Tag: love

All the steps of repentance


I wrote recently about what true repentance is but I did not attempt to cover all the steps of repentance.

In this post, I am going to try and break down all the steps of true repentance and explore what the Bible has to say about each one.


Background reading: Metanoia, Sin, and Repentance

It is not enough to simply say sorry to God and think that the sin is dealt with. The offence (to God) of the sin may be forgotten. However, to be free from sin’s dominion, it’s nature and it’s trespass must be addressed too.

Sin is tri-part – hamartia (flaws and weakness), trespass (transgression), and offence (or guilt). This is addressed in Romans 5:20.

Grace covers our hamartia so that we are not an offence to God for our trespasses against Him. Love from our brothers and sisters in Christ fulfils a similar role (1 Peter 4:8).

None of this abnegates our responsibilities that stem from the trespass and offences that our hamartia has led us into. In other words, we still have to take personal responsibility. We still have a need to make a fundamental change in our thinking and our actions. This is what metanoia (repentance) literally means.

The 12 steps of repentance

You may recognise these steps of repentance as being somewhat based on the 12 steps of addiction recovery. I used the 12 steps as a template because they codify very well the stages of setting right what we have done wrong.

1. Admit

We admit our powerlessness over our weaknesses and failings (hamartia) recognising that without help we remain slaves to sin.

It may be tempting to say “I am no longer a slave to sin”. After all, that is the ultimate purpose of the atonement. However, Romans 6:16-20 tells us that we are slaves to whatever form of actions – sin or righteousness – we choose.

To put it in more human terms, admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

In Ecclesiastes 7:20 and other passages, we read that we are all sinful. Therefore, none of us can claim to be without sin. To do so would simply be self-deception (1 John 1:8).

If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

2. Recognise our need for God

We place our faith in the understanding that God, being greater than ourselves, could restore us to righteousness.

Righteousness – a term that can be misused – means simply being flawlessly in the right. In other words, a settlement of guilt (offence) and a correction of trespass such that there is no outstanding debt.

3. Turn to God

Having recognised our need for God, we turn our will and our lives over to His care.

In Isaiah 45:22-25 God says turn to Him and be saved for there is no other.

Micah 7:7 says this:

But I will keep watching for the LORD; I will wait for the God who delivers me. My God will hear my lament.

Psalm 130 says this:

From the deep water I cry out to you, O Lord.
O Lord, listen to me!
Pay attention to my plea for mercy!
If you, O Lord, were to keep track of sins,
O Lord, who could stand before you?
But you are willing to forgive,
so that you might be honoured
I rely on the Lord,
I rely on him with my whole being;
I wait for his assuring word.
I yearn for the Lord,
more than watchmen do for the morning,
yes, more than watchmen do for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord,
for the Lord exhibits loyal love,
and is more than willing to deliver.
He will deliver Israel
from all the consequences of their sins.

4. Examine ourselves

We make a full and honest examination of ourselves and our lives.

1 Corinthians 11:28-29, 2 Corinthians 13:5, and Galatians 6:4 all talk of examining oneself and one’s works. In other words, we must take moral stock of our actions so that we can recognise what we have done wrong.

Most 12 step programs phase it like this:

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Confess our sins

We admit to God, to ourselves, and to brothers and sisters the exact nature of our wrongs.

I mentioned this passage before but it continues into the next verse. 1 John 1:8-9 says this:

If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

This is where most people stop. Halfway through the fifth of twelve steps. If we want freedom from the power of sin, we must continue.

James 5:16 says:

So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.

Where is says “sins” here, the word is hamartias – flaws, failings, and guilt.

In Mark 1:5 and Matthew 3:6 we can read of people coming to John to confess their sins and be baptised. This practice continues. In Acts 19:18 we read that people confessed their sins to receive forgiveness.

Only when we are able to admit our flaws and failings to others, can we hope to be set free from them.

6. Be ready to change

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Metanoia requires change. Therefore we have to become willing to change. Saying sorry is not enough – that is just words. Words without actions mean very little if anything at all.

You can say every sinner’s prayer ever written but unless you are willing to change, it is only so much hot air.

Just as faith without works is dead faith, so words without actions are dead words (James 2:14-26). If you only say the right things but do not back them up with willing action, what have you achieved? This is a form of Godliness but without the power. 2 Timothy 3:1-7 describes such people in detail as dangerous. We should have absolutely nothing to do with them.

Without a willingness to change, the Bible says that we remain loaded down with sins, swayed by all kinds of evil desires. Slaves to sin, in every way. Don’t be that person.

7. Ask to be changed

Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.

We acknowledged in steps one and two that we needed God. By step five we had confessed our failings and guilt to Him and to others. Now that we are ready to be changed we can enjoy the other part of 1 John 1:8-9, “cleansing us from all unrighteousness”.

