Saying Sorry Isn’t the Same as Changing
Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. Luke 3:8
Though I ignored my conscience and dulled it by repeatedly abusing it in my addiction, I still had one. Whenever my secret, destructive behavior was dragged into the light, my sense of remorse came alive. I’d feel terrible as I was forced to look at what I’d done and who I’d become. I’d cry, say I was sorry, ask forgiveness, and promise Never Again! I meant it, but at that point, I thought change just meant planning on Never, ever doing that again. My plan to change was to simply stop. I didn’t feel that going to treatment or meetings was necessary. I certainly didn’t need to rearrange my life. I was just going to quit.
Looking back, it’ easy to see the gaping hole in my plan. I realize now that – I swear I’ll never do it again – isn’t a plan for change, but a recipe for relapse. A plan for actual transformation is one that involves doing. In my case, I needed to confess, go to treatment, work the 12 steps, attend meetings, change jobs, live transparently, and above all, I needed to daily abandon my way to follow God’s. That’s a lot of work though, so initially, I just said I was sorry and tried to move on. It took multiple relapses and failures for me to learn.
This was John the Baptist’s message in today’s passage. His instructions were simple. Repent. Turn from your way to follow God’s. If you have truly repented, it will show in your behavior. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance (my paraphrase). John’s crowd was a religious one. These were people who thought they knew God, but their behavior revealed that they still followed themselves. John said knowledge – like apologizing – wasn’t enough. If they truly believed, they must repent. To truly repent meant changed behavior and transformed lives.
We often wait for God to change our appetites before we change behavior. God, if you want me to stop looking at pornography, take away my desire. John’s message though is clear. If you desire the kingdom of heaven, you must do whatever it takes to cut your self-destructive behavior out of your life. Apologizing for destructive behavior may be a necessary first step, but it’s not the last one. True repentance – the kind that leads to life – means committing to radical change.