Respectability is not the same as righteousness

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From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 14 – Step one in detail – repent

Criminals, prostitutes, drug addicts and people who have obviously failed or fallen in a very noticeable way often find it much easier to repent.  They have fewer illusions about themselves.  If you are, on the face of it, a more “respectable” person, then beware.  You may be in real danger of not being able to see your own sinfulness.  You may mistake your own respectability for righteousness. 

They are not the same thing.  No matter how respectable you seem to be, even if you are a doctor or a vicar or a Prime Minister, there is absolutely no righteousness in you at all.  You will never find salvation until you realise that:

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

1 John 1:8-10 (NIV)

Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the LORD. 

Lamentations 3:40 (NIV)

We have to get the message that we are sinful and that our own sin, not just other people’s sin, is serious.  Then our repentance must involve a genuine sorrow for that sin and a real apology to God for it.  We cannot simply acknowledge it casually as if we had bumped into someone’s trolley in a supermarket where we instinctively say a quick and cheerful “Sorry”. Our sorrow and repentance towards God needs to be deep, heartfelt and real. 

It should be like that of a man who, through his own negligence or drunken driving, has killed a couple’s only child on the road and the Court tells him to go and apologise personally to the parents of that child.  Picture that scene, and imagine how you would feel if it was you making that apology, in the parents’ living room, surrounded by framed photographs of their dead child.  Think about how you would speak to those parents and how you would phrase your apology. 

What would be the tone in which you would ask for their forgiveness?  Can you even contemplate doing it glibly or light-heartedly?  Iimagine saying something like this: “Yes, it’s a shame I killed your son, but these things happen.  I do generally tend to drive more safely than other people most of the time”  It would be totally inappropriate.  The apology would need to be deep and genuine or it would be only an insult.

That depth of remorse and grief is what we ought to express towards God for what we have done to Him and to our fellow men, whom He created.  Even more relevantly, it is partly your sin and mine which caused God’s own Son to have to be crucified.  That is an awesome responsibility bearing down on your shoulders. 

You, like me, are partly to blame for Jesus needing to die.  Therefore the illustration I used above about the parents of the child you had killed is, to some extent, an appropriate analogy for how we need to speak to God the Father about our sin.  It brought about the death of His only begotten Son.

So, when you repent towards God the Father for your sins, remember what your sin did to His Son.  Try to hold that in your mind, and reflect on it.  It will help you to guard against glibness.

Look at the tone and depth of King David’s repentance which he wrote about in Psalm 51:

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
5Surely I was sinful at birth, 
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; 
you teach me wisdom in the inmost  place.
7Cleanse me with hyssop,
and I will be clean;  wash me,
and I will be whiter than snow. 
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; 
let the bones you have crushed rejoice 
9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart,
O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:1-10 (NIV)

Look also at the prophet Isaiah’s attitude towards his own sinfulness:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Isaiah 6:5 (NIV)

Consider also the attitude of the group to whom apostle Peter preached for the first time in Acts Chapter 2. Peter tells them straight-forwardly who Jesus really is and how wrongly they had acted in crucifying Him. Here are some excerpts from his speech. Note how direct he is and also the effect it has on them in bringing them to a place of godly sorrow and conviction:

22“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,  put him to death by nailing him to the cross.24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

Acts 2:22-24 (NIV)

Peter then went on to say:

36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  40With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

Acts 2:36-40 (NIV)

Peter’s straight talking touched their hearts and convicted them in their consciences so that 3000 people were moved to repent and believe in Jesus on that day.  They were cut to the heart by the gravity of their own sin, and by the directness of Peter’s preaching.

But contrast that attitude with what Jeremiah says is the heart attitude of most human beings, i.e. shameless, brazen, indifference to God, with no repentance for sin:

Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen;
they will be brought down when I punish them,”
says the LORD.  

Jeremiah 6:15 (NIV)
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