True Repentance

by Dr. William B. Knippa

Every once in a while I hear our pastor say how we all sin much daily. What does he mean? What does it mean to repent of our sin?

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I commend you for posing a question that, I suspect, many worshiping Christians ask themselves but feel hesitant about asking their pastor. To say “I sin daily” does not mean God does not love you or that you have no possibility of life with Him. Rather, it is to be honest with God and with yourself about your need for the forgiveness and life God offers by grace through Jesus Christ. People sometimes restrict the word sin to mean only wrong behaviors—words or actions that are morally and socially unacceptable, reprehensible, and destructive to self or others. Thus, one might say, “I am a moral person, I treat others well, and I live a decent life,” and by those standards believes he (or she) does not sin. Such is not the case.

Scripture teaches that we cannot not sin, that our natural human condition, apart from God’s grace and the faith He creates, is a life separate from and hostile to God. In this state, we pursue only self-preservation, self-gratification, and self-exaltation. In his vivid words, Martin Luther described it as having a heart “curved in on itself.” As such, we are unable to live in complete obedience to God’s command to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Holy Spirit, working through that holy but unattainable expectation, brings us to cry, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV). This is being honest about the reality of our condition, and leads to repentance.

In Scripture, the word repent means to “turn.” As a sunflower turns its face to the sun for light and growth, so we, when we repent, turn from our sinful selves and turn to the face of God enfleshed in Jesus. We no longer perceive ourselves as self-sufficient, but as being in desperate need of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And God hears and answers our cry: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The bad news is that we do sin daily. The good news is that God forgives freely!

Questions for “Family Counselor” come from readers and, after steps are taken to assure confidentiality, from contacts made with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Send your questions to “Family Counselor,” The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address.  

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