motivated to make them right, regardless of the cost (Luke 15:17-20)?
- Do you skip conviction like a child, by going into “I’m sorry” or “Will you forgive me” mode without really meaning it? Are you more about conflict resolution and damage control than genuine repentance?
- Is there anyone you have sinned against, for whom you refuse to ask forgiveness? If so, your sin against them and God is greater than your love for them or God.
- How do you need to change after reading this article? Will you make a plan for change and share it with a friend?
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