Nehemiah 9:2 – And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
In religion, people judge one another. In revival, people judge themselves. True repentance in our life is different from four kinds of counterfeit repentance:
- Mere Confession – Had God’s people only confessed their sins without truly repenting, they would have agreed that they were guilty of sin but not changed their behavior.
- Worldly Sorrow – 2 Corinthians 7:10 says that “worldly grief produces death”. Worldly sorrow feels bad for sin but does not embrace Jesus’ death as our “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3) who “carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4) so that we can move from sorrow to salvation, forgiveness, new life, and joy.
- Self-Righteous – Proudly self-righteous repentance confesses the sins of other people, while neglecting our own. Jesus’ story of the self-righteous versus the unrighteous man in Luke 18:9-14 is the perfect example.
- Religious Repentance – This is motivated by an attempt to manipulate God for a blessing, and feeling sorry for getting caught in sin, or sorry for the consequences of sin, but not the sin itself. It seeks in some way to pay God back by feeling bad, wallowing in shame, guilt, and condemnation while the gospel is about Jesus having taken our shame, guilt, and condemnation so that we are no longer under such things (e.g. Hebrews 12:1-2; Romans 8:1). Religious repentance falsely believes that if we do not punish ourselves for our sin, then God will be angry and punish us. Jesus was punished to forgive our sin and rose to give us new life and so the biggest problem with religious repentance is that it focuses too much on the sinner and too little on the Savior.
There can be no progress in the Christian life without ongoing real repentance. Luther launched the revival known as the Protestant Reformation by nailing “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral in Germany. The first sentence said, “Our
Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Before the Church can revive the world, God needs to revive the Church. We cannot invite people to repent of their old life in the flesh and live a new life in the Spirit if we are not experiencing it for ourselves. Perhaps the greatest revival preacher in American history, George Whitefield, modeled this very truth by spending time each evening repenting of his sin before God, then getting up the next day to preach repentance to fellow sinners.
The repentance of God’s people is on full display in Nehemiah 9. How is repentance to God and forgiveness from God truly a blessing that lifts our burdens and restores our joy?