Repentance: Understanding the Process of Sanctification
In the simplest terms, repentance is the means by which sanctification is achieved. Yet very few understand it. For this reason people can easily become frustrated in their walk with God and lose hope. Repentance is something we hear about often in the word of God, and it’s something we all must obediently and progressively work out in faith as believers. Yet the ‘how’ behind the ‘what’ can be difficult at times, especially when dealing with areas in our lives that are stubborn. Understanding the process of sanctification is the key to repentance. We all struggle with sin.
…the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God, (Luke 3:2-6, KJV).
This is by no means a comprehensive post on repentance, but I believe it will offer you an excellent start to understanding it’s purpose, how it works, and ways you can begin to implement it obediently in your own life. Regardless of where you’re at in your walk with God, there is one thing you must know:
JESUS CHRIST HAS COMPASSION ON SINNERS.
He does not just look at what you do. He sees why you do it.
He understands what motivates your behavior.
Jesus Christ is the only Savior from sin for all of mankind.
The Universal Sickness of Mankind
They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, (Matthew 9:12-13, KJV).
We all deal with sin, and therefore, the topic of repentance applies to all of us. No one is exempt. Christ clearly taught that we cannot cast stones at our brethren for sins they’ve committed, because we are guilty of sin as well (see John 8:7). To judge an act as either right or wrong is what allows us to discern good and evil. That is necessary for any civil society. But to judge our brother with regard to eternal life for committing that act is outside our biblical jurisdiction. That’s God’s job. We have an obligation to offer the same mercy we would want God to offer us. We have an obligation to forgive and grant mercy. Those who show mercy will be granted mercy.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy, (Matthew 5:7, KJV).
I don’t know about you, but I need a lot of mercy. And I’d rather err on the side of mercy than judgment. I’m happy to give God plenty of room to judge for Himself, and I fully trust Him with the outcome for that individual because I know He is just and righteous in His judgments.
Jesus Christ offered abundant mercy to sinners. He did not condemn any – except for the self-righteous religious elite who sought to condemn and kill. In fact, He called them a brood of vipers to their very faces, and then publicly condemned them to hell. No where else in the Gospel accounts do we see Him so furious, except for when He took a whip to the Temple.
Nothing incenses Christ Jesus like the leaven of the Pharisees.
The beauty of God’s judgment is that it is perfectly just. He sees all the factors that come into play. He understands the hidden things of the heart that we don’t even understand ourselves. He knows why you do what you do – even when you are utterly dumbfounded by your own behavior. He sees the heart of those who are enslaved by sin and judges them accordingly. People can have good and pure motives – and yet commit wrong acts. People commit evil acts everyday which are motivated by nothing less than pain, demonic torment, and sheer ignorance. As for those who operate with impure motives, God is able to take care of them as well. We never know what drives another person to do what they do. We will all do well to err on the side of mercy. We may need it someday for ourselves.
For those who would receive it, mercy is the only thing that will heal the sickness of sin. God’s mercy and goodness is what leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:1-4, KJV).
The Inner Life
And then there is the inner life that no one sees: fleeting thoughts, nagging emotions, impure motives, and the like. The area of our thought life and emotions; our private wills and wishes, and the intentions and motivations of our own hearts can seem obscure and thereby deceive us readily. These are areas no one sees, yet we remain accountable for them. These things take residency deep within the well of our being; within our hearts, even in areas we cannot reach or personally know. Many times these areas in our lives seem vague, confusing, and hidden. They lay veiled in darkness. Therefore, trying to deal with them effectively requires a God who sees and knows us intimately, and yet loves us completely – even sacrificially. We need a Savior who is able to reach us in every part and make us whole.
Jesus Christ is the Lover and Savior of our sin-sick souls.
Many sin issues in people’s lives are driven by a genuine attempt to meet a valid unmet need. If we really ponder things and give them careful consideration, the sins we commit are often an attempt to self-soothe, comfort, and fill a need in our flesh or in our souls that we have not surrendered to God in asking Him to fill or satisfy.
The enemy is excellent at creating voids in people so he can fill them.
This is an age-old tactic he’s used since the beginning. Sin has always been a heart issue. What we see is often behavior, but that is merely a fruit of something deeper manifesting in that individual’s soul. To get to the root of that issue, a deep work of God is required. So how do we come into a place of with God where He can actually do a work in these deep, hidden and private areas? Very simple. It comes by invitation only, and that invitation is found in one word: Repentance.
What Repentance Really Is & How It Works
Contrary to popular belief, repentance is not an overnight spiritual makeover, although Christ is faithful to forgive us our sin at the onset of confession. Confession is merely the beginning of repentance wherein we admit to our guilt for the wrong we’ve done (see my post on Slaying the Power of Sin: A Message for Those Bound by Guilt and Shame for more on this topic). There are very few times I’ve seen immediate sanctification in anyone. And that is not to say it can’t happen. However, most individuals who embark upon a journey of repentance with Christ find themselves tripping and stumbling along as they graduate toward greater levels of purity and freedom. It’s a continual process of overcoming – and it lasts our whole life long – because we will always battle sin.
