Prayer and Bible study seem to be fuel for revival; witnessing, service, and obedience make up the engine; confession and repentance could be seen as its wheels. All are needed to make our spirit vehicles run. This week we’ll focus on what is needed to “get us rolling”, so to speak. They are called the conditions of revival, and certainly earn that title when you think about their importance. Without true heartfelt confession and repentance, we wouldn’t be going anywhere with our revival efforts. Indeed, lasting reformation would never be achieved. II Peter 3:9 tells us that the Lord wishes all of us to come to repentance.
Memory Text: “He who covers [refuses to admit–TLB] his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes [renounces–NIV] them will have mercy” Proverbs 28:13 NKJV
The confessing and forsaking of sin make up what we call repentance. As suggested in this verse, there is a false repentance that may happen when one refuses to take full responsibility for his sin, or in other ways covers them, so that true revival does not happen.
Discussion Question: Last week we called obedience a fruit of the Spirit, but how are we to distinguish this from confession and repentance, which have been called a gift of the Spirit? What is the difference in the term “fruit” and “gift”, and how does it impact our understanding of what makes up revival? Or does it make a difference? (Hint: Spiritual gifts are usually given to build up the church.)
Sunday: Repentance: God’s Gift
One time of great repentance happened at Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection and return to heaven. Acts 1:14 informs us that the disciples were “with one accord in prayer and supplication” when the Holy Spirit fell on them in a miraculous fashion. Peter describes the event in Acts 5:30-32 and claims that repentance and forgiveness of sin was given to Israel, confirming that it is a gift from God.
These verses are further described by this statement from a book by Ellen White called The Acts of the Apostles, p. 36. She says: “As the disciples waited for the fulfillment of the promise, they humbled their hearts in true repentance and confessed their unbelief…As they meditated upon His pure, holy life they felt that no toil would be too hard, no sacrifice too great, if only they could bear witness in their lives to the loveliness of Christ’s character.”
We should not overlook the need for humility, as we seek forgiveness and repentance. When we first feel conviction of sin, it immediately should make us feel humble before the Lord. Especially contrasted with His goodness.
Our lesson stated that: “The Holy Spirit fills hearts emptied of selfish ambition, of the desire for personal recognition, and of the drive for personal glory.” Humility is definitely something needed for true repentance to be experienced.
Discussion Question: Why is it so easy to let self prevent us from confessing and forsaking our sins?
Monday: True Repentance Defined
Paul gives a good definition of true repentance in II Corinthians 7:9-11. The King James Version is a bit difficult to read, but other versions give us a clear picture of the kind of godly sorrow for sin that God encourages.
“yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing , what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.” NIV
It says “you were made sorry”; in other words, this sorrow for sin is God-initiated. It must also lead to a decision to forsake the specific sins that the Holy Spirit has laid on your heart. It “leads to salvation”; in other words, the outcome isn’t a state of depression, denial, or an abandonment of your relationship with God.
Genuine repentance causes us to focus on Jesus’ righteousness and not on our own particular failings. We find throughout the Bible that our sin is never greater than God’s grace to cover it. Paul considered himself the “chief of sinners”, but it did not cause him to dwell on his former state of sinfulness, but to proclaim all the louder the matchless beauty of Christ’s life.
Tuesday: True Repentance and Confession
Many have recognized that genuine repentance has always followed the Holy Spirit’s conviction of actual, definite shortcomings in our lives. Rather than a vague feeling of guilt, confession is needed for specific sins. Sometimes that confession is to God alone, to other individuals we may have hurt, or to a group of people who have been influenced by our negative actions.
I hadn’t thought of it this way, but the purpose of this convicting power on the part of the Holy Spirit is “to reveal our need of the saving grace of Christ”, according to our lesson quarterly. It also pointed out that “repentance does not make God love us more; rather, it enables us to appreciate His love more. Confession does not earn God’s forgiveness; it instead enables us to receive His forgiveness. God does not love us more when we repent or love us less when we fail to. His love for us is constant.”
Personal Thought Question: Is my love for my family and friends as constant as God’s? Or do I tend to withhold my love when they disappoint or hurt me with their actions?
I really liked the analogy in the lesson of our spiritual arteries being clogged with the sludge of sin. This sin makes it harder for us to hear and feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and also makes it harder for us to respond to God when He knocks on our heart’s door. Confession and repentance open up our clogged arteries and allow the Holy Spirit to flow in with all His healing love and power to overcome sin.
Wednesday: True and False Repentance Contrasted
We often don’t think about examples of when God’s forgiveness did not flow as freely as it should. It points back to that sludge in our spiritual arteries. Several people in the Bible did not experience true repentance, and we need to study their stories and learn as much as we can from their negative experiences.
The first person many think of as an example of sorrow for sin that did not materialize into a life of repentance is Judas Iscariot. Like Pharaoh in the story of Moses, and Balaam and Esau in the Old Testament, Judas’ feelings of guilt did not lead to a changed life. Their actions after they became aware of their sin reveal the depth of their sorrow. In some cases, it is more of a regret that they were found out, or perhaps they were so overwhelmed with what they had lost because of their sin.
There is a danger that we might focus so much on the enormity of the sin that we fail to turn our attention to the God who is able and willing to forgive us of any and all sin. His sinless life did not make Him unable to understand our trials. He suffered feelings of guilt, because the guilt of the whole world was laid on Him when He died on the cross. Their is no burden too heavy for Him to carry for us.
Anytime we focus on ourselves, our own sin and its consequences, we are in danger of losing sight of the love and loyalty we should have for God. Our focus should not be on how unrighteous we are, but on how righteous Jesus was. When this happens, we aren’t left in a state of depression, in feeling guiltier than we did before we admitted our wrong.
Discussion Question: How does one avoid too much guilt? Can one become so discouraged over the the negative consequences of past sins that they fail to see the sorrow they’ve brought to God and the negative impact their sin has brought to the cause of Christ? What advice can you give such a soul?
Thursday: Confession’s Healing Power
Many these days are looking for alternative, natural remedies. One that has been vastly overlooked is confession. The lesson claims it “allows the poisonous pus of sin to drain”, “opens our hearts to receive God’s grace”, and “heals relationships”. Think of all the psychiatric and physical benefits of having a clear conscience.
Guilt may become destructive, if not confessed and removed by the loving grace of our God. But the deliverance that can be ours when we surrender our lives to God through confession and repentance is a priceless remedy for any sin-sick soul.
Next week: Unity