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Biff was living in secret sin. Biff is a Christian. He did not tell anyone about his secret for many months, and the longer he held on to it, the more frustrated, relationally distant, and internally hardened he became. It appears that Paul was correct when he said God’s wrath rains down from heaven against anyone who presses His truth from their lives. For Biff, his life became unbearable even for him, though he doubled down to keep the masquerade going. Keep moving forward when your plan is going badly, hoping things will change eventually. It’s the golfer’s fantasy, always believing you’ll straighten it out on the next hole. Biff was living inside his personal golfer’s fantasy.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).
Eventually, the hidden sin did come to light, which was mercy from the Lord because Biff had no intention of telling anyone about what he was doing. Sin will always ravage the soul if left unattended because it is not a neutral force. It is a living and active agent that captures the heart while leaving its victims calloused and blind (Hebrews 4:7). You could say Biff was a modern-day David. Sin’s purpose is to penetrate the soul to destroy the inner person (John 10:10). The spirit, mind, will, emotions, conscience, thoughts, intentions, and motives become gnarled, ravaged, and conquered. As a midwestern town after a tornado, sin does not take prisoners. It kills them. David captured the effects on the soul of the person who keeps quiet about their nefariousness.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (Psalm 32:3-4).
Have you ever considered how the Lord is part of sin’s assault on our souls? Carefully reflect on what Paul said in Romans 1:18. God rains down His wrath on anyone who pushes His truth out of their lives. Nobody—believer or unbeliever—can escape the displeasure of God or the distortions of sin if they don’t want to come clean. David felt the wrathful anger of the Lord, as well as the deteriorating effects of wrongdoing during his silence. Biff was also slowly dying on the vine (John 15:5) because of his choice to keep quiet. Sin’s deception had clouded his judgment. Repentance is only sweet to the humble soul, and the person who has experienced the gift of repentance (2 Timothy 2:25) always testifies to its blessedness. David came around to the blessedness of repentance eventually.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (Psalm 32:1-2).
What is repentance? What does it look like, practically speaking? What are the steps? Perhaps it would help to think about the order of salvation (Ordo Salutis), which also has steps. If you stretch the word salvation to peer inside, you’ll see a linkage of beautiful portraits hanging on the walls of a magnificent museum we call salvation. There is a similar linkage to repentance, an order to repentance (Ordo Poenitentiae). I have placed those elements sequentially to show how we should interact with them so that complete and effectual change can happen for anyone. There are thirteen links in the repentance chain.
Complete repentance is not any of those things but all of them—one at a time in sequential order. You will know if you have changed after you go from a sinning, self-focused lifestyle to a redemptive other-centered lifestyle (Philippians 2:3-5). Our lack of working through all the elements of repentance explains why we live in recurring sin patterns. The Christian life consists of “repentance and ongoing repenting,” a redemptive lifestyle that makes any person, friend, family, or church dynamic. We will never fully repent because we cannot attain perfection in the here and now, making repentance living a necessity to live well with God, self, and others.
Every Christian should have a solid functional knowledge of repentance and an active lifestyle compatible with that knowledge. Long-term, progressive, sustainable change will not happen without practical Bible knowledge and authentic biblical engagement. As with all journeys, how you begin determines how you will continue throughout the process and your endpoint. Do you want it to end well? Start well, and maintain biblical expectations throughout your journey. This need in our lives is why it’s essential to understand all the elements in the order of repentance. For now, I will focus on two specific aspects of repentance—conviction and confession.
After we sin, there will be guilt from God. This guilt does not require acknowledgment or acceptance because we do not determine the lines of transgression. Guilt is not a feeling but a forensic fact: God declares us guilty (Genesis 2:16-17; Romans 5:12, 6:23). Though we can twist sin to mean whatever we want it to mean, we cannot change what God says about His righteous morality. When I sin, I am guilty before God. I can dance around it, make excuses, or point out the faults of others, but none of those things reduce the guilt or change God’s opinion about what I did.
The only correct answer to guilt is confession, born out of conviction, but sometimes the transgressor chooses one of sin’s allies. There are several of them. For example, blame is a standard deflection. It excuses my actions by placing the reason on another person or thing. Then there is justification, which is declaring myself not guilty by saying, “I am not wrong for what I did.” Some folks rationalize: “It’s not a big deal; everybody is doing it.” There is such a normalization of sin in our culture that many people do not have proper biblical categories, as they unwittingly rationalize their actions. Of course, there is alleviation when the wrath of God rains from heaven, tempting the transgressor to escape through addictive behaviors, i.e., binge-watching, shopping, eating, porn, drugs, etc.
