I say this, not to excuse the sin in our lives, but to remind us of what repentance really is. Repentance means to change our allegiance. We are to defect from the ways of this world and commit to the ways of Jesus. I believe this is where many of us go wrong. We feel sorry for the sin in our lives, but we don’t want to give up the things of this world. This results in continued bondage to sin.
Writing to Christians in Ephesus the apostle Paul wrote:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Ephesians 4:17-19; ESV).
I want us to pay attention to what Paul is writing to Christians. First, he tells them that they are not to walk (or to live) like the Gentiles (unbelievers) do. The Apostle expects followers of Christ to make an intentional decision to change their lives, which begins with their priorities. Second, Paul tells these Christians that the way that unbelievers live keeps them alienated from God and gives them a hard heart. What is the implication for Christians who continue to follow the ways of unbelievers? They too will be alienated from God and become hard hearted. If we are struggling with sin in our lives it could be that we have never truly repented and that we are still following the ways of the world.
Let’s continue with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24; ESV).
Again we find ourselves at the point of having to make a decision. The first decision Paul tells us to make is the decision to reject the way of the world. The second decision to to allow our minds to be renewed. This is the second mistake many of us make. We think we have to be the ones to renew our minds, and so we establish all these little rules and disciplines to try to change our thinking. Yet it doesn’t seem to work. We keep telling ourselves that we need to try a little harder or that we need to add more structure to our lives and become more discipline. In the end many of us become exhausted because it as hard as we try we just can’t seem to renew our minds.
This is the bolt of truth that hit me this weekend: I am not the one who does the renewing! I can’t do it! I am living life in the flesh which has been corrupted by sin, and try as I might I can’t break free. My life has constantly felt like taking one step forward and two steps back, and it is trying and discouraging.
Here is what we need to do in order to have our minds renewed and to receive God’s righteousness: surrender. Offer our lives to God everyday through prayer. Admit that we don’t have what takes, pour out our hearts desire to Him, and commit to following wherever He leads.
This is how Paul describes it in Romans:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2; ESV).
In salvation there are things that God expects us to do (respond in faith, repent, surrender), but there are other things that only God can do. Perhaps it is time that we stop trying to do what only God can do and focus on what He expects from us.