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Repentance Is for Christians

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"Have you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?" Most will immediately recognize these words as part of our baptismal ceremony. Repentance is an essential prerequisite to becoming a Christian. But what do all the scriptures about repentance mean for those who already are baptized Christians?

At baptism the old self is buried. Paul wrote of this truth in Romans 6:6 Romans 6:6Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin.
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, "Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with [Christ], that the body of sin might be done away with [rendered inoperative], that we should no longer be slaves of sin."

Of course, we know that baptism does not put an end to our human nature. (If only it did!) Neither does it put an end to the need for repentance. Repentance is not only for those who want to become Christians. Repentance is for Christians.

How a Christian Might Sin

What type of sin can or does a Christian -the man or woman who keeps both the laws of man and the laws of God-commit? I would like to take you back to the city of Rome when the Church was first founded there. Paul compares and contrasts the converted Jews with the converted gentiles, all members of the fledgling Church of God.

He wrote of the fact that people can sin "in the law"-that is, in a law-abiding culture (meaning God's laws) such as the Jewish culture in which those Christian Jews grew up (Romans 2:12 Romans 2:12For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
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). He explained that living in a law-abiding culture could lead one to the false assumption that since the law is all around him, it is also in him. The gentile Christians, in contrast to the Jews, did not live for a long time in a law-abiding environment before their conversion. Nonetheless, it was possible for these gentiles to have the law in them (Romans 2:13-15 Romans 2:13-15 [13] (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. [14] For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law to themselves: [15] Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
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).

In the first chapter of this book, Paul addresses some grossly immoral acts taking place in the general populace at Rome. In the third verse of the second chapter, we read the startling facts that the Roman Christians were practicing such things, too-and were in danger of God's judgment! While some members at Rome may have slipped back into these overtly immoral sins, we don't want to overlook the less obvious, but just as serious, sins of the mind.

If you read the list of sins being committed in the general populace (Romans 1:29-31 Romans 1:29-31 [29] Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, [30] Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, [31] Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
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), you will see several that are sins of the mind-often also expressed by words. Some of them were: covetousness, maliciousness, envy, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, whisperers, backbiters, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, undiscerning, unforgiving and unmerciful.

It seems that these sins were put on a par with blatantly immoral behavior. Could that be so? Why should thoughts and words be considered on a par with plainly sinful actions?

Christ answers this with, "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." He added, "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:34 Matthew 12:34O generation of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
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, 37). Our words mirror our thoughts. Our thoughts reflect our character. To know if we need to repent, we need to look not only at sinful actions, but at the thoughts that spring from our minds and the words that tumble from our lips.

Thoughts and the words that they engender can corrupt spiritual character. Addressing criticism that His disciples did not wash in accord with Pharisaic tradition, Christ said: "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart…proceed evil thoughts…covetousness…deceit…pride, [and] foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:20-23 Mark 7:20-23 [20] And he said, That which comes out of the man, that defiles the man. [21] For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, [22] Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: [23] All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
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).

Sins of the mind and the mouth actually break the law just as much as the transparently obvious sins that we repented of before baptism (James 4:11-12 James 4:11-12 [11] Speak not evil one of another, brothers. He that speaks evil of his brother, and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law, and judges the law: but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge. [12] There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who are you that judge another?
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). People who would never commit a murder would not hesitate to destroy a life with words. "The hypocrite with his mouth," says the proverb, "destroys his neighbor" (Proverbs 11:9 Proverbs 11:9An hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.
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).

Gossip and judging are only two sins of the mind and the mouth. Let's look at others.

Sins of the Mind and the Mouth

Peter wrote of "laying aside" or repenting of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and evil speaking (1 Peter 2:1 1 Peter 2:1Why laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, all evil speakings,
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). Malice is a desire to hurt someone. Sometimes people kid themselves by thinking that it's OK to hurt someone who "deserves it." Deceit is misrepresentation. You might recall the fundamental law of God, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16 Exodus 20:16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
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). It is a sin to misrepresent the facts about others. It is also a sin to misrepresent Christ, appearing to be a Christian on the outside, while thinking like a carnal person on the inside. That also relates to hypocrisy. Envy or jealousy is a sin of the mind that may be invisible. It can be disguised as criticism or resentment of others. Evil speaking brings us not only to the subject of gossip, but also to that of simply saying unkind things.

