I’m so excited to introduce my friend and kingdom co-worker, Nicole Barrett. She and her husband, Naoto, are musicians and worship leaders who have been planting and tending Spirit-led, home church fellowships by the help and grace of God. Today, she shares her thoughts on repentance, confession, and grace.
I wrote this small poem one morning looking out my window, sitting with the Lord, watching snowflakes dance down from the sky. The last line I can take no credit for. It was like I was writing the simple observations my eyes were making and then the Holy Spirit interrupted me and so clearly spoke– “so it is with grace.” This sentence changed everything. I was no longer watching snow, but in wonder and awe I was captivated by grace gently descending from the heavens onto my back porch.
Eyes full of tears, I slipped on my fluffy robe and slippers and decided I wanted to go outside and stand in it. Wherever the grace-shower is, that’s where I want to be.
But as I stood, smiling wide-eyed at the sky, my gaze moved to the ground. Nothing. The snow wasn’t sticking. It wasn’t going to transform my backyard into a frosty vanilla dream land. It was going to fall, stop, and leave everything exactly the way it was. What a waste.
There has to be very precise conditions for snow to stick in a warm and wet place like western North Carolina. It can’t be too warm the day before a snow or the ground won’t be cold enough for the snow to not turn into a puddle. It can’t be too wet or humid either, which, a dry day in this part of the country is few and far between. So, in short, I was disappointed but not surprised that my snow day would be extremely short-lived.
As I went back inside, I thought about the way grace lands on my heart, like snow. Is there a certain condition the heart has to be in in order for grace to stick, cover, and transform me? Is there a particular posture necessary for grace to be received in it’s intended fullness? And if so, what is it that puts us in that perfect position? I thought maybe I was over-complicating things, so I left it at that, for the time being.
I ended up having a conversation with a friend of mine who was really struggling with walking out of a shame cycle and coming to the Lord with her sin. I asked if she had spoken with the Lord about her sin but it was evident shame had warped her mind into believing that she would be met with punishment and unforgiveness if she ran to the Father. What a wicked lie from the mouth of the evil one to drive God’s children out of His Presence. It was then that something came out of my mouth that both she and I needed to hear;
“Repentance is not a punishment, it’s a returning. Repent so you can receive grace!” Eureka. I had a lightbulb moment with Holy Spirit.
Now let’s talk about repentance a little bit. Unfortunately, this word is so charged with negative emotions and religious baggage in today’s church culture and society in general that I don’t even know where to begin in debunking the lies surrounding it. What is equally unfortunate is that, because of the discomfort surrounding repentance and confession, it has been cut out of most American church services altogether. Whatever you believe about repentance, we must agree on this: repentance is biblical and repentance is necessary.
“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.” 1 John 1: 8-10
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
“From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Matthew 4:17
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:19-20
John the Baptist specifically pointed out the importance of repentance to the religious people. These were the ones who had deceived themselves into thinking that they were already safe from the judgement of God because of their lineage. I see a parallel in the need for repentance in those who believe they don’t need to keep with repentance because they were raised in believing families or in church. Your lineage and upbringing are not evidence righteousness because they are not evidence of faith. Your family name or church attendance are not fruit. See how John addresses those with this mindset:
“But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Matthew 3:7-11
John the Baptist was in the business of preparing the way for Jesus. That was the entire charge of his existence. “Isaiah had spoken of John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level. The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth.And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.’” (Luke 3:3-6) John preached a message of repentance, complete repentance. This repentance was prepared hearts to receive the words of Jesus. It filled the valleys and flattened the mountains within the human heart. And later we see that those who rejected the baptism and message of John also rejected the teachings of the Messiah. They were not made ready to receive salvation and grace through repentance.
The Hebrew word for “repentance” is “tshuva” or “teshuva” which literally translates to– you guessed it– return. In Greek, the word is “metanoia” and it translates to “a change of mind” or “regret/remorse.” Both the Hebrew and Greek imply a change of direction, a leaving of one thing to walk toward another. Repentance is necessary if we are truly going to walk away from sin– because that’s exactly what repentance is.
I believe that a large reason believers struggle today with this concept is because having to admit we are wrong feels like punishment. The root of that mindset is, very clearly, pride and there’s an exaltation of our emotions as our god. Just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it’s from Satan. No one loves being disciplined while they’re being disciplined! However, discipline, which very often involves being told that we are wrong in our thinking and need to be renewed, is the evidence of authentic sonship.
