Currents of Repentance


 “If all we do in our meditations is to repent of a few petty acts called sins that have accumulated over the last day (and this is not to belittle the importance of doing that), we have not known the deep power of purifying grace that repentance is supposed to offer.  Israel and its stories help me to understand the deep underlying currents of evil response and intent, the tragic aquifers far beneath my conscious life that will continually feed my daily life with impurity unless they are identified and replaced with alternatives of the kind of character God built into Abraham.”    

Gordon MacDonald

16 thoughts on “Currents of Repentance

  1. I think Abraham, like us all, had some big issues in his life. Not to “belittle” Gorden MacDonald in any way at all….But I’ll take the man any day who is repentant on a daily basis.

    Wonder exactly what he really means by deep power of purifying Grace ? Is that in addition to Gods Grace that is provided by God’s Spirit within us ?

    These type of quotes always seem to leave me a bit unbelieving just alittle. Because they make just men sound more than just men. As like most of us, if it were known are selfish, have short tempers, act in ways that really doesn’t glorify Jesus and are in desperate need of God’s Grace daily, let alone the repentance which should be incorporated in our daily lives.

  2. I am not sure what about this quote would be problematic, or concerning, or even confusing. I am not sure I see how this elevates any man to being more thanjust a man. Can you hlep me understand that?

    The point MacDonald is making is that repentance is more than essentially saying “Sorry” for wrong actions we recall. Those whose practice of repentance is, at best, reflective of such a description miss out on a lot. We repent not only of the “fruit of sin” but of the roots; we repent of not only what we have done, but what we are: Sinners who are “prone to wander”, prone to take God and his grace for granted, etc. If we fail to realize this, and fail to take this seriously, then what forgiveness we experience is really pretty meager. (We receive it, but we do not experience it, or we may not feel the benefit of the forgiveness we receive.) On the other hand, if we see ourselves for the sinners that we are, then repent and reflect upon the all the implications of the Cross, we experience a much more thorough cleansing.

  3. Dennis, not sure I can explain in this context. Seems so much of the time people, various men, come up with what I think are statements that are a bit weird. Like a “More thorough cleansing”. If we are cleansed by the Holy Spirit whats a more thorough cleansing? If we repent and our repentance is true, honest and sincere what is “deep power of purifing Grace”. To me it’s like something more as if we repent each day we will be missing out on something because somehow this deeper reflection constitutes more Grace…Sounds like a work to me.

    But the quote is not confusing and there ‘s absolutely nothing wrong with it per-sey. I don’t agree with the message is all. That simple. I think lots of time people say things and are quoted as Spiritual Giants and a kind of further respect is granted when all they are is men with the same issues we all have.

    Similar to Abraham ! Yes he had some giant flaws as we all do. His real character was revieled but God used him anyway. God used a lot of characters both what we would consider good guys and those not so good. Some with hugh flaws some not so much.

    A lot of the times we dwell too much on our negitive stuff and not so much on the issue that God calls us His Children, and even Friend. That we don’t come close to knowing what Love the father has for us …. and it’s only though the demonistration of the cross do we get an idea as His Love is expressed.

    Does this mean I don’t need to repent. OH NO ! Not in the least. But is their somthing deeper and more spiritual in my repentance that I may be missing ? In my reading of the above quote it feels like thats what he is saying. I could be wrong and looking at this sideways. I’ve done that before.

    Still like the guys who are repentant daily, keep short accounts and relize the Love of God in such a way they enjoy their freedom in Christ and express that in the joy of living for Jesus. Seems like what MacDonald is saying here. “The evil and underlying currents of our evil responce and intents and tragic aquifers of far beneath my consious life that will continually feed my daily life with impurity….” is what Jesus died for. To save this body of death and sin. Although I need to repent and confess I can not crucify Christ again nor need to. He seperated my sin as far as the east is from the west and put it behind him. I’m assured of that and free then to love, obey and follow Him as His Child.

    Do I sin…Oh yes, do I need to repent absolutely, can I drink at the foot of Jesus in Prayer..please Lord let it be. But is their more Grace to be had as a result. Not sure thats so.

    Hope this expains my thoughts a bit more…

  4. This goes back to a discussion about appropriating the Gospel. It also seems related to understanding the difference between justification and sanctification.

