Repentance and confession of sin is hard. It hurts, it’s embarrassing, it’s awkward and shameful. Sometimes, people have ignored the sins, hoping they would just go away by themselves. Frequently there have been lies — both to self and to others — in order to cope, in order to pretend the pain wasn’t there. We manufacture ways of pretending the guilt isn’t there.
But it’s still there. It haunts us. It hangs down on us. It colors days, nights, weeks, months, years. When the Lord’s hand is heavy upon us, there’s no peace.
And to live like this is to live like ordinary human beings. Normal people descended from Adam live like this, and they think it strange that we make a big deal about it. Why stress about sin and guilt? Lots of pain, lots of hurt, why not just make the best of hard circumstances? And with a bit of creativity, a few more lies, a hard heart and a stiff upper lip, people can get by. They compensate for the pain and guilt in a million ways, and they do get by.
But there’s nothing exceptional about getting by. There’s nothing really surprising, nothing astonishing about compensating for sin, making up for failures, coping with guilt. That’s all normal, ordinary, and average. And the Christian faith is not interested in helping people cope. The gospel is not interested in helping people do ordinary human things.
Jesus died and rose again and poured out His Spirit upon all flesh in order to remake humanity, in order to raise the sons of earth, in order that a new humanity might emerge empowered by the Spirit. And this new way of being human is not satisfied with the status quo, is not content to live life coping, limping, and bracing. This new way of living is at war with all sin and guilt and evil, and the great weapon we have been granted is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God which identifies sin, locates it, and then teaches us how to eradicate it. And the Bible calls this warfare repentance.
And this looks crazy. The cross of Christ has always appeared foolish to the world. The cross of Christ is the way of self-denial, the way of humiliation, the way of confession, the way of forgiveness. And it looks and feels like dying, and it is a form of dying. But it is the power of God on display. When Christians repent, when they confess their sins, when they own their faults, their lies, their lust, their immorality, and confess their sins and ask for forgiveness, God forgives them and their sins are washed away.
What looks like folly and what feels awkward and painful (and it is) is simultaneously a wonderful, overflowing glory.
Normal people don’t confess their sins. Ordinary human beings don’t ask for forgiveness for lies and treachery that no one will ever find out about. Normal people don’t do that. But the Spirit isn’t for coping; the Spirit isn’t a crutch. The Spirit explodes the old ways of doing life, and He empowers people to repent. The Spirit empowers new life. And this new way of being human is far more exotic than walking on water, even more dangerous than calling plagues down on a world dominating empire. This new way of being human is entrusted with the sacred task of doing battle with evil itself. And in the power of the Spirit, with the sword of the Spirit, men and women rip into their own souls, tearing out the old man, tearing out the old cancerous sin.
And that takes courage, that takes guts, and more than that, it takes the new, resurrected life of God in us. But it is glorious. When men and women confess their sins and repent down to the ground, it is like a fireworks display, like a surging army with banners, terrible and grim. Every act of repentance is another earthquake shaking down the old creation, and another ray of sun, the new creation bursting through the shadows.
And that’s why God rejoices more over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Lk. 15:7-10). There is a roar of gladness and joy in the presence of God when sinners repent, and the world is a little newer every time the words, “please forgive me,” are spoken in sincerity and truth.