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What Repentance Is Not

Elisabeth Elliot: And then there's self-pity. "Oh, I feel very sorry for myself that I did such an awful thing, because they hate me now and I don't want anybody to hate me." Repentance is not self-pity.

Lisa Barry: Is repentance a word that gives you difficulty? If I repent of something, does that mean I'm vowing to never let it happen again or am I just saying I'm sorry and I hope it never happens again? Or maybe repentance is something else. Well, today on Gateway To Joy, Elisabeth Elliot welcomes back her daughter Valerie for another chat about how we can be better prepared to face the new year. So get comfortable and get ready to be challenged and encouraged by today's Gateway To Joy. Here's Elisabeth to get us started.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot. I've been talking with my daughter, Valerie Shepard, about repentance. Of course, there are so many of God's commandments which we would like to tell the Lord are too difficult. We just can't do that. "How can You ask me, Lord, to do these things? What is repentance? I'm not sure I really know what it means. I don't know whether I can do this."

And here's a poem written by Amy Carmichael. You and I love Amy Carmichael, don't we, Val?

Valerie Shepard: Yes.

Elisabeth Elliot: She seems to have a poem on every subject. "Never will I ask of thee more than thou canst do." This is a poem putting these words in God's mouth. But they are thoroughly scriptural. "Never will I ask of thee more than thou canst do. Ever I will be with thee; Savior, Shepherd, too. Never shall go forth from Me a command too hard for thee. Trust Me, then, O child of Mine. Faith knows not to fear; thou art Mine and I am thine. I am always near. Near to be Thy strong defense, quietness and confidence."

I have some notes here on what repentance is not. I found these very helpful, because it is confusing. When we earnestly and honestly want to forgive somebody but we haven't really repented of our own feelings against that person, but then maybe we have brought that wrong feeling under the lordship of Jesus Christ and we're pretty disgusted with ourselves that we had to repent. But it's very interesting to stop and think, "Is repentance vexation with myself?" No. Repentance is not vexation with myself.

It's my nature, Val, to be very vexed with myself most of the time. Disgusted with myself. Talk about poor self-image, I don't think mine could be much worse than it is. But I don't think that's something we're supposed to waste our time on. There's a form of pride which would like to prolong the difficulties and say, "Well, I really need to get this repentance done better than I'm doing" or "I really need to forgive myself before I can forgive this person." Of course, it's impossible to forgive oneself. We're not supposed to. It's Christ who forgives us. We forgive other people.

Repentance is not impatience. I'm tempted to be impatient with myself-that I dilly dally when I should repent. Repentance is not wounded pride. "Oh, I just can't believe I did that." Well, if I ever say that, that is a clear sign that I am a very proud person because I feel that I have done something which was really beneath me. "I know I'm not like that. I'm really a much better person than that. I just can't believe I did that." That's wounded pride. That's not repentance.

Then there's self-pity. "Oh, I feel very sorry for myself that I did such an awful thing because they hate me now. I don't want anybody to hate me." Repentance is not self-pity. Repentance is not excitement-emotional excitement, getting all in a stew about repenting. Repentance is not disappointment.

One of the old writers says, "Do not harass yourself." Don't be flogging yourself over this. That doesn't really add to the grace of repentance.

I'll read the list again about what repentance is not. It is not vexation with myself. It is not impatience. It is not wounded pride. It is not self-pity, excitement or disappointment.

Valerie Shepard: But what it is is an agreement with God about our hearts. It's to say simply and quietly, "Yes, Lord. I am foolish. I am wayward. I am forgetful of Your goodness and Your love. I've gone my own way here and I want to come back to You and ask You to cleanse me and forgive me of this waywardness, this tendency to wander. I'm prone to wander, Lord. I feel it."

So repentance means agreeing with God that He is right on the evidence that our heart has shown. It has shown our sinfulness. It is turning away from it and asking God with a new heart to say, "You will help me, Lord, I know to watch out for this the next time, to be careful." Now here we could say, "But what about those sins that we keep falling back into? What if we keep doing the same thing? Have we not really repented?" What do you think there?

