Summary: There are four essentials to a relationship with God: Genuine confession, repentance, faith and obedience.
In a collection of cartoons by Bill Watterson, entitled The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, ornery little Calvin is talking to Hobbes, his friend the stuffed tiger, about what he has done to little Susie. Calvin says, “I feel bad that I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I’m sorry I did it.” But when Hobbes suggests that maybe he should apologize to her, Calvin ponders the thought for a moment and says, “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.”
We often think that we would like to heal our relationship with God, but at the same time we keep hoping there is a less obvious solution. This morning I would like for us to look at what should be the obvious solution to having a relationship with God. But sometimes, we in the church assume everyone knows how to come into a relationship with God and never really spell it out in simple terms. We talk around it and never get to the core itself. So, today I want to get back to thebasics.
There are four essential steps in our relationship with God, and the first one is: There must be genuine confession. If there is one thing which is more essential than anything else in our relationship with God, it is honesty. That is why confession is important. When we come before God we come admitting who we are and what we have done. When King David sinned, he prayed, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:1-4). That is a good prayer because it is an honest prayer.
Today, psychology has become the new religion. Instead of admitting our guilt, we analyze our guilt and qualify it. We figure out why we are not guilty because of what someone else has done to us. We are not guilty by reason of insanity. That is not just a plea by criminals, it is an excuse ordinary people use all the time. They say, “I am not responsible for what I have done, because of the psychological and emotional scars from my past.” We talk about how our actions were understandable, and how we could not help doing what we did. We even argue that we were justified, and that if people only understood where we have come from they would agree. But confession means that I understand that I was wrong and that what I did was a sin.
There is something else important in this matter of confession. Confession must be specific. For the past several years we have seen a President who is quintessential artful dodger in the matter of admitting guilt. He can lie. He can redefine the simplest of terms. He can even say that he was guilty of something, but never quite say what that was. He can put a spin on sin to make it sound acceptable. But he is not so different from most of us. We want to dance around the truth of our guilt and argue about definitions. We hedge and dodge and redefine our sin. We put a spin on it. And even though we might admit that perhaps we were guilty of something, we never quite get around to saying what that something was. Oh, we may have done some wrong things, but it wasn’t all that bad, especially when you compare it with what others have done. But when we come before God, there must be honesty. We have to tell the truth about ourselves. That is what confession means.
But more than confession is necessary. The second point is that: There must be genuine repentance. Confession means that I am honest to God about my sin. Repentance means I turn from that sin. I abandon it and walk away from it. I will have nothing more to do with it. I walk away from my sin and I walk toward God. There has been a total change of direction in my life.
Repentance is a military term meaning, “about face.” It is a total change in thought and behavior in how we think and act. It is an emotional reaction. We are full of sorrow for what we have done, and now we find our former behavior repugnant. But it is also more than just an emotional reaction. New emotions have led to new behavior. We actually live differently as a result of real repentance. There are actually two words in the New Testament for repentance. One is metamelomai. It means that we regret what we have done. We are sorry over having been caught, or we regret the consequences that our bad behavior and poor decisions have brought about. We are sorry for the mess our lives are in. But it does not necessarily mean that this results in a change of behavior. The other word for repentance is metanoia. It means that there is not only regret, there is change. There is an about face in our thinking and the way we live. There is a completely new way in which we think about sin and the way we think about God. Both concepts are used by Paul when he wrote, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). The people who belong to this world may regret the mess sin has brought into their lives, but they have no intention on changing the way they live. They still think that sin is the only way to go. Sin equals fun, and living for God equals boring restrictions and limitations.