Celebrate Repentance (Colossians 3:5)

The other day I did a Google Search to find all the Celebrate Repentance groups there are in Charlotte, NC. Surprisingly, even in a city of Charlotte’s size, I did not find a single one. That meant that if such a group were going to exist, someone like me would need to start it.

Of course, this is a fictional organization. Celebrate Repentance as an organization does not exist, but I think that it should. And so, I began conceiving of what this group would look like. Although there are many passages in Scripture that speak about repentance, there are two that would be foundational to my group:

Luke 13:3, 5 and Colossians 3:5

LUKE 13:3, 5 – THE CALL IS TO REPENT OR PERISH

Jesus spoke with some people who supposed that a sudden, tragic end to life occurred only to those people who were rebellious and really wicked. In other words, “Of course the bad guys get punished. They deserved it, but the rest of us are okay.” Jesus used that occasion to speak about the universal sinfulness of man and the universal need for repentance. “I tell you unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).” To make sure that these people did not ignore His warning and imagine, instead, that He was speaking only in hyperbole, Jesus gave another story and restated His warning: “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (13:5).” Jesus made a big deal out of repentance, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of repentance.

COLOSSIANS 3:5 – THE CALL TO PUT OUR SINS TO DEATH

In Colossians, Paul is writing to Gentile Christians who have recently been delivered from the pagan world of idolatry and immorality (“the domain of darkness” – Colossians 1:13) and been “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13).” To make sure that these disciples show the fruit of repentance and begin to display holiness, Paul gives them direct instruction: “Therefore, put to death the members which are upon the earth: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (Colossians 3:5).” Paul made a big deal about disciples of Jesus putting sin to death, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of putting sin to death.

From these two foundational passages there emerge two basic questions that would define the content for the local Celebrate Repentance chapter:

  1. What does it mean for the disciple of Jesus to REPENT?
  2. How doe the disciple of Jesus PUT SIN TO DEATH?

I anticipate that there would be two groups of people attending these meetings of Celebrate Repentance. One group wants to vanquish their indwelling sin and to cut it out of their life like a malignant cancer, and the other group wants to learn some new tools to better cope with their indwelling sin and to find some fellow travelers who could join them in their coping journey. These two groups are separated by a wide chasm, although they seem the same in outward appearance. What is it, then, that distinguishes a person from being a member of one group or the other?

A member of “the vanquish group” has mentally brought a scalpel to the meeting, and they are willing to use it. They have identified their sin and they have sharpened their dagger, but up till now, they have not learned how to use the dagger effectively enough to kill their foe. It seems that every time they think the quarry is in their sights, it somehow dodges the bullet. In fact, the reason they have come to the Celebrate Repentance meeting is to learn how to wield the dagger with skill so that the sin is put to death. A member of this “vanquish group” hates their sin and has come ready for war.

By contrast, a member of “the coping group” has brought no scalpel and no dagger to the meeting. They may have identified their indwelling sin, but they have no current plan or desire to kill that sin. While they do not like the effects the sin is having on their life and they are a little ashamed that they haven’t gotten rid of it yet, they have not resolved to kill the sin and to do violence to it. They do not hate the sin; truth be known, there are times when they still enjoy the sin, even though they know they should not.

The vanquish group” will find fellow warriors in the Celebrate Repentance group who are willing to give them ammunition and tactics for putting sin to death. The “coping group” will probably decide that they need to find another group that “knows more about grace” and allows them to continue in their sin as they continue to “struggle” with their sin.

Celebrate Repentance would indeed be a celebration of the freedom that we have in Christ to live as conquerors (Romans 8:37). Repentance is the weapon that appropriates for us the freedom that Christ bought for us on the cross. “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36).” We were slaves of sin, but now we are slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18), and Celebrate Repentance would give you the comrades and the tactics to trample sin underfoot and to rejoice in the holiness we were meant to have (1 Peter 1:16).

What do you think of this idea of Celebrate Repentance?

