The Truth about Repentance Is You Can’t Make It Happen

The Truth about Repentance Is You Can’t Make It Happen

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I have often said, in certain situations, that Biblical counseling is not the best way for sanctification to happen. I’m not throwing Biblical counseling under the bus, but being honest about the change process. Repentance is a gift given, which implies a need to think and strategize carefully about how we do soul care. In this article, I’m addressing one aspect of discipleship, which is our tension with repentance.

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Biblical counseling is not unbiblical by any stretch of the imagination. I would further claim that bringing the Bible to bear on our personal, relational, and situational issues is the most effective way to problem-solve while helping the struggling soul.

All so-called biblical counselors and disciple-makers can share their success stories about what the Lord did while they were coming alongside someone. The counseling/discipleship context is an excellent opportunity to minister to the hurting while calling the wayward to repentance.

Will God Show Up?

One of the issues that I have with traditional biblical counseling, defined as one-on-one sessions outside the local church, is that the Bible does not see these isolated, detached meetings as the best way to care for one another. There are many reasons this is true, but I will point to only one, which is the repentance conundrum.

If a singular session or a season of meetings becomes the place where a call to repentance needs to happen, those sessions could prove to be a disappointing context for progressive sanctification. In such a context, counseling presumes that God will do a work in the individual as the counselor administers God’s Word to them.

This worldview also applies to every parent, pastor, friend, husband, wife, employer, and any other relational construct where one person hopes to help another person change.

Many parents cry out in desperation, hoping that someone will “speak some sense into that child.” Husbands and wives come to counseling expecting a similar outcome for their spouses. And it’s not wrong for them to hope this way, and I commend anyone who cares so much about another person that they would take this kind of action.

Never give up! Don’t become apathetic or cynical about an unchanging person. My singular point here is that if you elevate what you want over what God may have in mind, there could be two problems: the unchanging person and the despairing soul-care provider.

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Misplaced Hope Endangers the Soul

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

There is hope and expectation when someone needs to change that God will provide the gift of repentance for sanctification to happen. What do you hope will happen with the person you’d like to see change? Are you guarding your heart because you know that the Lord may have something else in mind for you and this person?

It is not possible to know when, if, or how the Lord will intervene in anyone’s life. The problem with counseling or any other singular meeting is that you can put too much hope in that engagement, expecting God to do what He will not do.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Repentance is a timing issue: you water and plant while asking the “growth-giver” to bring the needed change. Then you rest while you wait. If you are not experiencing internal peace, then you have your clue that your hope has morphed into a demand that will control you until the person changes.

It Takes Many Means of Grace

Fortunately, there is a better way to think about the change process. And there are other contexts where “counseling” (discipleship) can excel because a call to repentance requires more than private meetings typically. Here is a short list of different types of contexts you can provide for that person you hope will change.

  1. A time to restore: when they fall, you can restore them gently. Study Galatians 6:1-2 to gain insight on how to do this.
  2. A time to care: when they need you, be there for them, especially when you’re not “trying to change them.”
  3. A time to listen: being quick to listen while not interjecting your opinions can set you up to speak at a later time (James 1:19).
  4. A time to teach: though “monologue speaking” is not the best way to instruct, it does have its place. Make sure they hear sound teaching, whether yours or someone else’s.
  5. A time to equip: there will be times when they ask you a specific question. Seize the opportunity while guarding your heart against manipulating the moment—if they give an inch, don’t take a mile.
  6. A time to be a friend: it’s a wise thing to do things that you don’t lace with a manipulative desire to change them. Go shopping or watch a game. Keep it light and comfortable. Build your relational bridge.
  7. A time to weep: they will experience disappointments, as we all do. Be ready to cry, which you can do if you have compassion for them (Romans 12:15). But if your heart has hardened, you’re in the wrong condition to help them.
  8. A time to rejoice: sometimes, folks struggle with rejoicing in the victories of the stubborn, unchanging person. Be glad for them, especially when the Lord’s common grace rains on them (Matthew 5:45).
  9. A time to encourage: did you know that a kind word can turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)? Christ-centered kindness can also motivate a person to change (Romans 2:4).
  10. A time to persevere: maybe the hardest part will be your perseverance when they don’t change according to your timetable and expectations. Perhaps they won’t transform at all. It’s not outside the Lord’s interest to use that person to help you change (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

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Call to Action

I trust that you can see how caring for someone should be comprehensive, and you should avail yourself to as many means of grace as you can. Bring the full arsenal of the community and contexts to the souls you love and want to see change.

You have the opportunity to cooperate with the Lord by providing many aspects of the Savior’s care to those who need to see and experience Him in practical ways. And just perhaps, the Lord is working on you too.

  1. How do you need to change after reflecting upon this article?
  2. Are you a subtle (or overt) manipulator when it comes to those you love? Meaning do you try too hard to change them? How you are in your soul will answer the question. Are you at peace?
  3. Take advantage of the poster, videos, and articles that I have provided for you. And be sure to share it with someone willing to walk with you as you care for others.
  4. If you want to know more about how to help a person, get my book, Change Me, which provides you a thorough process of change.
  5. The Most Important Things You’ll Ever Learn to Change walks through the doctrine of repentance.

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