Living Water by Brother Yun is a book that has sat on my shelf for years. I have started to read it a number of times and have put it down because it was special. It was a meal to be enjoyed, not gulped. It wasn’t a casual read on the bus; I wanted to read it with a notebook handy and time to properly digest its message.
This post is my thoughts and related experiences on the first chapter Repentance. (I normally try to keep my posts between 500 and 1,000 words. This is a longer post at over 2,000 so make yourself a cuppa and settle in for the read).
“[Marie] Monsen had one main message that she preached everywhere she went. She taught that to be a follower of Christ, a person has to first thoroughly repent of their sins. By that she didn’t simply mean that people must confess their sins and ask forgiveness. That was only the first step. She meant that their whole lives, desires, motives and plans must be surrendered to God. Each Christian must die to self and completely hand their past, present and future over to the Lord Jesus Christ.” (page 15, 16).
It’s at this moment that I feel I’ve walked into a room and been king-hit by a 300-kilogram silverback gorilla. Reading this, I have only two choices: drop the book, put my fingers in my ears and sing “la la la”… or examine myself in what I know could be a confronting experience.
When I read this initially I noted down “secret sin / lukewarm commitment”. Secret sin – or as I like to call it shadow sin – that which is hidden from the view of others. It’s the sin that’s committed when – or because – no one is watching. (Except of course God sees everything. And in today’s era mega-corporations are not far behind). Fortunately, at this stage in my life there isn’t much in the way of secret sin, but there certainly has been in the past.
Now as I re-read it, I find the word ‘secret’ was my word. It’s not talking about secret sin, it’s talking about all sin and this is where I start to get nervous. What about the other kinds of sin… Socially-acceptable sin, like fudging taxes or taking office supplies from work. Or unintentional sin? What about sins that aren’t about acts but more about thoughts or attitudes of the heart? Like an obese kid in dodgeball I can’t escape that list unscathed.
There are sins that I struggle with. I can be very judgemental and am quick to verbally take a wrecking ball to someone who is acting in a way I disagree with. I too-easily let frustration bubble up and over the brim of my mouth (and that’s not glorifying to God). Sometimes my tongue can have a scorpion’s sting that seems to “high five” everyone as they go past. Jealousy, too, can be a problem at times. I’m glad to realise I have improved in some areas; though not in every area of my life though. Another easy sin to name is gluttony. What I could use is another helping of self-control, not food.
It’s important to note that individual sin or righteousness is compounded in marriage. With marriage comes the “for better or for worse” and it’s not just a statement of commitment but also reality: in marriage we learn to behave like our spouse. Therefore it becomes not just a question of my sin, but also of our sins.
“Repentance is a foundational key to the Christian life, but in many places it has been a neglected doctrine.” (page 17)
I’d have to agree with this, especially in application to my own life. I know I don’t examine myself – or better yet, ask God to examine me – nearly enough. It’s a habit I’ve neglected. While I do confess what I know I’ve done, seldom do I ask Him if there’s anything he finds offensive. I unintentionally live in a happy bubble of ignorance; that’s no way to grow closer to God. It’s not for me to decide what is and is not sin in my life. God will be my Judge so I’d be a fool not to measure myself by his standards.
The simple truth is: If I am comfortable, there’s a good chance it’s not the Holy Spirit who’s examining me. My own judgement and behaviour is far from perfect. In my experience the closer we get to God, the more we are aware of deeper sins. The Holy Spirit won’t point out every defect in one ‘pass’ – he’s merciful and at first will only highlight that which is glaring. Once those glaring offences are dealt with, then it’s time for a closer look.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
King David sets a good example in this when he asks God to reveal things which are offensive (Psalm 139:23-24). Unrepented sin drives a wedge between me and God and gives the enemy, Satan, a foothold of guilt and failure which he can use to harass us.
Each day I want to examine the day and repent of where God shows me sin. Practically that means I can’t do it the last thing before sleep, because I’ll forget and be asleep – or not be lucid enough to do it properly. I need to find a time in my day where I can set aside five minutes to chat it over with God. It needs to be given at least the same priority and attention as an important discussion with my wife.
As Yun clarifies, apologising is just the first step. The next question is: how thoroughly have I repented of my sins? In my experience there are several levels of “fighting” sin:
- Not challenging the sin at all.
- It resembles a flirtatious pillow fight. The rough and tumble is mostly all for-show.
- The occasional shove like might be given to a younger sibling. We don’t intend to inflict pain, but push away (temporarily).
- Like a wrestling competition, grappling the competitor and trying to force them to submit.
- Trying to kill the enemy: as though we’ve walked in on someone strangling our spouse. No holds barred, no mercy given: instant, vicious brutality.
#5 is how I need to act toward sin. The consequences of sin if it conquered me would be dire, possibly in this life; definitely in eternity (Genesis 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:8). I need to realise that I am in a fight to the death. My response to sin cannot be lukewarm if I am to win. It’s trying to kill me; eradication is the only sensible response.
