Repentance is Death
“Repentance should feel like death.” I’m not sure where I heard that. But it is true because repentance is a death.
Not a literal, physical death, but a very real, present, painful and active execution, nonetheless.
It is chemo for the flesh (Greek, sarx). Radiation that targets self-righteous pride, which usually is a cover for self-righteous insecurity (at least in my experience).
The result of repentance is what John the Baptist called fruit. Good stuff. New life. A harvest of righteousness.
But the process of repentance is downright brutal.
Repentance and Crucifixion
That is the concept behind Paul’s statement in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
For Paul, repentance was an initial crucifixion and an ongoing, continual crucifixion. And as a form of an excruciatingly painful execution, crucifixion hurts.
We naturally resist death.
So, we naturally resist repentance.
If repentance doesn’t feel like death, it isn’t genuine repentance. It is a plastic banana. It looks real. But upon closer examination, it is just an imitation.
No More Plastic Bananas
Genuine repentance is a public admission of a personal failure to love. If all of God’s commands are applications of love, then all sin boils down to a lovelessness, self-centeredness, and hatred that is rooted in a spirit of deeply entrenched self-righteousness.
For example, yesterday while cleaning out the garage, my wife noticed that I was using gloves to move clothes and drapes that I also use to spray weed killer on our lawn.
She asked me to take off the gloves. Well, I did, but not the ones on my hands.
I became defensive about my knowledge of lawn chemicals, which ones were dangerous and which ones were not. At least I knew which herbicide company was being sued for their products causing cancer in those exposed to the product.
She was right.
I held my ground, assuring her that the gloves were no longer contaminated with chemicals. Now I was being stupid.
Worse than choosing the wrong side of the issue, I was revealing the lengths to which I will go to protect my rightness, even when I’m clearly wrong. That rightness, of course, is my self being right, or self-rightness… self-righteousness.
A Dangerous Question
In the wake of the semi-heated conversation about weed killer, I noticed that she had been emotionally affected by the clash.
I asked her, “What’s wrong?”
That is a dangerous question to ask if you want an honest answer!
Her reply was quiet and non-aggressive. Just a statement that included the word “mean.”
Mean? I am not mean. Insensitive at times. Maybe unthoughtful. Yes, I’m more analytical than emotional.
But not mean.
For some reason, that term as a descriptor for how I would treat someone seemed harsh. Unloving. Selfish. Hateful.
My wife put her finger on exactly how I was treating her. I was not loving her, but manifesting the kind of animosity that only self-righteousness can produce as a self-protective counterattack.
Sadly, my wife felt the fury of Mean McKay, who reacted out of insecurity, feeling threatened over the herbicide. Are you kidding me?
What she needed to experience in the aftermath was not Mean McKay but McKay the Righteous. Not righteous in self, but righteous in Jesus. She needed McKay the Forgiven. McKay the Accepted. McKay the Beloved. McKay the Secure.
Fessing and Feeling
But the only way that me can be known is when McKay the Mean becomes McKay the Crucified, fessing up to the meanness of his flesh and feeling the wound he has inflicted into his wife.
Fessing up that this is the death of repentance, where I refuse to make excuses for my words, shift the blame away from myself, or minimize the damage of my sin. In that moment, I did mean it. And I’m not just sorry for looking like an idiot, I’m sorry for hurting you.
To repent is to own the sin so that we can own the Savior — not just having Jesus as a moral cheerleader but as a moral substitute who covers me with his righteousness and calls me his own so that I can face the ugliness of my sin in the safety of his immeasurable grace.
Repentance is a death that enables us to live, because from the death of repentance grows the fruit of new life as we are empowered to love, supernaturally, humbly, and relentlessly, just like Jesus.
I had to die in my garage yesterday. I’ll need to die today, too. And tomorrow. It is the only way I’ll be able to live. Praise God for such grace so that in dying to self-righteousness I may experience the life of gift-righteousness!