Light for our path: Truly repentant?
If someone repeats the same sin often but goes to God with a sorry heart, is the person truly repentant and forgiven?
James F. Pope
Since the fall in Eden, people are sinners from the moment life begins, and they commit sins until their life on earth come to an end. What differs among people is how they view sin, repentance, forgiveness, and Christian living. Two case studies can illustrate those differences and, in turn, help answer your question.
CASE STUDY ONE
Consider the case of a Christian we will call Jessica. She is single and a senior at a Christian college. By her own admission, though, her worship attendance is sporadic, and her Bible reading has come to a standstill. As a result, she has her own thoughts about sin, repentance, and Christian living. She has the idea that because she is a Christian, she can do pretty much whatever she wants and all she has to do is say she is sorry to God and all is well. Because of that faulty thinking, drunkenness and sexual activity are common occurrences in her life.
No human being can look into Jessica’s heart, of course, but one has reason to wonder to what degree she understands Romans 6:1,2: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Or Romans 6:11: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” A person like Jessica could easily deceive herself into thinking that all is well with God when it is not.
CASE STUDY TWO
Consider now the case of a Christian we will call Paul. We know him by that name in the Bible. In Romans chapter 7 Paul informs us about his struggles with temptation and sin. He confessed: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. . . . Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15,18,24,25).
Like Jessica, Paul sinned time and again, but Paul was bothered greatly by doing what God forbade and failing to do what God commanded. Paul understood the seriousness of sin and the great cost of his forgiveness, and he expressed a sincere desire to live according to God’s will.
Where does this leave you with your question? You indicated that the individual in question responds to sin with a “sorry” heart; sorrow is expressed after doing wrong, but sin follows soon thereafter. There is repentance, a turning away from sin and trust in the forgiveness God promises, but there is also a daily struggle. What we do not want to do is unfairly or unlovingly equate repeated sin in a person’s life with indifference or hypocrisy. The individual you reference might very well be fighting “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) but losing regular battles against sin. Or, you might be describing an individual who seriously misunderstands repentance and Christian living. We leave the judgment of hearts to God in the hope that hearts are filled with sorrow over sin and faith.
Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
James Pope also answers questions online. Submit your questions there or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015
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