In John 16:24 we read of Jesus saying that we should ask the father for what we need. In James 4:2, the writer talks of the strife within the community because people want but do not have. James says you have not because you did not ask God. In Luke 11:9, we find Jesus in the middle of teaching about asking God for what we need.

If you want to be changed, ask God for that change.

8. Recognise what must be put right

We make a list of all persons harmed by our failings, being willing to make amends to them all.

Too often we present a version of repentance that includes only settling our account with God as if we do not live in a community with other people. As we saw in step six, unless your words are backed up by actions demonstrating your change, your apology to God is hollow. God will not be fooled by it.

This is the step whereby you prepare to demonstrate to God, to yourself, and to those you have confessed your sins to, that you are serious about changing.

You have not repented until you have made every reasonable attempt to make right what you put wrong.

9. Put those things right

We make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

In Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus teaches that anger is as bad as murder. He tells us to settle all matters with others before we come to make offerings to God.

So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.

If you have faith in your prayer from step seven, where are your actions? Remember, faith without actions is not faith (James 2:26).

10. Allow change to be ongoing

We continue to take personal inventory. When we are wrong, we promptly admit it.

Change is not something that happens instantly. At least, not very often. Patience is required too (James 1:4-8).

Remember we said back in step four about examining ourselves. 2 Corinthians 13:5, says we must examine all our works. Step ten is step four but ongoing through the rest of our life.

Metanoia (repentance) is not something you do and then forget. It is a firm commitment to being different. A change in attitude and action.

11. Don’t stop changing

Through prayer and meditation, we seek to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Philippians 2:12-13 speaks of working out our salvation over time. This passage reminds us that it is God that works in you at his own pleasure. Hebrews 13:20-21 tells us that it is the peace of God that equips us for every good work.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

By ongoing assessment of our lives, our words, and our actions, we can see if we are truly changing into God’s likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).

And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

God, having started a good work in you will bring it to fulfilment. Philippians 1:6 says:

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Growth is a process. You planted a seed, now tend to it so that you can see a harvest.

12. Help others with the benefit of what you have learned

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps of repentance, we support others to do the same as we practice these principles in all areas of our life.

Repentance is a lifestyle. One we should be happy to share with others.

When Jesus first sent out his disciples to preach (Matthew 10:8), he told them this, “Freely you have received; freely give.” Having learned how to repent and, having put it into practice, be willing to support others going through the same process.

Galatians 6:1-10 talks about doing this.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I would strongly suggest that you be in no hurry to set yourself up as either an expert nor the central support for new Christians. However, sooner or later you will find yourself connecting with someone who has gone through what you have gone through. If they are open to your support, be willing to offer it. This leads us into a whole other topic – discernment – which is best addressed at a later time.

Conclusions on the steps of repentance

Repentance is not and never has been “simply saying sorry to God”. Christ did not come to absolve us of our debts to each other.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

These steps of repentance are not intended as any sort of hard and fast set of rules. I have simply laid them out this way as a guide to putting into practice what the Bible means when it says to repent of your sins.

We have explored the three parts of sin – personal flaws (hamartia), the wrongdoings (trespass), and the debts (offence). We have also looked at how each can be addressed with God’s help.

Let me know if this has been helpful to you.

Legalism is killing the church

Legalism – and the legalists that preach it – are like cancer in the church. Until we remove the infection, it will continue to drain our strength and corrupt our good works.

There are legalists in all strands of the church. They serve only to weaken us and leave the body ineffective. We decry the decline of church numbers and the apparent disintegration of morality in the world around us. It is not some outside force that is to blame but the legalists that we have allowed into the body.

Legalists that trade the purity of Christ’s teachings of love and grace for a return to a doctrine of impossible laws. Laws like, “agree with me or you will go to hell”. Laws that place the teachings of the legalists beyond reproach and above question. Laws that condemn anything that differs from the culture the legalists wants to create.

Legalism can never be a form of true Christianity

However, they dress it up, however righteous the legalists claim to be – and they so frequently do – and however cleverly they defend their teachings with Bible quotes, what they preach should never be called Christianity. It has the trappings of the faith but has sold its soul for power and pride (2 Timothy 3:1-7).

Christianity means being like Christ. Christianity means following all of His teachings. Teachings like, “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27-36). Teachings that say truly loving God and a complete love of your neighbour fulfil all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40). Teachings that show that true Christians and fake Christians are separated only by the good they do for those most in need (Matthew 25:31-46).

The legalists pay lip service to the doctrine of grace (Ephesians 2:8-10) but see no disunity with placing ever greater burdens for salvation on the individual. The legalists boast in their self-appointed status as “God’s elect” due to their keeping of laws they have made for themselves. As the prophet, Isaiah says – they honour God with their lips but their hearts are far off (Isaiah 29:13).