“And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.’ As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.” Hebrews 12:5-8
There is a sorrow that God intends for us to feel so that it leads us to repentance. Take a look at Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. The people of Corinth were personally offended that Paul had not visited them both on his way in and out of Macedonia, because that was his plan. Because his previous letter to them had been a harsh rebuke of the disorganization and rampant chaos within their congregation, they began to accuse him of being a man of many words and little presence and someone who did not stay true to what they said. A dog who is all bark and no bite, you might say. So Paul writes a second letter to them addressing why he changed his plans:
“Now I call upon God as my witness that I am telling the truth. The reason I didn’t return to Corinth was to spare you from a severe rebuke. But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.” 1 Corinthians 1:23-24
Paul was giving them time to extend forgiveness to a man in their midst and to repent for their sins. He didn’t want to return to Corinth with a rebuke but wanted to join them in rejoicing and peaceable fellowship. So he waited for the conviction of the Holy Spirit to lead them to repentance. Paul details his explanation further in chapter 7:
“I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation and holiness, being set apart for the Lord. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which breeds shame but lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
“Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. My purpose, then, was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so that in the sight of God you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us. We have been greatly encouraged by this.” 1 Corinthians 7:8-13
Through Paul’s writings we see that there is a grief we are intended to feel upon recognizing our sin. If we aren’t mourning over our sin, then how can we truly identify in Christ’s death? How can we whole-heartedly partner with God and declare our sin wrong if we are numb to its presence in our lives? This, I believe, has served as a ground for stumbling in many churches. While some believers may lean to one side and become indifferent toward an enabling of sin, others may lean in the opposite direction and become condemning of their brothers and sisters. Both of these mindsets are equally toxic and divisive to the body of Christ. We are not the judge.
We cannot condemn one another because there is no condemnation for those who have been made one with Jesus (Romans 8:1). But we also can’t allow ourselves to be content with sin contaminating the bride and making her sick. If one part of the body falls ill, the whole body is considered sick. So then, we must work together to bring the person back to full health, acknowledging this as our own sickness in our own body because we are all one. We must expose the infected area to the light and give it over to the hands of the Healer, Jehovah Rapha.
What does this look like practically? Confession. I know, another scary word dripping with religious foreboding. But confession is powerful. There is promised healing in the act of confessing our sins to one another.
“Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:13-16
It is a willful act of offering up our broken selves to the Healer. It is an essential aspect of repentance and honest living. While it may feel impossibly embarrassing, it is an act of obedience and there is so much freedom found in a life lived openly before the eyes of God and all the saints. And often you will find you are not nearly as alone as you feel.
Let us not forget that each one of us is human and being constantly renewed. None of us have arrived. None of us have been fully transformed into the image of Christ completely yet. We must create safe environments where this is fully embraced so that every hidden darkness can be fully exposed in the light. The first step in creating such environments is being the bold one to confess. It will start a chain of vulnerability that leads to clean consciences and brotherly love among the church. The reward of this– unity, fellowship, love, peace, joy, freedom– is so far beyond our personal embarrassment. And if you are embarrassed… that’s a pretty good opportunity to offer up your pride to the Lord.
How can we discern between our feelings of conviction and feelings of shame? The answer is in where the feelings leads you. Conviction drives you into the arms of the Father, shame drives you out into isolation and fear. If you find yourself feeling accused, even after repenting at the feet of Jesus, remind yourself that you are no longer under condemnation, but you are covered by the blood of Jesus. The emotion of shame has to submit to the truth of the forgiveness of Jesus. Ask your brothers and sisters, your spiritual mothers and fathers, to pray with you and for you. Shame’s worst enemy is brotherly love. Its best friend is isolation.
“People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” Proverbs 28:13
I desire the mercy and grace that comes from confession and repentance. Let’s return to my snow day and my ultimate question– what is it that puts us in the perfect posture to receive grace in full? How can I receive this and “let it stick,” and not let it wash off my back, taken for granted? If it hasn’t been made obvious by now, the answer is repentance. Repentance is our way of running into the grace-snow falling from the heavens, laying on the ground, and allowing it to stick and cover us until we are completely transformed. Pure. Clean. White as snow.
I’m challenging you to change your view of repentance. It is not a punishment. It is an invitation into the fullness of grace and mercy.It is both the grief of turning away from of a familiar darkness and the delight of running back to Jesus as you say “I was wrong. I know now that what You have is better.”