In some ways, repentance means becoming like a child again, like the tenderhearted person that you were when you first repented and sought baptism (1 Peter 2:2 1 Peter 2:2As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby:
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). Do we sometimes confuse these qualities with weakness or naiveté, seeking to excuse our sins of the mind in the name of being "mature Christians"? A long time in the Church environment is not license to sin.

Sins of Commission and Omission

There are sins of commission as well as sins of omission-that is, not only doing what we should not do, but also leaving off what should be done. Not only do you not lie; you tell the truth! It can be sin to fail to act with righteous indignation against a wrong. It is also a sin to fail to put an end to your anger.

Not only do you not steal; you work for a living. Not only do you avoid saying the wrong thing; you work at saying the right thing. Not only do you avoid damaging thoughts and words; you choose and use forgiving thoughts and kind words. Failure to do this "grieves the Holy Spirit"-that is, it is sin (Ephesians 4:25-32 Ephesians 4:25-32 [25] Why putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. [26] Be you angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down on your wrath: [27] Neither give place to the devil. [28] Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needs. [29] Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers. [30] And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed to the day of redemption. [31] Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: [32] And be you kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you.
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).

The teaching of God, is to take sin seriously-all sin. That's the meaning of Christ's sobering admonition, "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast if from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire" (Matthew 18:8 Matthew 18:8Why if your hand or your foot offend you, cut them off, and cast them from you: it is better for you to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
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).

Corinth was infamous for its sins of the flesh, but the apostle Paul made it clear to the Church there that sins of the mind and the mouth were just as serious. The RSV lists "quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness [NIV 'factions'], slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder" in 2 Corinthians 12:20 2 Corinthians 12:20For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found to you such as you would not: lest there be debates, contentions, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, arrogance, tumults:
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, along with "immorality and licentiousness." These sins are all covered in the word uncleanness or impurity in verse 21. Paul was plain about the fact that any of these sins could cause a Christian to be taken out of the Church.

Blessings of True Repentance

Why should a Christian repent? Based on what we just read, one obvious answer is that failing to repent may cause us to be taken out of the Church. Secondly, failing to repent hurts the Church-both the entire Body of Christ and the local congregation. And thirdly, failing to repent damages relationships with other people.

Les McCullough wrote of still another reason in a recent letter, saying, "The blessings of true repentance are great and eternal." Let's call that a fourth reason-to enjoy the blessings of true repentance.

What are they? Here are three: forgiveness, humility and access to God.

How wonderfully encouraging to know that we can be and are totally forgiven when we repent-just as clean as when first baptized. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
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). How discouraging to think about if we were never forgiven. Forgiveness is a priceless blessing for the repentant.

A humble person is better able to get along with others. He's approachable, and he's not likely to be quick to condemn anyone else. He or she is a better spouse, parent or child-a better member of the Church (Romans 12:3 Romans 12:3For I say, through the grace given to me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith.
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, 14-16).

Finally, a person who repents has access to the great God. Sin blocks communication with and help from God. It's not that He is limited in any way. Sin is simply that damaging. "Your iniquities have separated you from your God," wrote the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 59:2 Isaiah 59:2But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
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). The same prophet was stirred to write about the way to open contact with our Creator: "On this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isaiah 66:2 Isaiah 66:2For all those things has my hand made, and all those things have been, said the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.
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).

Repentance is for Christians. It's as necessary to continue to seek spiritual cleansing throughout our Christian lives as it is when we first ask God to forgive our sins. The words of our baptismal ceremony still apply: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Are you still repenting of your sins?" UN

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