    Nothing MacDonald is suggesting here negates, nor even minimizes, the justification that is ours through faith in Christ. Nothing he is stating changes the ultimate state and circumstances of our salvation. What is in view is an appropriation of Grace in the “here and now” – the grace that brings transformation and spiritual fruit. This is not an “automatic” thing. Many, many Christians live without enjoying the benefits our Union with Christ offers, not just of eternity but, for this life. They are no less “saved”. But they do not appropriate the grace.

    Is it a “work”? In a sense, it is. But unlike justification, in our sanctification we are expected to “work”, to “cooperate” with God for our spiritual growth, by appropriating grace through the means of grace and disciplines of grace. Those who fail to do so are not, in the end, exluded from Heaven. Rather, they are sadly like someone who lives like paupers despite being an heir with a great wealth available to him/her. They do not enjoy the benefits, despite the reality of their wealth, simply because either they do not know that it is available to them, or because they do not understand how to appropriate it.

    I hope that makes sense. I hope some others will chime in to explain better than perhaps I am able.

  5. Maybe one more thought given through an illustration … When my boys were younger I would have great difficulty with them at bath time because it seemed to me that the point of bath time was to get clean and quickly so playing was out of bounds. I tried to loosen up (harder to bring about than I expected!), my wife tried to talk to me about my anger at tub time, and nothing was availing including repenting for my anger and asking forgiveness for it. Why? Because I wasn’t getting at the root of my anger. I wasn’t angry because the boys were breaking a command of God and were in danger because of it. They were breaking a silly rule of mine. Why did I have the silly rule? I had the silly rule because though bath time was my “duty” it wasn’t my joy. It kept me from getting something “real” done. So my boys playing kept me from what I really wanted and their playing perpetuated that. I didn’t value spending time with them at tub time; instead I valued what I wanted to get done & their playing was “preventing” me from getting done. Until I repented of my “getting tasks done so I can feel good about myself” idol, there was no superficial repenting from my anger that was going to spiritually profit me. What I needed was God’s Spirit to reveal, uproot, and de-empower the idol so I could enjoy my children in that moment. I think this is the kind of thing GM is talking about.

  6. I think you may be on to something there Matthew. Just think GM goes about it in a bit of a negitive way. For me anyway. I know we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling: (I believe those are the words) and this is one of those things: do I need to fear and beleive I am a worm before God (which I am) or trust and enter into his rest as his child because I know nothing I do can merit His favor and Grace. He’s done it all. I do not need to add hard work to faith.. only believe in Jesus…..He changes us into people who can Love God more and more and love others. I just don’t believe I need to beat my wormy self up about sin. Don’t think that does any good at all. But I do need to linger at the feet of Jesus in prayer and surely repentance is big part of that. The old man is dead and I am new in Christ. But I know in me, the Flesh (like Paul says) there is nothing good. But now Gods Spirit resides in us. I am new in Him. As a result I have freedom to really live without fear, else I don’t know the Gospel or believe in Jesus.
    I certanily follow your illistration. It’s part of our life this side of heaven. I know it’s God who works in us for His Glory and brings about change and not us. Do we contribute ? Yes. We obey because he Loves us. Is it a struggle at times? Yes. will the struggle ever go away ? Not untill we sit down at the feast Jesus has prepaired for us.

  7. I think that quote also brings up something interesting about the human condition. I find in myself the constant ability to punish myself for large and little sins this is where an understanding of who I am has to take place. I have to remind myself that I am a sinner and that is why I sin. We have to start apologizing for sin itself and stop apologizing for being a sinner. We are gonna carry that weight no matter what but this quote seems to dig deeper into the sin in particular and not just that one is a sinner. No one escapes that fate but in Jesus we can work on the aspects of that fate in forgiveness.

  8. Clint, The only thing I can say is Jesus paid the price brother. No need to carry that burden around with you. It will ruin your joy in Jesus.

    You are a Child of God and not a sinner. God does not see a sinner when He see’s Clint. He sees Jesus !

  9. David,

    If God does not see a “sinner” when he sees Clint (and me) why do you think he tells us that we are sinners – even after conversion?