If you’ve been riding the merry-go-round of ‘behavioral-modification’ and find yourself spinning repeatedly, do not be surprised. Because your behavior is not the problem. You must look deeper to find the motivation for that behavior, and discover what drives it. Once you find its source, with God’s help you will be able to root it out by targeting those key areas. God will reveal to you precisely how to deal with those sensitive issues at hand that manifest that particular behavior or pattern. Wrong beliefs, subconscious lies, hidden wounds, and habitual practices can all be very deeply entrenched. Yet once they are exposed with the truth of God’s word by the healing presence of Jesus Christ, they will crumble. Once the light of Christ’s truth comes, you will be able to choose it. This initial choice for truth is what breaks the yoke of bondage, and you will be set on a course that enables you to live it out on a practical daily basis.
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (Acts 26:15-18, KJV).
Repentance is simply a turning to God which opens the door for the LORD to come in. Repentance is demonstrated by an act of the will when the heart turns to God and cries out for help. Any individual can begin a process of repentance and stumble their way through it. The LORD will meet you where you are. Sometimes this process takes years as individuals graduate toward healing and wholeness. That journey is a process of sanctification. Once any believer commits to a path of repentance, God’s grace enters in and His promise to forgive all sin and to cleanse from all unrighteousness is fulfilled (see 1 John 1:7-10). And although it can, that does not guarantee it will happen overnight. We all have an individual journey with Christ which is unique.
Repentance is a journey.
How long it takes depends on the depth of the issue at hand, and how cooperative we are with the LORD.
Some issues are very, very tender. They require extraordinary care. God is entirely loving, long-suffering with us, and He is gentle and kind. As He unravels the knots and untangles the web, we graduate into a greater freedom every day.
As for those times we slip, He lifts us up again, and sets us aright once more. To condemn someone who is actively participating in a journey of repentance, yet has stumbled and fallen, can be spiritually debilitating. It can actually snuff out a smoldering wick and break a bruised reed. That is a spiritual abuse and cruelty that no one deserves – and it is one Christ Jesus will not tolerate.
Many times the sin in our lives is so deeply entrenched that it takes years for us to graduate into complete freedom. Those journeys are harrowing for any individual. Do not be discouraged if you’re consistently struggling in an area. The LORD is faithful and He will set you free.
Knowing the heart of Christ in the midst of our sin is imperative if we are to become sanctified vessels of honor in His house. He will never condemn the repentant heart.
A Broken & Contrite Heart
A truly repentant heart is marked by brokenness and humility with an earnest desire for change.
The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit, (Psalm 34:18, KJV).
The sacrifices of God are a broken heart spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise, (Psalm 51:17, KJV).
Nothing will break a heart like sin. We were not created for sin, and its effects are devastating. Once we are broken by our sin, the more genuine our repentance can become.
The Way of the LORD
Preparing the way of the LORD in our lives comes through repentance, which begins the process of sanctification. Let’s make sure that we all understand repentance is commanded for all believers – it’s not optional. So let’s talk about how to prepare the way of the LORD in our personal lives (see Luke 3:4-5).
Every Valley Will Be Filled
The valleys are those low points in your life that need to be brought to a level place. Begin considering the valleys in your life – those low-lying areas that need to be built up and filled in. What is missing? Is there a void? God is able to fill every single void in your life.
Every Mountain and Hill Brought Low
Here we see those high places that are difficult to traverse being brought to a level ground. What are those places in your life that need to be brought low? Are there areas of pride, arrogance, and conceit? How about resistance to God? Perhaps there are things that are so high above you, that you feel you’ll never reach them or overcome them? Are there mountains in your life that seem insurmountable? God is able to level those mountains for you through repentance.
The Crooked Made Straight
This is not hard to visualize at all. We know that God and His word is the plumb-line for our lives. And if it does not line up with the word of God, then it’s crooked. Sometimes it is actually very difficult to discern something that is crooked – until it is met with something perfectly straight. Are there obscure areas in your life that are crooked? What are those crooked areas in your life that are not lined up? God is able to set things straight and put things in order.
The Rough Made Smooth
This accurately depicts a stony path that makes travel difficult. Begin kicking the rocks out of the way. Those things that keep tripping you up; those trigger points; those stumbling blocks – whatever they are – they have to go. God is able to remove those things that cause you to stumble and even block you from moving forward and progressing in Him.
And All Flesh Shall See the Salvation of God
This allegory in Luke 3:4-5 is beautiful. These are not things that YOU are going to perform on your own. These are the things GOD is going to do when you cooperate with Him. What we see being created here through repentance is the WAY FOR THE LORD. And it looks like this:
I want to encourage you today to begin preparing the way of the LORD in your own life. Begin the journey of repentance with an understanding that it is a process of sanctification that is initiated by turning to God as an act of ready will. Jesus Christ longs to come and bring you the salvation, healing, and freedom you so desperately long for. This is what you were created for. Sin does not have to dominate your life. The Great Physician is able to fully heal, restore, and make you whole. The valleys will be filled, the mountains will be brought low, the crooked will be made straight, and the rough ways smooth. You will see the salvation of your God!
Cheers & Shalom,
Check out my bible study, Effectual Repentance: Where the Guilt Trip Ends & Freedom Begins, right here!