Elisabeth Elliot: Well, the true foundation of all spiritual life is the knowledge of our own hopeless incorrigible weakness. But that has to be coupled with an unreserved confidence in God's power. Let's never imagine that we're anything but weak. God knows that we're nothing but weak creatures. What else does He expect of us? Yet He keeps telling us, "My grace is all you need." We can come to Him and receive grace from Him. If God tells us that we have to forgive our brother seventy times seven, surely God is willing to forgive us for the same sin seventy times seven, 490 times. I'm sure that that's just a figure of speech, because there is no limit to God's grace. "His love has no limit; His grace has no measure; His power has no boundary known unto men."

Valerie Shepard: Think of the story of the prodigal son. The father probably would have done that over and over again. If his son had gone back out to squander away money again, his father would still have come-if he was the perfect father, as our Father in heaven is-he would have come, waiting for his son with open arms, welcoming him back again every time his son came to himself and recognized he was better off in his father's house. He was better off doing what his father wanted him to do.

I'm so grateful, so thankful, that the Lord does forgive us over and over again. Where would we be if He didn't?

Elisabeth Elliot: We would be of all men most miserable. It's not feeling bad, but confession that makes us clean again. Repentance. Confession. Just as it is not feeling, but consent that makes us guilty. We may have a bad feeling rise up in us. We do not need to consent to it. There we're talking again about the conflict between our emotions and our will. As Martin Luther said so plainly, "You can't stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making a nest in your beard."

If a wrong thought arises in my mind, I don't need to castigate myself, thinking, "Oh, how did that thought ever come into such a pure mind as mine?" All I need to do is refuse to consent to that thought. So I don't think I need to repent of a thought that just flashes into my mind, but I certainly need to repent if I welcome it.

Valerie Shepard: And dwell on it and let it get you down. Often repentance is not simply the dwelling on the thought or asking God to change your thought patterns. It's also repenting of our attitude towards other people. In Galatians 5:15 it says, "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." That sounds pretty fierce and awful. Superficially, we could say, "I don't bite and devour other people." But I'm afraid it's too true that in the Christian church, whether it's simply in your own marriage or whether it's when we have to get to know other brothers and sisters, biting and devouring simply means having a critical, negative spirit towards them.

I know I bit and devoured my husband many times, just because I was so critical of the way he was. God showed me that critical spirit and I could see that, like the proverb says, "A foolish woman breaks down her house by her foolishness." She brings it down on her own head and around her husband and children, because she is not building it up in hope and in faithfulness and in encouragement. I am so thankful the Lord helped me to start trying hard to encourage my husband and lift him up and support him when I needed to repent of this biting spirit, this sarcastic or retort that comes back because we want to defend ourselves.

Elisabeth Elliot: There's such a tremendous amount of self-righteousness when we have a critical spirit. It's always, "Thank God that I'm not like those other people there."

Valerie Shepard: Exactly. Many times in my marriage-and again, I didn't recognize this until a few years ago-my questions of Walt, of what he did the night that he went out to a meeting, what time he got home, what time did he go to bed, my questions of what he did during the day-were simply to make myself feel more righteous. I finally recognized that I needed to stop asking him questions all the time about what he did and how did he spend his time. So often we women think that we know how to spend our time better than husbands do or we think we can manage our time.

I remember times when my husband would have taken care of the children for a few hours and I had to go out shopping or had to do something. I would come home and I would criticize him for the things that he didn't do. "Why didn't you think of this? Why didn't you do this? Well, you could have at least gotten this done." That biting and devouring absolutely did no good. It didn't encourage him. It didn't help him. It also discouraged the children when they saw me behaving that way. So we need to repent of that kind of spirit and ask the Lord to make us truly humble, recognizing our own weaknesses.

Elisabeth Elliot: Repentance is a 180-degree turn in the other direction.

Valerie Shepard: Right.

Lisa Barry: Well, I hope today's program has been practical for you. We always want to be able to give you concrete things to try in your desire to live for Christ. Something that might also help on a daily basis is a little bit of food for thought from Elisabeth each day. How? Well, we have a great little flip calendar for you to use every year. It contains all sorts of verses, quotes and thoughts to ponder, all in a beautiful calendar that sits nicely on a dresser or window sill. The cost is $14 and we call it the HEART FOR GOD calendar.

You can send that, along with your request, to Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Or call toll-free: 1-800-759-4JOY. That's 1-800-759-4569. Our newly revised Web page is accessible by entering www.gatewaytojoy.org. Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible.

Join us again tomorrow when Valerie shares some ideas to jump start your new year. Until then, this is Lisa Barry. Happy New Year!

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