Thoughts and Reflections on Repentance

Try something mindbending with me for a moment. Try, if you can, to define East, West, North, or South without using any reference point. No, 'East is where the sun rises,' stuff. Tell me, in the comments, how you do. Because this is a brain teaser that, so far as I can determine, cannot be done. Directional words like East and West only make sense when they are stated in relation to one another. I know that North is a certain direction because something defines that direction, be it a compass, the North Star, or the magnetic poles (though, they are shifting so I wouldn't rely on those if you are camping in the next couple of centuries!).


Why is this interesting? Because, as I have been contemplating repentance, and working through the amazing grace of God's kind covenant love recently, I constantly return to the phrase in Scripture that says, 'As far as the East is from the West, so far does He remove our sins.'


There is not definable point (at least, to us) that is 'The East' and the exact opposite that is 'The West,' is there? No. Rather, East and West are directions, and are, in fact, constantly moving further and further apart, as the universe expands. And so what this verse is telling us is this: our sins are infinitely removed from us, just as they are removed from His presence, through repentance.


Do you hear that? Our sins are removed from us. This matters. Why? Because sin, and shame, and guilt, are heavy, heavy chains that weigh us down and, often, can threaten to destroy us. To drown us. Satan, as well as others around us, are expert accusers (and, let's not forget, so are we!). Satan is the Great Accuser who tells us before sinning, 'It's okay, God forgives.' But immediately after we fall, he mockingly tells us, 'God could never forgive you, or love you. You take Him so casually. What kind of a Christian are you?'


We often try to counter this with bargains, such as, 'I'll not do it again, God!' Or despair: 'I am so guilty and fell so dirty and angry at myself.' But how often do we look at our sin, and without accepting it, remind ourselves, 'Sin does not define me. Not anymore. It has been removed from me. An infinite amount.' Why does it take so long for us to do so? Because, for me anyway, I prefer to justify myself, rather than rest in God's justification through His Son. I want to downplay my sin, or talk it away, rather than confront it with the Gospel.


Yet God has made the way. HE has removed our sin, as far as the East is from the West. That is an undefined amount, an irreconcilable distance. Infinite. 


But before you think this cheapens grace, it does not. Why?


Because whilst our repentance does not have a definable direction, our sin has a distinct destination: the cross.


Grace is not cheapened at all, because it took the death of the infinite Son-made-flesh to provide this infinite removal of sin. That doesn't cheapen it; it makes it infinitely valuable.


Nor does it diminish the reality of sin; sin's punishment was death and Christ paid that death on the cross. In it's eternal, infinite, finality and fullness. That fact is not changed. Cannot be changed. Because, according to Psalm 103, it is God who removes that sin. And He does so through an infinite sacrifice. 


The Psalmist makes clear that that which should destroy us, defeat us, demean us, and damn us has itself been surgically and eternally removed from us. Yes, we are still simultaneously a sinner and justified, but by God's grace we are justified by His immense grace.


And, though we continue to sin, we ought to refuse the lure of sin or the lies of Satan out of an intense gratitude to our Saviour. Will we be able to do so perfectly? Of course not. Sadly. And, if you are like me, sin and Satan will still win victories over us. We will still willingly sin, in the moment, and we will still battle with the shame, the guilt, the nightmares, the angst, the loneliness, and the anger, afterwards. But we shouldn't have to deal with the accusations from outside.


Yes, it is true, sometimes our fellow brothers and sisters remind us of our sin because there are few, or no, fruits of genuine repentance, and, out of love, they seek to call us to repentance. We have all been there, no doubt, on both sides of that fence.


And yet, there are plenty of people who immediately spring to mind who take a perverse, and deeply sinful, delight in playing the devil's role of accuser for him. They are accusing you of your sin endlessly, albeit with Christianese words and phrases. They seek a power over you, compelling you in your shame to live in fear rather than in hope. Such people are dangerous to your peace, and to your profession in the Gospel, because they are offering you a false Gospel and a fake hope.


There is, as I have said, a place for gentle and even forceful rebuke (within genuine, Godly community). But there is also a need and a Biblical requirement that we provide the Gospel of hope alongside the charge to repent: no surgeon opens the wound without being ready to sew it up and provide the means for it to heal.


Any conversation, or confrontation, of sin must hold out the hope of the Gospel: you are forgiven. And your being forgiven is not dependent upon your immediate 'I'm sorry' in front of that person. No, your sins are separated as far as the East is from the West. That includes all the sins of the past, the sins of the immediate present, and all the sins of the future that you will still commit. 


You are forgiven.

That is not, of course, an excuse to live in execrable sin. Obviously not. Nor is it an excuse to treat sin lightly.


But it is a promise and a comfort that, no matter the depth of our sinfulness, we are forgiven. In my own life I have been blessed by many who hold the Gospel to me, even in my darkest moments, and remind me that I am forgiven. Even if I'm still being stupid, or sinful. I hope you have such people in your life. Cherish them. And pray to God that they stick with you through thick and thin.


But I also know of, and have faced, people in my life who have, over the years, used my sin as a weapon against me. I have little doubt you've experienced that too. I hope and pray, as you reflect on the beautiful, immense, indefatigable, infinite mercy of an infinite forgiveness from this infinite God, that you learn who to confess your sins to, and who to confide in.


And I hope, as with me, you continue to bask in the forgiveness that God gives us when we repent and rest in Him. For that repentance is granted by Him, caused by Him, assured by Him, and sealed by Him. And nothing, nothing at all, can take it from you. Your repentance in Christ is to be forgiven by Christ, because of Christ. By grace alone through faith alone. No demon, no power, no principality, no well-meaning but poorly-speaking Christian, no mean-spirited and dangerous Christian, no self-inflicted spiral of shame or fear, can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Rest in that. Repent and rest in Christ. It's a difficult lesson, and one that I am constantly learning anew. I trust you are too.