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Trifling against sin or Striving against sin? (Hebrews 12:4)

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” Hebrews 12:4

There is “trifling against sin” and there is “striving against sin.” It may be apparent, but these two expressions are vastly different from one another. “Trifling against sin” suggests a friendly tussle between equals. Either contestant may win, but it makes no real difference who eventually comes out on top. Win or lose, it’s just not worth a lot of excitement and energy. The world trifles against sin (of course, not using this expression) when some famous someone is exposed as having a particularly distasteful habit. “He is struggling (trifling) against his (fill in the blank).” For example, imagine that a famous athlete is “trifling against his ‘sexual addiction’.” He knows that it is not “good” for a famous athlete to have this unsavory habit of being found in bedrooms of women other than his wife, so he checks himself into a clinic where he can wrestle with this problem and develop some coping strategies so that the filthy habit is not so prevalent or obvious. This is his attempt to placate his fans and work on his “addiction,” but he is merely “trifling.” He does not want to get rid of the behavior; he just wants to manage and disguise the behavior. After all, if he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest.

Sadly, many professing Christians have also adopted this same worldly way of thinking. Many believers today have an attitude of “trifling against sin.” For example, when the Holy Spirit or a brave and faithful brother or sister points out sin in their life, they know that it is time to begin “struggling” against that sin. So, they will do something drastic, like check themselves into a support group that deals with these types of issues. Maybe it is Alcoholics Anonymous or maybe it is Celebrate Recovery or some other group where, together with the other members of the group, they can “struggle against their sin.” The reality is that many of these efforts amount to trifling against their sin. They know that it is not “good” for a professing Christian to have this blemish of sin on their record, so they go to a support group to learn some coping strategies and learn to manage and minimize the behavior. After all, the point is for others to see that you are fighting against this filthy sin. If he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest. Or does it?

            A number of years ago, I was sitting at the bar in a restaurant watching the TV screen behind the bar. On the screen was a nature broadcast about some large white birds similar to egrets who lived in South America. These birds made their nests directly above the river as a means of protecting their young from predators. No predator was willing to risk the dangers of the river to get to the birds’ nest above the river. The broadcast showed two of the young, gangly birds perched on the thin branches of the nest and the surrounding area. They seemed to be balanced carefully until one of the fledgling birds slipped off the branch. What ensued was a desperate struggle as the bird fought ferociously to regain its perch. Because the bird was awkward and gangly, the struggle appeared almost comical as the bird flapped and pulled and clawed to make its way back onto the branch. It seemed like “much ado about nothing.” “Relax, guy! You don’t have to try so hard!” Finally, after several minutes of all out war, the young bird was back on the branch sitting peacefully beside its sibling, and all was well.

            The next scene was a few days later, and once again, the two young birds were perched on their branch. Suddenly, one of the two birds slipped off the branch and did not catch itself but splashed into the water of the river. Within seconds, the first piranha arrived, and that fish was followed by dozens of others. The doomed bird tried to flap and jump, but the piranha attacked mercilessly until, in less than two minutes, all that remained of the young bird was a few feathers floating on the water.

            Then I realized that the first scene had been far from comical. The first scene showing the young bird trying to regain its perch was a life and death struggle where failure was not an option. If that bird did not get back on that perch by the nest, it was going to be food for the river’s piranhas. The bird’s life depended on getting back on that branch. The goal was clear, and the outcome mattered.

            One of the great dangers for disciples of the Lord Jesus is somehow to assume that our striving against sin is, like the first scene with the young bird, comical and largely unnecessary, and that the outcome of a “slip from the branch” doesn’t matter. If we make that assumption, we will always trifle with sin. We will assume that we do not need to vanquish the sin, but just put on a sincere show of “struggling.” We will try to manage and minimize our sin, but we will not put it to death. We will think that our trifling with sin is good enough and that, even if we “fall off the branch,” no harm will be done. But, what if instead we feared sin the way those young birds feared the piranha? What if we viewed holiness as a life and death struggle where failure was not an option? What if we realized that trifling with sin can lead to shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19-20)? What if we strove against sin because we feared that “an evil, unbelieving heart” could really lead us to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12)? What if we heeded the warning of the author of Hebrews who tells us that neglect of diligence in our faith and a failure to come all the way to true repentance can lead to falling away, a place from which it is impossible to be renewed again the repentance (Hebrews 6:6)?

            Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of faith, endured the cross to purify for Himself a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14), who are zealous for good deeds. Like our Lord, we are to strive against sin and “be holy, just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).”

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David’s Repentance (Psalm 51)

How is a disciple of the Lord Jesus to rid himself of besetting sin?

