Monday, November 26, 2012

When Should You Repent?

"Repent and believe in the gospel." - Mark 1:15

What is the key to long-term spiritual growth and change? Is it Scripture knowledge? Strong self-discipline? Perhaps a good family upbringing? Maybe seminary? All these things are good, but one thing stands out as the golden key to growth: repentance.

This theme rises to the surface across Scripture: "Repent" is the first part of the core message of Jesus in Mark 1:15 when He started His ministry. "Repent" is an oft-repeated exhortation by the prophets of old to backsliding Israel (ex: Ezekiel 14:6). "Repent" is the explicit command of Jesus to many of the churches in Revelation (ex: Rev 2:16). John the Baptist called his listeners to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance" in Matthew 3:8, and even Peter needed to be rebuked by Paul and called to repentance in Galatians 2. And finally: God desires all to repent (2 Peter 3:9) and calls all to repent (Acts 17:30).

What exactly is repentance? Pastor Ben Stuart describes it as "one motion, in two parts", turning FROM our sin, and turning TO God Himself. You could also say that repentance is admitting you are wrong, stopping your wrong behavior, and beginning to live differently. It's that definitive moment of humble admission, "I am wrong. God is right."

So when should you repent? Answer: REPENT RIGHT NOW. Continually. Immediately. It doesn't matter how much you've sinned, or how little, you should ALWAYS repent the instant God grants you the conviction and realization that you have been sinning against Him. This is the gift that God gives by His Holy Spirit, repentance that leads to refreshment in His presence (Acts 3:19-20). Your sin is killing you, it's a fast poison that requires immediate attention. The first step towards life and healing is repentance. And it's not a once-and-done act. Continual repentance is THE mark of the Christian life. Consider Martin Luther's famous first thesis in 1517, "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."

Sometimes we think that we shouldn't or can't repent RIGHT NOW. Either we think we're repenting "too soon" because we convince ourselves we're not really sinning or we sinfully don't WANT to repent until we've received the promise that sin has offered us. OR we fear we've waited "too long" to repent, and it's too late. We've gone too far, God won't accept us back, not again for the thousandth time. Both are wrong! We've never gone too far in our sin to not be able to repent, and there's no safe amount of sin that we can try before we need to repent. Consider the example of David in his sins with Bathsheba and Uriah in 2 Samuel 11. David could have repented at ANY time in that whole chapter. Consider each verse as you read it, right THERE could have been the moment of repentance! But each time David chose to continue in his sin.

So let's get practical. Here's some examples of what repentance RIGHT NOW could look like:

  • A few seconds after you've said something angry and hurtful to a friend, repent. Apologize for your unkind words, ask for forgiveness from God and your friend. 
  • Porn on the screen and your hand in your pants, repent. It's never too late! Turn away from this broken cistern, there is no life here. 
  • Tears in your eyes and the knife in your hand, repent. God is welcoming you to drink deeply from His fountain of Living Waters! His blood has been shed in your place. 
  • Scooping ice cream in the bowl, repent. Yes you chose to grab the ice cream, but you don't have to eat it. God is gently calling you to rest in Him. 
  • After you've already been sexual active before marriage, repent. Yes you have sinned but God still calls you to repent. It's not "too late". It's never too late to repent. God is honored by your obedience in walking in purity, even after your failure. 
  • When you realize you've been complaining and grumbling, repent. Start praising and thanking God for all His amazing blessings. Maybe even write a list of 100 things you're thankful for
Where is God calling you to repent RIGHT NOW? Is the Holy Spirit convicting you of a particular sin? Repent. Do not hesitate. Be swift in your obedience. Do it. "Repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) God waits with open arms to cleanse you of your sin and welcome you back! Run to Him in repentance. Right now. 

Fighting for Repentance,
The Relentless Fight

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fighting for Gratitude

"give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." - 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

One of the most powerful weapons in the fight to overcome sin and temptation is gratitude.

Does that sound strange to you? Something happens in our hearts when we become aware of God's blessing and erupt in thankfulness. It cuts our sin off at the root and weakens whatever self-justifying structure we had built up for our sin. The opposite happens when we choose to not give thanks, and instead become bitter and angry and grumble. Remember the Israelites in the wildnerness? Constant grumbling, constant sin. They're connected.

Gratitude sets our hearts in joy and thankfulness towards the Lord, recognizing His good gifts, and framing our sufferings as smaller in comparison to the weightiness of God's blessings. Suddenly our momentary feelings of loneliness one evening aren't so bad when we remember and praise God for the multitude of family and friends and church community that God has given us. Suddenly our momentary anger at not getting a parking place near Panera is cooled and seems insignificant when we remember that we own a car, have a credit card, are walking with functional legs, and are about to enjoy a fantastic meal. All God's gifts!