    1 John 1.8-10:

    If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

    Why would Paul remind us that, as Believers, we have two natures at war within us? Galatians 5.16-17 says:

    So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

    If we are not sinners, why would it be necessary to instruct us to “walk by the Spirit”?

    If God does not see our sin, why would Paul claim to be the “chief sinner”? (1 Timothy 1.15)

    While by justification we are declared righteous, anc clothed with the righteousness of Christ, we are still a work in progress. As part of the cleaning up process, God calls us to recognize our own sinfulness – both our condition and the consequent expressions of sin. He calls us to repent and believe the gospel all over again – or believe and appropriate it at a deeper level.

    This is how God counters the “deep underlying currents of evil response & tragic aquifers” Mac Doanld mentions. This is what he means when he says they must be “identified”. When he says they must be “replaced” he is speaking of applying and appropriating the gospel promises.

    What Clint is stating is one of two tendencies we have in our human condition, or sin nature.

    Clint says his tendency is to punish himself, or do pennance, until he feels he has suffered enough to pay for his offense. This functionally negates the gospel promises, and minimizes the sufficiency of what Jesus has done. Clint realizes this and reminds himself of the gospel.

    The other tendency is to simply overlook our offense, or at least the root that prompts our offense. This is done for a number of reasons. One reason is apathy. Another reason is an over-realized sanctificaton – or the assuming that the promises of what will be are true already. One day we will be without sin, but not today.

    God is aware of our sin. He does not treat us as our sin deserves. But the gospel does not say he overlooks it. The price was paid by Jesus, thus enabling legal justification. But God also sanctifies us, begins a restoration/clean-up project. He cannot do that without “seeing” our sinfulness. Otherwise there would be nothing to clean up.

  10. I’ll just add one thing…You must not have read my comments in much detail at all. God doesn’t see me as a sinner but as one of His Children. Thats all I need to say.

  11. David,

    I did read your comment. And I have re-read them. My comment was in response to your response to Clint. It must be kept in mind that all of these should be viewed as relating to the original post.

    Let me attempt to offer some clarity:

    1. There is no question that the Bible says that those who are in Christ are now Children of God. (In fact we are “Sons”, which has even more theological implications than “Children”.) As God’s Children we are loved. In fact we were loved before the foundations of the earth. His love is what redeemed us while we were God’s enemies.

    2. As those Chosen and Called, and loved, upon justification (conversion) we are credited with the righteousness of Christ. This, I suspeect, is what you are referring to when you say (rightly) “God sees me as his child.”

    3. While credited with Christ’s righteousness, we are not actually righteous like Christ yet. The verses I cited above give indication of our sin nature that is still alive within us. Paul says that nature is at war with the Spirit within us.

    4. Clint’s comment is an expression of his own sin nature, yet fully informed by the Gospel. He says his tendency is to want to punish himself for his sin, yet he knows that Jesus has already taken the punishment, and that any punishment that Clint might inflict upon himself is in effect saying that what Jesus experienced was not enough. Clint knows that is not the case, but he is simply admitting how his sin nature works in him, and how he must remind himself of the Gospel.

    5. I responded to say that Clint’s struggle was common. The opposite common error is to simply overlook our own on-going sinful nature and the effects it has on our lives, our joy, our relationships, etc. Some may do this out of a falso notionthat they are not sinners; others assuming that while sinners their sin is no big deal.

    6. What I was referring to is what you will hear Sproul, etc. speak about: “simul justis et peccator” or Righteous Sinners (literally Simultaneous Just and Sinner.) This is not a reference to our status, which is what you are appealing to, but our condition. It is our condition that MacDonald is addressing, or a common approach to our condition.

    7. Nothing I have stated was intended to suggest that we are not God’s Children, or that God does not view us as his beloved Children. Nothing I have written minimizes our status as God’s Children. We are God’s Children because he has BOTH adopted us AND gave us new birth in Jesus. Nothing can change that status.

    8. However, as Children of God, Our Father, who loves us and knows us as his Children, does not leave us as we are. Immediately upon conversion he initiates Sanctification, which is a process where we continually die to sin and grow in (actual) righteousness. This process takes this lifetime, and is only completed when we go to be with Him. The reason we need to die to sin is because we are still sinners. The reason we need to grow in actual righteousness (as distinct from what is credited to us) is because we are not actually righteous.

