100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sincerity Without True Repentance

Since I recently bought a bigger hard drive for my computer, I have taken the opportunity to transfer my old CD backups to hard disk. I have always been one to journal things going on in my life, and as I’ve been transferring these CDs I have found old journals which I had long forgotten. Today I’d like to share this very personal piece of my own past with you. I discovered the following journal entry dated April 2001; roughly five years before I became a born again Christian! I had no recollection of this particular event until I read my own words.

April 2001
For the entirety of the year 2000 I prostituted myself with Kathryn for the sake of accommodation – to be away from my mother. To me, to sin against God was worth the escape from her. I hated the sin. It was also there that I began to smoke dope. And all the while, I knew I was doing wrong. There were nights where I would wander into the garden on my own and throw my hands up to the heavens, and pray to the Lord to forgive me and not forsake me. I knew that one day I would return to Him, but at the time I was in an awkward situation.

When the day came that I was able to break up with Kathryn, I was so happy because it meant I would not have to sin any longer. I thanked God for the opportunity, and I would say to Him, “Now, I return to you!” Yet far too frequently, the sex continued. It was not even satisfying – it was sex for the sake of sex. I was never really attracted to Kathryn. It seems ironic that I would sin against God where there is no real temptation to do so.

But now I'm not living with Kathryn, and I have no reason at all to sin against God. And yet I find that I have her visit from time to time and I give in to her. The drug smoking has reached a point where I own my own drugs, which is something I swore I would never do. In fact, I always thought that if I owned my own, it would indicate that I had a drug problem. Now is the time to nip that in the bud. I have already decided never to smoke again, and I should give the drugs away so they are not a temptation to me. Nobody I know except Blake smokes drugs anymore anyway. Yet another irony where I sin for the sake of sinning. I think God has ultimately made it as easy as possible for me to give up my sinful ways.

I have prayed from time to time for God not to forsake me. My intention has always been to return to His side. I know that I have gone astray, and I hate that I have done so. And now it is Easter. It was not until I was at my mother’s as we had grace that I thought about His sacrifice for us. Saturday, I had a prompting to read the bible. My problem has always been that I don’t recognise prompting. I never know if it is from God or not, and I am quick to justify promptings as natural cause and effect. But this prompting was to read Jeremiah. Which chapter and verse? I did not know, but I was prepared to just flip into Jeremiah. However, Aaron called and I never opened the Bible.

Two days later, the word Jeremiah was still floating around in my head. To make matters worse, within those two days I had smoked drugs, and I’d had sex with Kathryn. I was in fact lying next to Kathryn, making yet another one of my miserable apologies to God, when I was pondering the word “Jeremiah.” Which chapter, Lord? Which verse? Then, for no reason at all, 13:22 came to mind. And of course, I was completely skeptical. How many times before had a chapter and verse popped into my head, and the corresponding passage have no relevance to my life? Or at least, not that I could see. But when I read this passage, my heart froze, and I knew that God Himself was speaking directly at me. At me!

The passage is as follows:
“And if you ask yourself, “Why has this happened to me?” it is because of your sins that you have been disgraced publicly. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the Leopard change its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil. I will scatter you like chaff driven by the desert wind. This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you,” declares the Lord, “because you have forgotten me and trusted in false gods, I will disgrace you in public that your shame may be seen – your adulteries and lustful neighings, your shameless prostitution! I have seen your detestable acts on the hills and in the fields. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you be unclean?”

No longer, Lord! No longer! I have prostituted myself, and I have done detestable things. But I have not forgotten my Lord, and my wish is to return to His side! I want to get closer to Him. I have let Him down. I have let myself down. I deserve to be disgraced in public, though I wish that God does not punish me this way. I will return to Him. I will turn from my sin. I will burn my drugs and I will refuse Kathryn every time. But these are just words. What does it take for a man to give up his wickedness? Does any man have the power to do this? I am not attracted to Kathryn, and yet I give in to her. Even when I have made up in my mind that I will reject her, I cannot. And even though no one will join me in the drug taking, I manage to sin against God with drugs also. Only God can help a man to turn from his ways. And so my prayer to God is that He change me. I cannot go on being wicked. It hurts me to hurt Him. And I know my life will be better without the sinfulness within me. I no longer wish to rebel against Him. I no longer have any need.

And despite my wickedness, He has never left me. All those nights that I thought my prayer was in vain, He listened to me, and He never left my side. Because of Him, I have this new job. He has blessed me, despite my wickedness. What love God has for me, it brings me to tears. I feel so, so unworthy. I feel so low. I feel like I could never make it into His presence. I must commit myself to following Him. God help me!

The words of this journal entry sound remarkably like my thoughts and the words of my prayer to God when I did finally give my life to Him in 2006. It's tragic to think that, despite these deeply sincere words, I don't recall any change in my ways what so ever. In fact, the only way I finally stopped seeing Kathryn was when I started a relationship with a new girlfriend. And that relationship was sexual from the start as well. So at no time did God's remarkable message to me cause me to change my ways. The reason I've posted this here is because I really think that so many people have had similar experiences to this... they are truly convicted about their sin and they say all the right things before God, and (as far as I can tell) sincerely believe that they will indeed turn from their sins... but they don't. Why does this happen? What happened to me?

Perhaps it pays to be the person who wrote the journal entry above... I do at least know the writer intimately :) I'm sure I know what happened, and I think there's a clue here in the journal entry itself. I wrote...

To me, to sin against God was worth the escape from her. ...
I knew that one day I would return to Him, but at the time I was in an awkward situation. ...
But now I'm not living with Kathryn, and I have no reason at all to sin against God. ...
My intention has always been to return to His side.

Can you see where my heart was? It was saying "I'm going to do things my way until..." Until what? As I look back over the journal entry, I think there were a whole lot of things I was waiting for. I make a big deal that Kathryn wasn't terribly attractive, and that "nobody will smoke drugs with me anyway..." In other words, I would continue sinning until I didn't have any personal motive to sin, or anything to gain from sin. This is where I was deluded. Folks, you cannot wait until you're done with sin before you will come to Christ, because you will never be done with sin!

Of course, this seems to be something I acknowledge in the journal entry. I said that if I'm sinning now with no apparent motive, then how can I turn from sin? I knew that I needed a supernatural change of heart. That was precisely the message that God was speaking to me through the Jeremiah passage. But we see that even if we acknowledge that this is true, we must be prepared to actually forsake the sin, whatever the cost and however strong the attachment to it might be. Though I acknowledged that I needed a supernatural change of heart, (that is, to be born again), I was still not prepared to give up the pleasures of sin. This is a perfect example of seed sown amongst thorns (see Matthew 13:1-23).

Now if I had made this confession in Church at the time, everybody would be saying "Praise God, you're born again!" It would probably be enough to fool anyone. And I think that for many people in this world, a confession like this, with all of the sincerity that was felt along with it, has been enough to fool their own selves also! Let's keep in mind the words of Paul, spoken to many who may have likewise been fooled...

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. (2 Corinthians 13:5)

In 2006, when I did finally give my heart to the Lord, what was different? The difference was that I was prepared to forsake my sins despite the fact that I loved them, rather than "so long as I don't need them anymore." And now, six years later, I have not returned to my former ways by any means, but rather, the more time that passes the more opposed to sin I become, and the more pro-active towards God's mission and plan for this world I become. This is how I know that my confession in 2006 was not just another of those prayers which was sincere but without true repentance.

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)