Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:2)
The lack of proper discipleship often results in gaps in our understanding or the absorption of error, both of which contribute in the long term to a skewed truth. We’re building our ‘house’ on a foundation that as a crack or an air bubble, a point of weakness that may cause a wall to crumble in times of increased or unexpected pressure. One of things I seem to encounter quite regularly is that of the relationship between repentance and condemnation. There seems to be an understanding among some believers that a Christian should never repent, because this means condemnation.
It’s an error that creeps in through both a lack of teaching and unbalanced teaching – too much focus on one thing and the exclusion of the other. The often quoted verse that tells us that ‘there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus’ is totally and completely true. There isn’t. But it does not mean that those in Christ Jesus never have to repent.
The matter of repentance is inextricably woven into the very fabric of salvation. Repent, believe, be saved. Through faith in Christ and genuine repentance, a sinner is transformed by grace into a saint. There is now no condemnation because they are in Christ. That is is spiritual fact backed up and validated by Scripture. But salvation does not end there. Like all the things of God, it is a process – one we need to understand, because all the parts of salvation follow the same process.
First, salvation is an historical fact. On a particular time and in a particular place, each of repented, believed and was saved. That’s the simple past tense. It happened. But being saved is also ‘having been saved.’ That’s perfect tense. It refers to our present state in relation to the historical fact. Let’s use it in an example: But I, having been saved, strive to please God. The final part is the ongoing process of salvation – the continuing present tense – and a good example is 1 Corinthians 1:18. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
We must understand this threefold nature of salvation, because it includes our understanding of repentance. We are saved, we live as one having been saved and we continue to be saved through our Christian walk. To avoid confusion, think of the ark which is the type of salvation. The moment Noah and his family entered the ark they were saved. The ark, built according to God’s stipulations, was complete and perfect, just like salvation. They entered into a perfect and complete salvation.
While in the ark, they lived as people having been saved. They lived in their salvation. Their life was determined by the fact that they had been saved. But while the storm raged and the water with it, they were continually being saved by the ark. The perfect, complete salvation they received continued to save them. Their salvation was worked out daily.
Now to understand repentance. We have the first act of repentance – that by which we, through the grace of God, put ourselves in the right place to receive salvation. At this point, all our past sin is completely removed from the sight of God. It’s erased, and there is no condemnation because we are in Christ Jesus. We must then proceed to live as one ‘having repented.’
This means that we no longer have to repent for those sins that we have already brought to God. In His eyes, they are gone. They do not exist. This is an issue which many believers still struggle with. They may have a particular sin in their past, one which they have carried as a tremendous burden, and they find it hard to receive forgiveness and release it. In God’s eyes it is gone. In their eyes it remains. This is where the ‘no condemnation’ is so critical to enable us to receive that forgiveness.
But living as one ‘having repented’ means that our lives must change. For our lives to change, our attitudes must change – our attitude to sin in particular. At repentance and salvation, we are indeed transformed from sinner to saint, but that does not mean we stop sinning. A saint is simply one who is forgiven and who is called to live a pure life. The ‘defining’ characteristic of a saint is one who lives in an attitude of repentance, one who recognises that they still sin and is quick to repent. A saint lives a life of continual repentance.
This does not mean that they live in condemnation. It is the attitude of continual repentance that gives real meaning to the concept of ‘no condemnation.’ It is only when we recognise and acknowledge our sinful nature that the Holy Spirit can continually – daily, moment by moment – prompt us and lead us to repentance. We do not repent from sins already forgiven, only those of today. Of course, if we repeat a sin, we repent for the repetition, not the original.
Living in continual repentance means that we actually continually live in no condemnation. The truth is that, saved or not, unconfessed sin remains. If we don’t repent and confess our sins to God, they continue to accumulate. But we have the incredible privilege and grace to be able to come to God in repentance, assured by the knowledge that, for the repentant hard, there is no condemnation. Forgiveness is free and absolute because Jesus has already paid for it.
This doesn’t mean we live defeated lives consumed by guilt and self-examination. On the contrary, continual repentance means a life of freedom, joy and peace. It means that as we walk in our growing knowledge of the Word, guided by the teaching and empowering of the Spirit, we spot our sins far more quickly. We are able to repent there and then, bring the matter before God, receive forgiveness and continue to walk in no condemnation. Living repentance is not condemnation.
We cannot use ‘no condemnation’ and ‘the Father sees all’ to excuse a lack of repentance. The new heart and new spirit that our God promises and gives to all believers is in fact to equip, empower and enable us to continual repentance. This keeps us close to and honest before God. It enables Him to keep us clean, to work within us to bring us to a place of holiness in Him. It protects us completely from the accusations of Satan, because our sin, at all times, is washed clean by the blood of Jesus. It enables us to stand blameless before our God, because we are in Christ. It makes us reachable and teachable, and opens the way for real intimacy with Him whose grace is beyond measure.
Lead us, Lord, into a place of continual repentance. Turn our hearts, Lord, so that we can learn to recognise our sin and bring it before You. We thank You for the great gift of salvation and forgiveness, for the knowledge that You desire to receive us and cleanse us, to keep us close to You in that place where a humble and repentant heart may know the abiding joy that, in Christ, there is no condemnation.