John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
An honest friend once confessed, “My struggle with repentance has to do with knowing myself well enough to see what I should repent of.” Even when we know that repentance is important in general, we do not know what to repent of in particular. Similarly, sometimes we have a matter to bring to God, but we do not know the depths of it. This is why we begin by seeking the face of God, because we need the bright light of God’s presence to shine into the dark corners of our soul.
This is the good news that John proclaims: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). In the Old Testament, “light” speaks to the character of God and the truth of his word. In John’s writings, “light” is the glory of God in the person of Christ and the practice of his Word. The latter is an unveiling and extension of the first. God has revealed himself, not only in Christ but also in his Word. There is no falsehood in what he has revealed. It is right and trustworthy, truth in its purest form.
Addressing God is not a formality. It is a desperate cry: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24).
But that sounds mechanistic. What about the mysterious working of God? What is the dynamic of spiritual repentance that differentiates it from natural penitence? And more practically, “How do I get from regret over my sin to true repentance?”
That God is the one who beckons and arouses the repentance is what makes it makes it more than empty ritual. Natural repentance is aroused by fear or pride. Regarding fear, I turn from my ways because I dread consequence or loss of approval from others. Regarding pride, I tell myself that I need to turn from my ways because “I’m a good Christian.” I must stop doing this because I don’t want to be like the kind of person who does this. I’m not like that.
We cannot fix or manage the problem of sin. You can only be rescued from it and sanctified in the midst of it.
If you are observing Lent – denying usual comforts, reorienting your life in some way around the things of God – then isn’t this your prayer? God, illuminate my path! Search my heart and test my anxious thoughts. Shed light on my dark ways. I want a clear picture of what my life is about, and where it is headed. How will I turn from my ways if I cannot see them?
When we feel the pains of hunger, the habitual desire to watch TV, the consuming desire to buy something, our thoughts turn here: “Search me, O God.” We want to know the ways that sin has entangled us, blinded our perception, distorted our tastes, and weakened our desires. We are preparing the way in our heart for God to speak, making straight a path in our soul for the Spirit to work.
How does God search and test and illuminate? God has many instruments, I suppose, but we must begin with the sharpest one. The Bible is the Word of God, “sharper than any double-edged sword … dividing soul and spirit … judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). His word searches us, convicts us, enlightens us, and leads us. This is why a greater devotion to the Bible is a good idea during the Lenten season. Remember, we give up and take up. When we give up something, we make a clearing in our lives, but unless the clearing is filled up with light, we stumble around in the dark. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:103-105).
In what areas of your life are you merely trying to fix or manage the problem of sin?
What would it look like for you to move toward true repentance in that area?
Creator of the heavens and earth, Speak light into our immeasurable darkness. Expose the chaos of our steps and bring order to our lives. Light of the World, full of grace and truth, open up the kingdom of heaven to us. Tell us what you hear and see and give us ears and eyes.