So here's the challenge: This Thanksgiving, write down a list of 100 things that you're thankful for. Sound like too many? Don't worry, it's easy once you get going. Here's a few categories to get your list started:

  • Physical health and body function (heart works, legs work, eyes, ears, smell, taste, brain, memory)
  • Blessings in the Gospel (forgiveness, sanctification, adoption, cleansing from shame, gifted righteousness, eternal life, justification)
  • Family and Friends (comfort, joy, fun times, events, meals together, giggles, hugs, kind words, cards, Facebook)
  • Material things (house, car, cell phone, laptop, food each day, clothing, books, money, technology, job, YouTube, pets)
  • Immaterial things (living in a free country, liberty, joy, motivation, purpose, passion, energy, creativity, belonging, pleasure in your work, positive emotions)
  • Metaphysical Realities (for the geeks: gravity, laws of physics, chemistry, space, time)
  • Existential Providence (God has sustained your life thus far! Think of the many risks you've experienced that have not resulted in death like car crashes, falls, dangerous situations, dumb decisions)
  • God Himself (knowing Him, joy in His presence, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the pleasure of seeing His glory, the privilege of joining in His mission)
And then when you are tempted to grumble and complain, look at the list. When your temptation to self-medicate with porn or cutting or alcohol gets strong because of the stress or pain in your life, look at the list. When you're angry with where God has you, and very conscious of the things He has chosen to NOT give you, look at the list. And give thanks :)

Fighting for Gratitude,
The Relentless Fight

PS: Why not start right now by naming 5 things you're thankful for today in the comments below, or comment on the Facebook post?

Monday, November 12, 2012


"Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry."
1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV

Sometimes the Scripture calls us to stand our ground and fight back against the Enemy, like in Ephesians 6:13. But when we are facing temptation, the Scripture doesn't tell us to stand there and take the punches. No, the command is to FLEE. 

Does this strike you as strange? Wouldn't you instead expect the Scripture to say something like, "When you face temptation, just be strong and trust that God will help you fight it." Right? But that's not what the Scripture says. Multiple times we have the command to FLEE. Here are a few examples (emphasis added):
  • "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body." - 1 Corinthians 6:18 ESV
  • "So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." - 2 Timothy 2:22 ESV
  • "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." - 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV
Don't be a hero in the fight against temptation. Jesus Himself warned the disciples, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) Basically, plead with God to not even allow you to get into tempting situations, because YOU ARE WEAK. You will fall. All you need is a push. Just given the right circumstances....and you'll cave. 

See, there's this prideful streak that we have in our hearts that make us think, "Oh, I'm fine. When temptation comes, I'll just say no, right? I'm a strong person." But biblically, that's just not true. It's like what Gandalf says in the mines of Moria about the Balrog, "This foe is beyond any of you. Run!"

What does it look like to flee? Perhaps the story of Joseph in Genesis 39 is a helpful case study. Potiphar's wife was hitting on Joseph nonstop, trying to get him to sleep with her. Every time Joseph refused, and in Genesis 39:10 it says he wouldn't even be in the same room with her. Finally, she grabs hold of him, basically forcing herself on him. What does he do? RUNS AWAY. Apparently he has a hard time getting away because in the process of getting out of there she manages to rip off some of his clothes. Yikes! Joseph FLED. He got out of there. He knew that temptation was a dangerous foe too strong for him to fight. So he ran. Not as a coward, but as a wise godly man.

So what might be some applications?
What does this look like practically in our lives to obey the Scripture and "flee"?

  • When you feel temptation begin to increase and you're alone in your dorm... LEAVE your dorm. Go to the computer lab, the student union building, a friend's room. Anywhere, just leave, now. 
  • When you're hanging out with your significant other and you're alone, and things start to get tempting, the engines begin firing on all cylinders... LEAVE. Go anywhere. How about Sheetz? They're open 24 hours a day. Get some MTO, it's delicious. But the point is to LEAVE. You are weak, and you're not gonna be able to stop yourself. 
  • When you're talking with a friend, and it starts devolving into an argument, you start feeling the temptation to say some things out of anger... just stop. Leave the conversation. If it's on the phone, hang up. Facebook? Close the window. Texting? Just power off that phone, baby. FLEE. 
  • Another application for "fleeing" is to enlist the help of some brothers/sisters by walking in the light (1 John 1) and confessing our temptation. This could be as simple as a text, "Hey sister, could you pray for me? I'm really feeling tempted with _______ right now." 
  • Can you think of a way to flee? Share it in the comments below, or comment in the post on Facebook.

Running away,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, November 5, 2012

Jesus Heals Our Shame

"This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 'He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.'" - Matthew 8:17 ESV

The Cross of Christ goes deeper than we expect: Jesus died not just to forgive the guilt of sin, but also to cleanse us from the shame of sin.