Legalism neglects mercy

Puffed up with pride, the legalists neglect mercy because they look with disdain upon any that fail to achieve their impossible standards. There is no grace for the humble sinner, no love to cover a multitude of sins – there is only condemnation and with it hate dressed up as righteousness.

Jesus warned of such people, calling them false prophets. Outwardly they look like sheep but inwardly they are hungry wolves (Matthew 7:15-20). Often they will dazzle you with their fierce passion for “the truth” and rise to leadership roles. Rather than protect the sheep, these shepherds will savage and abuse them. In place of pastoral care, there will be only guilt, condemnation, and a heavy burden.

The legalists do not strengthen the weak. They do not heal the sick. They never bring back the strays but condemn them for straying. They rule over the church with cruelty and verbal violence. Jeremiah spoke out against such shepherds in the harshest of terms (Jeremiah 23:1-2). So too did Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:1-4).

It was perhaps these legalists – the false prophets we were warned about – that, from the third century until the present day, have led the church into institutionalised racism in the name of the faith. A lingering Christian anti-semitism that has tarnished the church and has yet to be rooted out and purged from our ranks.

Legalism is the enemy of grace

It is tempting to see the legalists and their law-heavy teachings as simply a misapplied passion for the Gospel. This is not the case. Legalism is a poison that corrupts and defiles the church. Even a little spoils the whole body (Galatians 5:7-9).

The fruits of legalism are heaviness, divisions, elitism, pride, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, heresies, envy, and many other things that stand in opposition to the nature of Christ and the work of grace (Galatians 5:16-26). In place of love comes harsh rebuke. In place of peace comes conflict. In place of humility comes boasting dressed as righteousness.

It is not true that legalists are simply overly enthusiastic Christians. The Bible calls them servants of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). There can be no place for legalism in our churches.

A call to repentance

Repentance worked in Holiness and humble compassion are what we need. It is in that spirit we must root out all forms of legalism. First within ourselves and then within the church. We must recognise that legalism is a grave sin that brings certain death both to the credibility of our witness and to the body of Christ – the church.

If we desire to see a change in this world. If we are to see the day when righteousness is the rule and not the exception. If we desire what some are happy to call revival then we must humble ourselves in repentance (2 Chronicles 7:14). This must not be a lip-service repentance, for a faith without resultant works is dead (James 2:14-26), there must be true change.

This may mean taking a winnowing fork to long cherish doctrines. Your church may shrink as the legalists depart for easier prey elsewhere. It might be painful to give up the righteousness that is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). It may also mean selling or giving up the signs of wealth within your church (Luke 12:32-34) in order to care for those in need. But when the legalism is gone, and only then, will the Holy Spirit be free to usher in true Christianity.

It is time for our churches to call on the Name of the Lord and be saved.

We have forgotten our God.

When we see refugees in need and do nothing, we have forsaken our faith. When we see Muslims and other minorities persecuted and do not cry out, we have forgotten our God.

Jesus himself taught us that if we fail to serve even the least of these, we fail to serve Him. Therefore, we forfeit all right to worship God as long as we continue to refuse aid to our neighbours. Is it not written that when we turn away our ears from hearing His laws of mercy and justice, even our prayers are an abomination? Likewise, do we not know that only those of clean hands and a pure heart may stand in His Holy Place?

He says to us through His profits, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” yet we have failed to show mercy. The Father is willing to show us mercy for this sin – Jesus himself taught us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy“. Do not forget that judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? Therefore, until we show mercy to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, we have no claim to righteousness and no expectation of mercy.

The Lord our God hears only the prayers of those that do what is right. It is He that says, “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.

When we turn a blind eye to the suffering around us, when we silently approve of the death at our doorstep, that blood is upon our hands. Our God said through His prophet, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I look the other way; when you offer your many prayers, I do not listen, because your hands are covered with blood.

Is it not written that there is a curse upon those that withhold justice from foreigners? Remember His Holy Law which says:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. So you must love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

His blessing upon us is by the same measure with which we bless others. It is written, “Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

How Christians could end poverty


The roadmap for the body of Christ to end poverty was set out in the Deuteronomy and Acts. Yet somehow we still miss it.

What is poverty?

Poverty is a trap. It means not having enough and what you do to cope with that need.

Poverty is a trap because it disadvantages the entire family. The children are less likely to do well at school. In fact, most children who grow up in poverty fail to attain any qualifications worth a damn. As adults, they are trapped in low paying jobs and their children will inherit the same trap.

Poverty is a trap that damages society. Children that experience poverty are more likely to engage in crime, antisocial behaviour and drug use.

We Christians should be doing something about that. Instead, we either are trapped ourselves or grow fat and offer to “pray for the poor”. James 2:16 points out just how worthless that is, for a poor person.

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