Not Condemnation, Conviction. At times in the past I’ve found reflecting on my own sinfulness incredibly discouraging. Even trying as hard as I could my behaviour still disappointed me. That is especially true when trying to break habitual sin. Like most things in life there’s, an apt – if not gross – proverb for that (Proverbs 26:11).
Habitual sin can tie us in knots. I don’t want to do it; I do want to do it. Do I really want to stop? Is it because I am weak that I fail? Is it I don’t love God enough? It is one big giant confusing and painful knot that has us firmly tied in the centre, crushing us and making the struggle feel futile.
The nature of our repentance must be heartfelt. So how did I repent of something which I was strongly drawn to (a habit)? I’m no expert, but here’s my experience. First, I repented of being drawn to it. I acknowledged that there was part of me that was broken – horribly infected by sin – and that I needed God’s help to break free from it. The reality is God knew my heart anyway. He wasn’t surprised to hear about it – but I was admitting to myself the depth of the problem. I couldn’t do it on my own. I confronted the ugly face in the mirror.
I’ve heard rare stories of God breaking habits instantly. For me as for most people, it was a struggle of years. Finally, I reached a point where my desire for God and the things of God was stronger than my desire for the rotten rewards of the sin.
I implemented a zero-tolerance rule. It wasn’t about choosing not to walk along the edge of the cliff, I had to set myself a boundary dozens of metres from the cliff-edge. Treat the sin not like wine (“don’t have too much”) but instead like a deadly poison; consume none. Anything that might even, maybe, sort of, slightly encourage the habit was off-limits. After many periods of forward and backward steps, persistence paid off. Take no prisoners; wipe out the enemy wherever you find it.
I also found it helped to acknowledge 1 Corinthians 10:13 as truth: that God will provide a way out of temptation. When the fever of temptation strikes it’s hard to think straight; preparation beforehand is crucial. I fortified in my heart that there was a way out and defeat is not a certainty. Like a hard-pressed battle drill when I came under fire I knew where my escape routes were.
A key component of repentance (and spiritual maturity) is coming to understand that I am never good enough to ‘come to God’ on my own merit. Even on my very best day. A thought occurred to me recently: without a grasp of my own sinfulness, I can’t recognise the glory of a Righteous and Pure God. Repentance is therefore not meant to condemn me but set me free from the ultimate lie that I am good enough. We need God’s help to change and can only come into His presence because of His love and the sacrifice of Jesus.
[Without a repentance-centred message] “churches full of halfhearted Christians whose lives are still centred on selfishness and the principles of the world.” (page 18)
Am I half-hearted or self-centred in my pursuit of God? Am I half-hearted in seeking the things of God? In the West it is easier for me to open my wallet (money) than give out my time. How much time do I give to God? How much of my day do I dedicate to my relationship with him? How much of my “spare time” is spent on the things of God – on people that he loves – rather than on pursuits that I enjoy?
Honestly, I have some work to do… It’s not so much about the quantity of time. I can spend an hour in prayer watching-the-clock and it can be less beneficial than a minute of heart-felt prayer. The question is, am I his in my heart? Am I his in my will? Or do I belong to me? If we claim to be his but are not, sooner or later the truth will be revealed.
There’s a good saying: the problem with living sacrifices is that we like to crawl off of the altar. Giving myself to God is something that needs to be done regularly. Left to itself, my flesh will crawl off the altar.
We need to surrender everything to Him. Surrendering something isn’t easy, especially the more we value it. It is going to hurt. It might mean we have to surrender something that we badly want; have always wanted. Nothing in our lives should be held onto more tightly than God. He’s a jealous God – and he has the perfect righteousness to be. Honouring him above everything else is only what he deserves, nothing more.
“Repentance is both the first step to walking in the Kingdom of God and the key to continuing in a place of obedience and submission to the Lord.” (page 18)
I need to get into the habit of consulting God more on how I spend my time. He is, after all, my Lord.
Additional insights and thoughts:
- Marie Monsen had a single message when she preached. She was focused on one thing – leading people into true repentance before God. Do we blunt any message of our own by having multiple messages? Possibly all good things, but does that take our focus off the key priority?
If Marie was a preacher she’d be considered a ‘one trick pony’, but preaching is not an entertainment business (despite many churches seeming to lean that way). I am reminded of the story of a preacher who gave the same message on repentance, week after week, month after month. When challenged about it by the eldership he replied he would continue giving that same message until the congregation put it into practice.
- Sensitivity to Repentance is like a man who storms into his friend’s house, knocking things over and then punches his friend. When we first apologise, we apologise for punching our friend. Then God works on our heart, and we notice the items we knocked over, and apologise for those too. Then, when God does more work we realise the offensive attitude we had as we entered his house. We apologise first for our actions, then our collateral damage and finally for the unspoken words of our heart and mind.