Summary: Subtle sin hinders our prayer as surely as the blatant ones. It does not have to be blatant. It does not have to be an outward action. It does not have to be anything anyone else knows about. If we regard iniquity in our hearts the Lord will not listen.
“If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalms 66:18
Before writing, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” before becoming a leader of the Reformation, before his 95 Theses, Martin Luther was a Catholic priest. One thing that did not change for him was a passionate conviction that Christians must repent and confess their sins.
As a priest, Luther’s confessions were excruciating both for himself and the confessor who had to listen. He did not have the kind of lurid, scandalous confessions that might leave his confessor thinking, “Oh, how wicked... Tell me more!” He tediously confessed every thought, word, or deed he thought was even questionable.
At the end of one confession, his exhausted confessor asked, “Is there anything more?”
Martin Luther, in great agitation, said, “Yes, I can think of one more thing. At supper, as the bread was being passed, I noticed another priest had a piece of bread that looked a little bit bigger than mine. I remember being envious, wishing I had that little bit bigger piece of bread.”
God is infinitely patient in hearing our sincere confession. Humans are not. That was his confessor’s breaking point. “Martin... Go out and kill someone... Then come back and confess... when you have something to confess!”
The Bible emphasizes again and again the need to confess.
Job must have been one of the best men on earth for God to ask Satan, “Have you noticed my servant, Job?” But even Job had to fall in the dust, repent, and confess his sins.
When Isaiah saw God’s purity and holiness, how did he respond? “Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips!” When he saw the God’s purity and holiness, he emphatically confessed his own impurity and unholiness.
Daniel received an incredible visit from the angel Gabriel In Dan. 9. Do you know what he was doing when the angel came? Let’s read Daniel 9:20-22
“While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill, while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding.”
Daniel was confessing.
Andrew Murray wrote, “If you go back to the scripture records, you will find that the men who lived nearest to God, and had the most power with him, were those who confessed their sins and their failures... If these holy and good men felt that they were faulty, should we not tremble, and endeavor to find out if there is anything in our lives that God would have us get rid of?”
The words translated repentance in the Bible refer to a change of mind, a feeling of regret or remorse, or turning from one thing to another. Specifically, it is the turning from sin and turning to God. But the definition of the feeling of regret or remorse cannot be ignored. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 refers to godly sorrow leading to repentance. If we do not abhor the sin, if we are not grieved for having committed it, have we truly repented?
Even the “change of mind” definition may be more significant than I first thought. Spurgeon said,
“I heard a person say, and, as I thought, say very flippantly, that it was a great thing to know the Greek language because, in that way, you found out that repentance ‘simply meant a change of mind.’ The brother who said that did not appear to me to know much about the English language, and I was quite certain that he did not know alpha from beta in the Greek language; but that was what he said, ‘it simply meant a change of mind.’ Ah! it does mean a change of mind, but what a change of mind!
“In my opinion, such a translation of the Greek as that would not imply that repentance was anything less than it is commonly understood to be, but a far greater thing. It is an entire and total change of mind, a turning of the mind right round, so that it hates what once it loved and loves what once it hated; it forms different judgments from what it ever did before, and no longer puts bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter; darkness for light, and light for darkness.”
Repent does not mean a simple change of mind, but a total change of mind.
A writer wrote of his daughters singing in a detention facility. They then visited with the girls in the facility. One of them told one of his daughters that she wanted to become a Christian, but she was not yet ready. She was testifying at her boyfriend’s trial the next day. She was planning on lying so he would get off.