For the reflection this week I would like to cover the third session of the traditional Life in the Spirit seminar which is repentance. This topic is sometimes combined with the second one which was Salvation. In my last message I talked about going to confession and progressively finding the courage to bring out the more shameful sins of my life. There is, of course, no reason to extend this process. Ideally a person should make a thorough confession that does not hold back any mortal sins, which is actually the requirement for a good confession.
Unfortunately, often times the things that people, like me, can find themselves guilty of can be quite shameful. Things that we definitely would not want to have posted on Facebook or showing up on the nightly news. Some of the things may be against the law. Some of the things may have deeply wounded others. After we meet Jesus and understand that He loves us and has already paid the price for all of the stuff that we have done, no matter how shameful, we need to repent or turn around. Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery, “Neither will I condemn you. Go, and now sin no more.” (John 8:11)
Can we really do that–not sin anymore? Can we just leave all that self-loathing behind? For me, I found it to be not quite that simple. When I finally came to grips with how far I had strayed from the holiness and purity that God wanted for me, it was almost hard to believe that it could just be wiped away. I would periodically get into times of self-condemnation, where I would think, “what I have done is so bad, I am permanently damaged and there is no way that I can really be what God wants me to be. I don’t really have the strength to avoid sinful behavior, and even if I could, God can’t really do much with me because I am damaged goods.”
Fortunately, one day I was listening to a protestant radio program that was talking about this problem. First of all, it was comforting to know, that I was not the only one that experienced it. They talked about a book called Breaking the Shame Barrier by Larry Lea. He talked about how he had been held captive by something from his past that was severely inhibiting his ability to live for Christ. He said that the whole problem was that he was listening to a message of the Devil that was being replayed in his head; “You’re nothing, what you have done can never be forgiven, you will never amount to anything, you couldn’t stop doing that if you wanted to, etc.”
The solution he said was to take authority over those voices and rebuke them in the Name of Jesus. Tell the Devil to go back to Hell and take his lies with him. We stand on the promises in God’s word and not on the lies of the Devil. I began to do that whenever those thoughts would enter my head. Gradually the thoughts did not come as often and I was able to begin to see myself as the precious child of God that I am.
So the process of repentance is not necessarily over when we confess our sins, we have to receive the forgiveness, we have to change our identity from that of a helpless sinner to a redeemed child of the King. We have to surround ourselves with people and situations that will reinforce our status as God’s children, and avoid the people and situations that will pull us back into old sinful patterns. We have to be “set free from its bondage to decay and [we will] obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21)
This process is also known as healing or inner healing. Sometimes people need help to come to this healing. Small groups of people with common struggles can be very effective in helping recovering sinners to obtain this freedom. Knowing that you are loved and that people want to see you succeed gets better results than trying to do this on your own. The old Catholic paradigm of “my faith is a private matter” can be huge obstacle to getting the healing that we need. I also found that having people pray over me for healing has been very helpful. The Holy Spirit will often work through prayers for healing to identify roadblocks (sometimes called strongholds) to the healing process.
In summary, the process of repentance and healing for the sin in our lives is a necessary precursor to really being fully open to all that the Holy Spirit wants to do in us. God loves us, died to save us, and wants us to repent, be healed and claim our identity as a new creation, as the scripture says: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Peace of Jesus,