Matthew 3:7,8 When he (John the Baptist) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming… he said to them, “You brood of vipers!… Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Have you ever apologized, saying you were sorry, and then not actually changed anything? Did the sorrowful behavior stop? I have been there. As the consequences of destructive behavior have been revealed, I have always felt a deep sense of regret and sorrow. I have promised self and family never to do it again, and then changed nothing. That, John says, is not repentance.
I can weep authentic tears, feel very real pain and say that I am sorry, but if my sorry is not accompanied by any actual change, then it has nothing to do with repentance. Without actual repentance, the destructive behavior that caused my sorrow will not go away. I will return to it again and again and my next 100 I’m sorrys, will ring hollow.
The problem is not that I do not want my destructive behavior to go away. The problem is that I do not want to disrupt the rest of my life to get there. So, I promise myself that I will just never do it again. This is my plan, I swear, I will never do that again. This however, is not a plan and it is not repentance. It is preparation for failure.
If I say I am going to stop a behavior, whether it is lust, pornography, anger, resentment, greed, bitterness, drugs, alcohol or pride, but I do nothing to change, then I am at worst a liar and at best, just ignorant. Repentance is change in behavior and change in behavior is radically difficult. If we truly want repentance, it it not a switch we flip once in our brains. It is a daily battle to focus our minds and actions on God instead of self.
If I am an alcoholic, I need to go to treatment, quit my job as a bartender, and radically pursue God in me. I cannot just decide that as I am saved, I am not an alcoholic anymore. Repentance is a radical commitment to changing whatever it takes to be different. If I am addicted to pornography and lust, I have to commit to cutting off my access to pornography and I have to work very hard at filling my mind with God instead of sexual fantasies. God does not leave me alone in this but He does not magically undo the consequences of pursuing my flesh. He wants me to pursue him and He allows it to be difficult. He does perform his miracle of transformation, but I have to do my part, pursuing him with all of me.
If I truly am sorrowful over my destruction and if I truly want to change, then I’m sorry needs to lead to actual repentance. I need to be willing to do whatever it takes to leave behind self and follow Christ. This may take all of my heart, soul and mind. If I accept the deception that all I have to do is believe that I am a Christian, so I will never sin again, then I have accepted a lie that will lead back to my destruction. No change in my behavior will lead to no change in my behavior. If I truly want to change, I will daily do whatever it takes to deny self and follow God.