Ok, so I’m biting off way more than I can chew with this one because I’m no where close to the understanding that I need to be writing on this. However, I don’t know if I will ever have that level of understanding! Therefore, I’m going to tackle it anyway.
About six months ago I found myself in a very introspective state and took some time to just be quiet and ponder my place in life. A single thought led me into this state:
Something is missing in my life… like a joy or something.
Why is it that there was a time in my life when I experienced more joy than I am today? I can remember thinking of a number of reasons, circumstances, and life situations that I felt may have been having that negative impact in my life. Things like not pursuing God with the same fervor that I had as a young and idealistic believer. Or maybe back then my biological time clock wasn’t shedding as bright of a light on my lack of being loved by a woman. And possibly the fact that I had yet to experience my big business failure that put me in a hole that I’m still digging out of to this day. More likely, a combination of those three (plus who knows what else).
Fast forward to today… Where am I right now?
I no longer believe that the lack of joy that I’ve been experiencing is a result of the aforementioned things. Sure, those items may be downers, but I don’t believe they lead to a lack of joy. You see, those things are all worldly in nature. My religious discipline ought not affect my joy. My singleness ought not affect my joy. And my financial condition ought not affect my joy. The blood of Christ is beyond all of those! And even those that I did not mention.
Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. – Martin Luther, The Ninety-Five Theses
Is it possible that having a backwards view of repentance could lead to a life void of true joy?
The following is an excerpt from Tim Keller’s article titled “All of Life is Repentance.”
“In religion we only are sorry for sin because of it’s consequences to us. It will bring punishment – and we want to avoid that. So we repent. But the gospel tells us that sin can’t ultimately bring us into condemnation (Rom 8:1.) It’s heinousness is therefore what it does to God – it displeases and dishonors him. Thus in religion, repentance is self-centered; the gospel makes it God-centered. In religion we are mainly sorry for the consequences of sin, but in the gospel we are sorry for the sin itself.
“Furthermore, ‘religious’ repentance is self-righteous. Repentance can easily become a form of ‘atoning’ for the sin. Religious repentance often becomes a form of self-flagellation in which we convince God (and ourselves) that we are so truly miserable and regretful that we deserve to be forgiven. In the gospel, however, we know that Jesus suffered and was miserable for our sin. We do not have to make ourselves suffer in order to merit forgiveness. We simply receive the forgiveness earned by Christ. (1 John 1:8) says that God forgives us because he is ‘just.’ That is a remarkable statement. It would be unjust of God to ever deny us forgiveness, because Jesus earned our acceptance! In religion we earn our forgiveness with our repentance, but in the gospel we just receive it.
“Last, religious repentance is ‘bitter all the way down.’ In religion our only hope is to live a good enough life for God to bless us. Therefore every instance of sin and repentance is traumatic, unnatural, and horribly threatening. Only under great duress does a religious person admit they have sinned – because their only hope is their moral goodness. But in the gospel the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit we are flawed (because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness.) Our hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not our own – so it is not so traumatic to admit our weaknesses and lapses. In religion we repent less and less often. But the more accepted and loved in the gospel we feel the more and more often we will be repenting. And though of course there is always some bitterness in any repentance, in the gospel there is ultimately a sweetness. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. The more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions of your sin. The sin under all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.
“If you clearly understand these two different ways to go about repentance, then (and only then!) you can profit greatly from a regular and exacting discipline of self-examination and repentance.”
I’m beginning to think that viewing and practicing a gospel-oriented repentance may very well be the key to joy. I pray the Lord will help me see clearly on this journey. And beyond that even, I pray the Lord will help me find that long lost joy.