How to Repent
By John Piper
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
A vague, bad feeling that you are a crummy person is not the same as conviction for sin. Feeling rotten is not the same as repentance.
This morning I began to pray, and felt unworthy to be talking to the Creator of the universe. It was a vague sense of unworthiness. So I told him so. Now what?
Nothing changed until I began to get specific about my sins. Crummy feelings can be useful if they lead to conviction for specific sins. But vague feelings of being a bad person are not usually very helpful.
The fog of unworthiness needs to take shape into clear dark pillars of disobedience. Then you can point to them and repent and ask for forgiveness and take aim with your gospel bazooka to blow them up.
So I began to call to mind the commands I frequently break. These are the ones that came to mind.
- Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Not 95%, but 100%. (Matthew 22:37)
- Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Be as eager for things to go well for him as you are for things to go well for you. (Matthew 22:39)
- Do all things without grumbling. No grumbling — inside or outside. (Philippians 2:14)
- Cast all your anxieties on him — so you are not being weighed down by them anymore. (1 Peter 5:7)
- Only say things that give grace to others — especially those closest to you. (Ephesians 4:29)
- Redeem the time. Don’t fritter away the minutes, or dawdle. (Ephesians 5:16)
So much for any pretensions to great holiness! I’m undone.
This is much worse than vague, crummy feelings. Ah, but now the enemy is visible. The sins are specific. They’ve come out of hiding. I look them in the eye. I’m not whining about feeling crummy. I’m apologizing to Christ for not doing specific things that he commanded.
I’m broken, and I’m angry at my sin. I want to kill it, not me. I’m not suicidal. I’m a sin-hater and a sin-murderer. (“Put to death what is earthly in you,” Colossians 3:5; “Put to death the deeds of the body,” Romans 8:13.) I want to live. That’s why I’m a killer — of my sin!
In this conflict, I hear the promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Peace rises.
Now, prayer feels possible and right and powerful again.