These deflections are like someone standing before the judge in traffic court. They were driving too fast. The speeder makes much of what the other drivers did while never owning what he did. It’s smoke and mirrors. It is game-playing. It’s intellectual dishonesty, a more pleasant way of saying the person is either willfully lying or self-deceived. Self-deception is the precondition for the conscience to blur the lines in a person’s mind between right and wrong, leading to the use of deflections.
It is incredible for the Lord to send conviction immediately on the heels of our guilt. Conviction is our way of feeling (or experiencing) God’s guilt over what we have done wrong. This experience is what David was talking about in Psalm thirty-two. He felt the Lord’s guilt, a heavy conviction for what he did, affecting him spiritually and physically. I suspect David felt this weight because of his profound affection for God. He had a massive heart for the Lord. The higher your love is for God, the more significantly you will feel the weight of your sin. The opposite is also accurate.
To be desensitized to sin is a dangerous place to be. Paul discussed this in 1 Timothy 4:2 when he wrote about the seared conscience. To sin repeatedly without genuine repentance is the beginning of a layering effect where you can no longer feel the conscience. There is a quenching of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). It grieves Him (Ephesians 4:30). If a person does not feel conviction for sin, they will not be motivated to confess their sin, which is the fourth step in the Ordo Poenitentiae: sin, guilt, conviction, and confession. To confess is to agree with God (and anyone else) about what you did.
True confession cannot happen if we do not experience Spirit-given conviction because we won’t be able to confess the sin committed if we’re unaware of our guilt. One of the instructive things I have observed in Christianity is a process of repentance that marginalizes conviction. You can hear it by the casualness with which a person talks about what they did wrong. When David confessed his sin, he felt conviction, which communicated humbled brokenness over his actions. Though every confession should not read like Psalm 51, every confession should be heartfelt.
It’s not good to frame our confession in a casual “I’m sorry” or “Will you forgive me for what happened” Christian speak that follows a formula where there is a detached heart from the spoken words. That is not a person engaged in the change process. That is someone doing damage control over the situation or a conflict resolution technique that preserves the reputation of the transgressor. The wording of our confession must be more than Bible-sounding Christian-speak. I’m not suggesting confession must be overly emotive, but heartfelt is heart-explained, and you hear it in David’s confession.
The concern here is whether we are humbly engaging God and others so we can effectively turn from what we have done. You may have seen this “kind of repentance” in a child.
That confession and forgiveness scenario directed by the dad is performative. Perhaps it’s necessary to teach the children how to do it, but Christians must do better than formulaic Christian speak. The Spirit of God motivates us to feel God-given conviction for what we did wrong. We may inwardly smile as our children walk through false repentance, but it is a much bigger problem when Christians learn the language, but there is no noticeable difference between our repentance and how children do it. You might as well train your parrot to do it because it will save time.
The weight of conviction you feel over your sin will be proportional to your love for the person you hurt. This aspect of conviction will be problematic for some people because there are folks they have sinned against that they do not love or do not love well. Think about it this way. When you lose something you love, you feel the weight of that loss, a concept that applies to any cherished treasure or relationship (Ephesians 5:29). When you damage that thing or a person you love in any way, you feel it.
Every loving parent feels genuine love when their child is hurt or, in some cases, dies. The pain you feel in your heart is proportional to your love for that child. Conviction is a form of grief you have for someone who is hurting. In the early part of our marriage, I could sin against my wife and blow it off as though it was not a big thing. I could do this because I had underlying anger and unforgiveness toward her. I was a bitter husband. It was even more damning because I could blame, justify, or rationalize my actions away. Deflections made it easy for me to sin against Lucia and then make excuses while never truly owning what I did wrong.
There were times when I said, “I’m sorry” or even “Will you forgive me,” but those words were not born out of a broken heart (convicted) over my sin against her (and God). Then the Lord introduced me to the gospel, which opened my eyes to see what a low-down, dirty, rotten sinner I was. My soul began to sink into the worthlessness (Romans 3:12) of my depravity as the Lord was simultaneously lifting me by realizing the riches of His mercy (Ephesians 2:1-10). My self-righteousness turned into vapor, which opened a portal to see my wife in a new light.
Rather than belittling or being mean to her, I became grateful for the Lord’s gift: I did not deserve His salvation or my wife. She became my treasure, and to sin against her created brokenness that I had never felt up to that time. If you feel little conviction about your nastiness toward someone, your love for them is minimal, and your process of repentance will fizzle out. David was a man after the Lord’s heart (Acts 13:22), which explains why the weight of his sin was killing him. I am unsure how long David could have continued his sin if Nathan had not confronted him (2 Samuel 12:1-13).
I would like for you to discuss these questions with a friend. If you are not a conviction-feeling repenter, ask the Lord to help you see what you may not be able to see right now and to feel the weight of your wrongs so you can effectually change.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).