I overheard a nonbeliever recently tell a believer the problem with Christians is that they’re made to feel that they must constantly be repenting.
Repenting, Christians learn at an early age, is a key to salvation. Pastors remind us we must confess our sins to receive God’s grace.
On one hand, it establishes that God is a loving God who wants us to live with Him through eternity. All we must do to be worthy of such a gift is to confess our sins.
But on the other hand, some see that as meaning Christians must constantly be caught up in a guilt trip. Nothing we do will ever be good enough. All we can do, therefore, is constantly apologize for our shortcomings.
I hadn’t really considered it from that perspective before. But after thinking about it a while, I do see the nonbeliever’s point.
I once had a conversation with a Christian who told me something that shocked me. His take on Christianity tells him that what we do after accepting salvation isn’t so important. We have already been saved, so our sins are already forgiven. We should always strive to do our best and follow Christ. But we know we’re going to fail. We should not allow ourselves, then, to mire down in that failure.
I protested that what he was really saying is that given the guarantee of salvation, we can pretty much do anything we want.
And he further shocked me by saying that interpretation was absolutely right. When God saves us, he said, He forgives not only our sins of the past, but all of our sins — even those we’ve yet to commit.
Christ’s blood can’t possibly guarantee us salvation without cleansing us of everything. Otherwise, we’d only earn salvation until we committed our next sin, and then we’d have to start over again.
Must Christians always be repenting?
To hear some traditionalists talk, I think they actually believe that. (At least, I think they believe that about others, not themselves.)
No one stands worthy of the gift of salvation. But one should wonder whether that fact should preoccupy our thoughts. Are we supposed to walk around in a constant state of repenting?
Should we really feel that we can never do enough to be worthy?
And if so, doesn’t that mean that we begin doubting the truth of that salvation? After all, if we don’t believe we have it without constantly confessing something, can we imperfect mortals ever truly be guiltless long enough to be saved?
Let’s imagine a guy named John who accepts Christ as his personal savior. Now suppose that he commits some minor sin a week after being baptized. An hour later, a truck hits him and he dies.
If he didn’t repent during that hour, did he lose his salvation?
What if he didn’t realize his sin was a sin? Without repenting for a sin he didn’t know he committed, would he lose his salvation?
What if he did realize he committed a sin and was on his way to a church to repent when he was killed? Would he lose his salvation in that case?
I don’t think he would lose his salvation in any of those scenarios.
And I don’t think God expects us to grovel in guilt every minute of our lives, either.
So I understand the criticism that Christians always seem to be repenting.
A decade ago, Billy Graham wrote this about Christians and their relationship with God:
If we have truly given our lives to Christ, we are now God’s children – and nothing will ever change that fact. But when we sin, our fellowship with God is broken – and that’s why we need to confess our sins to Him and seek His forgiveness without delay.
He cited 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Then he added this: “Make this your practice every day.”
One might then ask how many times per day?
I think it’s entirely possible to overdo it, to become obsessed with repenting to the point that you begin to replace your faith in your salvation with your fear of missing something.
I think God wants us to be confident and joyous in our salvation. And I think He wants us to feel our value to Him in having received such a gift.
But I also think that the closer we get to God, the better we can tell when it is truly time to repent. I think God gives us wisdom to help us see ourselves better than we would on our own.
And I think that God-given wisdom is the best gauge we have to know when we need to take a moment with Him.
Maybe the best answer is that we need to learn how to listen to that wisdom a little more often.