Shame is a complicated thing, and seems much deeper than the feeling of guilt. When you do something wrong, you feel guilt because your actions, words, behavior are wrong. But shame makes you feel that YOU are wrong. You're a wrong person, you're defiled, stained, marred, there's something that you carry around with you that causes you to hate yourself. This kind of shame is not easily resolved like guilt would be, because with guilt you can just stop those behaviors, but with shame you can't stop being YOU. And to further complicate matters, shame comes in two forms:

  • Sins that we've done: There is a sense of shame that comes from the sins we have done. Defiling sins that we hide from others like cutting, sexual addiction and brokenness, drug use, secret partying, eating disorders, constant evaluation of body image, and the feeling of being "poisonous" in relationships as we consistently hurt others while desperately trying to not do so. 
  • Sins done AGAINST us: Sometimes we feel deep shame and self-hatred because of the sins done against us, things that we are victims of and never have chosen to experience. This can be as "simple" as the common experience of being made fun of when we were children on the playground. We can often minimize such experiences and discard them, "Oh, doesn't everyone get made fun of?" But this kind of sin against us has profound effects. Often when we are treated as ugly, worthless, stupid, dirty, or cheap we begin to believe that we ARE those things. Sins against us include bullying, physical abuse, verbal or emotional abuse, sexual assault and rape, and other mistreatments. These leave a stain on the soul and "speak" lies to us that we internalize and believe. They leave us feeling ashamed of who we are, perhaps with an identity of "damaged goods".

So how does Jesus heal our shame? What hope does the Scripture give us? How do we begin to walk in freedom and newness of life? The answer is the Cross, which is one of the most extreme examples of shame. Authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb write, “The story of Jesus on the cross is a story of victimization and shame. He was sentenced to death in the most shameful manner possible – naked and on a cross outside the city gates. Crucifixion was for the scum of the earth, and Jesus voluntarily became a part of the dregs himself.” (Rid of My Disgrace, page 95). Jesus identifies with the ashamed, providing solidarity to victims with the empathetic comfort that He Himself knows the experience. But more than that, the Cross is THE solution to our experience of shame, because of the cleansing that it accomplishes in two ways:

  • Cleansing from sins that we have done: 1 John 1:7 says "the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." We have been washed clean by the Holy Spirit of God, and no longer bear the stain of our sins against Him. Our record is clean! We are new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17)! The old has passed away, crucified with Christ, and now we walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4). We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Rev 7:14), and are found BLAMELESS in His presence (1 Thess 5:23). 
  • Cleansing from sins done AGAINST us: The Bible is not in denial when it describes the awful experience of sins done against victims. Without minimizing the ugliness of these horrors, the Scripture provides firm hope for the victims of shameful sins. Christ is spoken of in Isaiah 61:1-4 as binding up the brokenhearted, comforting those who mourn, bringing vindicating vengeance to all the abused and hurting, and even replacing sadness with gladness, replacing brokenness with restoration. To use a metaphor, Jesus is the stronger man (Mark 3:27) who defends us from the bully, and disgraces the shame (Hebrews 12:2). He is our Defender, Protector, and Champion (Psalm 35:1-4). In Colossians 2:15 it says of Christ, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him."

So then how should we live? How can we walk in the newness of life that Jesus offers in cleansing our shame? Here are three practical applications:

  1. Remind Yourself: We so often forget the healing that Christ has accomplished for us. Make it a daily habit to remind yourself of the cleansing that you have in Christ. You are CLEANSED from the sins you have done. And your identity is NOT what others have done to you, but is superceded by what Christ has done for you! Remind yourself of His words and actions of love in the Cross. Write sticky notes and hang them on your bathroom mirror. Put up posters in your room. Make Scripture verses the background on your laptop. Make it a daily habit to read the Word to HEAR the loving words of Jesus to you.
  2. Walk in the Light: 1 John 1:7-9 claims that if we confess our sins and walk in the light (being honest about the things we are prone to hide) then we actually have fellowship with one another, because the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin and shame. Practically this may look like sharing your struggle with a trusted brother or sister in Christ, and beginning to walk together on the road of healing. It's a hard road, and a long one, but what a comfort to know that we are not alone! Establishing this kind of accountability relationship enables us to have an "emergency 911" resource: someone we can call, text, or email when we're in a low spot and need encouragement and comfort. 
  3. Share this hope with others: Look around you, and begin to see the world as God sees it: full of broken hurting people who are desperate for healing and hope. Now that you know this amazing news of cleansing in the gospel, how can you NOT share it with others? Share it with fellow Christians, share it with family members, share it with classmates, share it with your children, and especially share it with those who have not yet heard it. We have the medicine, we have the healing balm... for a hurting world that aches. Give it out for FREE! And do it with JOY!
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus heals our shame and cleanses us from all unrighteousness! But it is a daily battle to believe this truth and fight against the lies of Satan as he continually tries to enslave us again and again to the prison of shame. It is a fight - a relentless fight - to remember the gospel and walk in the pure cleansing that Christ has purchased for us. May God strengthen you today to walk FREE, with the blood of Jesus cleansing your shame.

Healed and healing,
The Relentless Fight

PS: For further study on how Jesus heals our shame, check out the excellent book Rid of My Disgrace.