As a disciple grows in their walk with the Lord, it is certain that sin will emerge from the murky depths of the soul. The pure milk of the Word begins to soak into the recesses of the mind and into the closets of the past, and loathsome sins well up from the depths. Until we come to faith in the Lord Jesus and come face to face with His holiness, we have no concept of the ugliness of our sin. If Isaiah the prophet felt himself ruined when he saw the thrice holy Lord, lofty and exalted, and declared himself a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6), how much more should we expect to need to dredge the black mold of sin out our lives!

But once the sin is uncovered and identified, how do we get rid of it?

Before we get too far along this article, I need to make clear that, in this article, I am not talking about the way for sin to be forgiven. No amount of confession or repentance will ever result in one sin being forgiven. Offering “thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil (Micah 6:7)” will give the Lord no delight and will leave you exactly where you were before the offering. There has always been only one way for any sin to ever be forgiven. “In Him (Jesus), we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7).” It is the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that is the only means of forgiveness of sins. Do you want to be forgiven of your sins? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).” If you have placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and are following Him in faith, all your sins are forgiven. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has the LORD removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).” “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).”

But for the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ who has come to faith in Christ and has thus had his sins forgiven, there arises the matter of practical righteousness. Through faith, my sins are forgiven, but the ugly effects remain. As the Holy Spirit reveals sin in my life, and as I begin to recognize and identify and confess my sins before the Lord, the question becomes, “How do I remove the remaining sin?” This is what repentance is for. Repentance is the most powerful weapon in the disciple’s arsenal for removing the filthy remains of sin, but for repentance to be effective, it must be genuine. How do I know if my repentance is genuine? You know you have truly repented when the sin ceases. True repentance results in victory over sin. Colossians 3:5 tells me to “put to death whatever is in the earth of your members: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed.” How do you know if you have put sin to death? It is no longer active. It no longer moves. There are no signs of life. Repentance is the blade that puts sin to death. If the sin remains active, you have not yet truly raised the blade of repentance.

King David was a man after God’s own heart. His passion and zeal for the LORD explode from the psalms which he wrote. The LORD was with David and he rose in power and conquered all the neighboring kingdoms. There seemed to be nothing that David would not accomplish. But David was also very human, and he had some prominent areas of weakness. David was a man who seemed to have a weakness for the fair sex. When he was king in Hebron, he had six sons by six different wives. Then when he moved to Jerusalem, David added more wives and concubines. And finally, there was the disastrous one-night stand with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Through the prophet Nathan, the LORD confronted David and told him that there would be consequences for his sin and his rebellion against the LORD, but more than that, the LORD made clear that if David did not repent of his sin and once again draw near to the LORD, or the LORD would bring more disaster upon David until he was destroyed. David immediately confessed his sin (2 Samuel 12:13) and went into the temple to pray for sin’s consequences to be taken away. But most of all, David repented.

How do we know David repented? First, as a result of his sin, David wrote Psalm 51, his powerful psalm of repentance. In none of the 19 verses of Psalm 51 does David ask the LORD for forgiveness (because David is already forgiven – see above), but he does long to be purified with hyssop, to have the joy of salvation restored, to be washed whiter than snow, and to have the LORD blot out his transgressions and his sins. As a result of David’s sin with Bathsheba, we have this powerful psalm of repentance that can serve as a model for how we can repent of our sins. But second, we know David repented because, when he came back to Jerusalem after the defeat of Absalom, he refused to be intimate with his concubines. Remember that genuine repentance vanquishes sin. David had repented of his sexual sin and so he refused to indulge in any more sexual sin with his concubines. His repentance bore the fruit of repentance. The third piece of evidence of genuine repentance involved Abishag the Shunammite. She was a beautiful young virgin who served the king and kept him warm in his old age (1 Kings 1:1-4), but the Scripture makes explicitly clear that “the king did not know her.” David refuses to violate his repentance from sexual sin by “knowing” this beautiful young woman.

REFLECTIONS

  • Repentance is the most powerful weapon in the disciple’s arsenal to defeat active, remaining sin in their life.
  • True repentance results in the vanquishing of sin. If the sin is not vanquished, then the repentance is not genuine. You must hate the sin to put it to death. If you don’t yet hate the sin, then you will not hire the assassin of repentance.
  • Psalm 51 is an excellent Scripture to use for repentance.

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