Within the past month, I have experienced two panic attacks. I assumed they were a response to my brokenness over sin. This past week, though, I have realized that these panic attacks were fueled by pride and far from a response to true brokenness. Through this realization, my understanding of repentance has grown just a little bit deeper, by the grace of God.
Lately, the Lord has been doing so much work in my life, and for that I am thankful! Unfortunately, this experience leaves uncomfortable and painful feelings. These feelings spring from a growing recognition of personal sin, the inner battle between the flesh and the spirit, and the exhaustion of seeking true repentance. Repentance is required of every believer, and learning this discipline comes with growing pains.
One growing pain we feel with repentance is learning to recognize our own sin. No one wants to see the ugliness of their own heart. In fact, our hearts work tirelessly to show themselves to be good and clean. Yet, we know this is not the case. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Only God can truly understand our hearts and give us understanding for that which truly lies within us – sin. This is the first step of repentance. Confession is necessary to begin to lean into the sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives.
I have always understood the first step of repentance. An “I’m sorry” flies from my mouth faster than I even have time to consider the weight of the sin I’m confessing. My life long tendency, my desire even, has been to let those words fly and call it even. At times, I would feel broken following my confession and tears would follow shortly thereafter. I thought I was sorrowful over my sin. The second step of repentance is what the Lord used to show me what was truly going on in my heart regarding the panic attacks I have been experiencing.
Remorse is a great second step in our response to sin, as we should be broken over sin in light of God’s holiness. We need to recognize our deep need for him. This is godly sorrow, and it is biblical. When I felt remorse, I would begin to choke up, feel a wave of tears threatening to overtake me, and eventually give in to sobs. I would feel godly remorse, right? My thought process proved otherwise:
I am a horrible sinner. I am so undeserving.
I can’t believe I gave into that temptation again.
When am I ever going to learn? How long, Lord?
Why can’t I get this right? What more do I have to do?
Does anyone else have it as hard as me?
Notice a theme? The only one involved in that thought conversation are me, myself, and I. Those thoughts of mine are exactly as they appear to be. They are self-centered. I was not broken over sin, but over my own inability to “get it right” or to “fix it myself.” The underlining root of this sorrow is pride. I was far from focusing on my need for God. Rather, I was focusing on my need to fix it myself. In my pride, I was deceived by my heart. This is the sorrow that sells. It gives a convincing pitch, and it seeks to consume whoever is willing to buy it.
Thankfully, we do not have to be left to ourselves in discerning worldly, prideful sorrow from godly sorrow. God makes it clear to his people how we are to respond in light of our sin:
The response, following confession, should not be dwelling on our own sinfulness apart from God. As believers, we are no longer left apart from God! Our response should be to confess our sin, acknowledge our guilt, and turn quickly to the Lord. It is in God alone that we can know our heart, humbly ask for him to provide “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17), and faithfully stand up in confidence that he will follow through on his promise to forgive.
I encourage you to sit reverently in the presence of our loving Father. Ask him to reveal the depths of your heart to you. When you think about it, that prayer is rather frightening, but it is grace that allows us to pray this prayer in the first place. It is grace that allows us to see our sin so we can turn to the Holy One and walk in righteousness. Lean into his grace. Where is a good place to start? The prayer of David in Psalm 51. Take time to read through this psalm and dwell on the goodness of God.
“Have mercy on my, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me heart joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”