This year I’m reading through the Bible chronologically. I just finished the book of Joshua, which tells the account of ancient Israel’s conquest of Palestine. I came across this verse that got me thinking:
Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day. (Joshua 13:13 ESV)
God wanted the ancient Israelites to drive out the native peoples from the land because of the horrific wickedness of those people. If they left those people groups to live in the land, they would be temptation personified. And Israel would fall for their wicked ways (bestiality and child sacrifice to name a few). This verse reveals that ancient Israel did the job half-way. And the next book of the Bible, Judges, reveals what happened–the people of Israel did just that–they succumbed to temptation because they didn’t want to do the hard work up front.
As I thought about this verse, this though occurred to me: What temptations am I tolerating that could trip me up? What sins have I half-way repented of that keep me from fully becoming like Jesus?
What things are we not “driving out” of our lives? It may be an attitude like envy, pride, jealousy, or apathy. It may be something more concrete, like materialism or sexual sin. It may be impure thoughts like lust or prejudice. Whatever it is, we tolerate it, thinking it isn’t so bad. But it always results in sin.
Scripture tells us in Galatians 6:14 that, as a Christian, I must be crucified to the world and the world must be crucified to me. That means I must not tolerate sin. I must (metaphorically) put sin to death. I must kill it.
Repentance is hard work.
How can churches help people do the hard work of repentance?
- Recover the seriousness of sin. Sin isn’t just a poor attitude or a mediocre choice. Sin put Jesus on the cross. We must recover how serious sin is and how it offends a holy God.
- Teach and model repentance. Too many leaders try to cover up mistakes, fearing that transparency makes them appear weak. Yes, transparency does reveal us to be weak, but that’s exactly what we are without Jesus–weak! Rank-and-file Christians won’t take repentance seriously unless church leaders take repentance seriously. We must own up to our faults and confess our sin.
- Rediscover church discipline. This is slowly making a comeback in many churches. There are some sins that, when a Christian engages in them and refuses to repent, require the church to go through a process to help that person repent. If they refuse, the church is to refuse to fellowship with that person. The point is to cut them off from community and, in their isolation, help them see that community is much better than sin. In our lawsuit-happy society, churches still need to practice discipline but have their legal ducks in a row to protect themselves if need be.
- Require accountability. Nothing helps foster repentance like accountability with one or two other Christians. A group of 2-3 people of the same gender can do more for repentance than a lifetime of sermons. Humility, honesty, and vulnerability are required, but it’s worth the price.
Do the above things guarantee repentance? No. People do have minds of their own. Some will choose their sin over the hard work of repentance. As we help others, we must focus on our own battles with sin and temptation. No matter what, we must resolve this:
All the way, not just half-way.