Reverse Repentance

Forgive my silence from posts other than Sunday debriefs. Things are bubbling up in my heart that I, unfortunately, have not given the time to write. I hope to have a few next week on the subject of my inability to talk openly about Jesus with strangers; but for now I wanted to share something that I’ve been giving some thought to: repentance (or lack thereof).

Most of our community groups have been studying The Gospel-Centered Life this fall. I’ve loved every meeting my group has had. The simplicity of the gospel–and the effects it should leave on our daily lives–should be revisited by every believer every moment from now until forever. This week’s lesson covered repentance; and, like a goof, I missed it. I was up at the church building meeting with some folks, but I did keep up with the work.


Talking about repentance reminded me of a big problem that we can tend toward if we aren’t careful. I am calling it reverse repentance, though I’m sure you have a better word for it. Let me explain. . .

At its simplest, repentance means “turning.” When Jesus is considered, it means we are turning from our sin and to God. That turning, at different times, includes a change of thought (Jesus isn’t God/Jesus is God), activity (I used to live like this/now I live like that), change of speech (cursing/blessing), and things like this.

Unfortunately, things may look like repentance but actually not be. Rather than turning us to God, they actually push us further into our sin. For example:

  • Fitness–A husband or wife begins a workout regimen. We applaud that. We love that they are running more, getting into shape, and trying to “honor Jesus with their body.” Unfortunately, we make a mistake. The whole reason they are doing this is because it gives them an opportunity to workout with someone other than their spouse. This happens.
  • Finance–Someone who has had a difficult time providing for their family finally begins to provide for them. Amen. The Bible expects people to provide. Only problem is we don’t realize that they simply decided to rack up significant amounts of debt so that they look like a provider. This happens.
  • Energy–Seeing people excited about ministry is a great thing. Pastors love people with energy. You know what brings energy sometimes? Controlled substances. I’m not kidding. What we may love about somebody unknowingly is the fact that they run to substances to find joy. This happens.
  • Ministry Involvement–Praise God when people join up in ministry. That children’s ministry worker you needed? Community group leader? You got ’em! So glad they  are serving the Lord. But what we missed was that your new volunteer finds validation through serving and being seen. Rather than help them grow in the Lord, you are feeding their flesh. This happens.

Pastors, leaders, and anyone in a church need to know both their own tendencies to hide their sin as well as having enough care for others that they don’t simply look at an external change as a heart change. So here are the questions that we should ask ourselves:

  • How am I hiding my own sin by promoting other behavior? 
  • Do I care enough about people that I’ll deal with their heart over their behavior? 
  • What steps am I taking to intentionally guard myself from delighting in behavior modification rather than delighting in Jesus? 

Don’t settle for reverse repentance. Don’t let your own, or someone else’s, behavior focus you on the external. Keep Jesus at the center. Deal with him. It will be well worth it.

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks at the outward experience, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7b

I'd love to hear your thoughts . . .