    9. The point I have been making is that while we are indeed Children of God, and in no way denying that God views us as being His Children, nevertheless we are in need of growth (sanctification). God addresses this in Hebrews (as elsewhere) when he says that only the illegitimate child receives not correction.

    10. Now think about this: If God demonstrates his love for us through his correction or our sin, would it not seem to follow that God must be aware of our sin before he corrects us? And if he is aware of our sin, would he not be aware that we are sinners – Righteous Sinners? None of this minimizes our being Children of God. In fact that passage in Hebrews demands that we understand our position as his Children AND our sinful condition, which he lovingly is correcting because he sees it in us.

    11. All of this goes back to the point of the original post. MacDonald is saying that the practice of offering simple, albeit perhaps heartfelt, repentance for some stuff we do, is to miss out what Our Father has made available to us: Genuine, Deep, Repentance, not just of our behaviors, but of the very roots, or currents, that reveals itself in our behavior. MacDonald is acknolwldeging that we are far more sinful than we admit even to ourselves. Yet he understands the fact that we can repent is becasue we are loved far more by Our Father than we would ever dare dream.

  12. Never said we weren’t in need of growth ! That is just silly. My only point is this. Jesus died for our sins. We don’t have to beat ourselves up about it. Our position is secure in Christ. It isn’t a burden we have to carry around or get all down in the dumps about. Like I’m just a worm, how could God love me let alone like me ? My sin is always before me…

    I like what Paul said in Roms Chapeters 6, 7, and 8. Also I recall Ps 103 (memorized it long ago) and Isa 53:6. Great assurance in our God.

    The older I get the more I relize how my sin has affected me. The more I relize the Grace of our God and His Mercy.

    I stand encouraged in Christ. My only hope for this body of sin.

  13. Interesting posts, guys. Appreciate all of the above. Dare I wade in??
    Anyway, David had mentioned Romans 7, & as I was reading all of the posts that passage came to mind. It seems very clear, that on the one hand, Paul was quite perplexed & disturbed regarding the battle going on inside of him (Paul’s “tragic aquifers”, maybe?). He freely admits that he doesn’t do the good he really wants to do, & that he sees himself doing the very evil that he wants to avoid.
    But here’s the thing, even though he refers to himself as a “wretched man”, he’s not beating up on himself. He’s a wretched man saved by grace.
    There once was a lady in our congregation who told me she struggled a bit with singing “Amazing Grace” because she had a hard time seeing herself as a “wretch” (“…who saved a wretch like me….”). Only later did it occur to me that I should have referred her to Romans 7 & Paul’s self-reference.
    Far from being a reason to be down in the dumps, a recognition of this true, deep-rooted condition can lead to some very good things. First, it’s sobering. I USED to think I was a pretty bad sinner. The older I get, the more horrendous I can see that sinfulness to be. That’s bad, right? No!! It’s good. It’s good because it drives me to Christ, & my Father, who is not shocked nor shaken, but who both remind me of my unshakable standing in Jesus.
    If I go to a surgeon & he tells me that my backache is not a pulled muscle, but cancer – that’s sobering. But, particularly if it’s operable cancer, I’m more appreciative of facing that fact & getting deep treatment (sanctification, speaking spiritually), than if I were to insist on thinking it’s not all that bad, & continuing to rely on muscle relaxants & pain relievers.
    Thanks, everyone, for making me think – hope this helps!!

  14. I had no idea all of this had been said since I wrote that. I can’t help but laugh really. I think what I meant has been summed up pretty well and I think it was misunderstood by David. We are sinners who have been forgiven so we need to stop feeling sorry about simply being a sinner and focus on sin itself when it arises. When I posted that I wasn’t responding to anything that was written above at the time just commenting on the quote itself. Christ is light and beauty and life. Just as He has put all things into subjection unto them yet we do not yet see all things in subjection.
    There is a now and later clause to who we are in Christ just as there is a now and later clause to creation itself. We are forgiven but we await the adoption the redemption of our bodies. Until then sin and regret still arises and that weight is still felt at times. Still, love conquers. It always has.

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