The Conundrum of Repentance
C.S. Lewis writes about repentance and points to a truth that is both ironic and practical. In Mere Christianity he says, “Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly.” In other words, the ones who need it most, are least capable of doing it well. Our natural orientation is towards our self. We promote, protect, and pursue the things that revolve around our own ways. To repent is to change the direction of our lives. Therefore sin is a form of death. In our turning, we are to consider ourselves dead unto sin and alive unto God. (Rom.6:11) No wonder, then, that repentance is hard. When I am smothered in my own ways, it is difficult to turn towards the ways of God. The deeper I am in my own orientation, the more I need the turning: and the harder the turning is. Even the attempts we make to change our ways are tainted with our self will. We repent because we got caught, not because we love the truth. We change out of caution for our reputation. We repent temporarily or partially. We die to our habits but not to our own willfulness. It becomes evident that C.S. Lewis was right. The ones who need to repent the most are least able to do so fully.
But repentance is the path of life. It is not optional. So how do I obey a command I am unable to follow? The answer is Jesus Christ. Our Saviour lived a life which needed no repentance and He died a death that was not deserved or required. He voluntarily gave Himself to the consequence of our sins - even the sin of our unrepentant hearts. So the One who did not need to repent, did it perfectly for those who need it, but could not do it. The death of Christ is my rescue from death. The life of Christ is my rescue for continual repentance.
Repentance is a repeated pattern for Christians. We are continually turning to God. As mentioned, we do it imperfectly. But Christ is our Intercessor and Aid. His Life is imputed to me and applied to my weaknesses and failures. I trust His death for my forgiveness and lean into His life for my own living. I need His presence and power in my days to guide me toward godly turning. I embrace His grace to complete the imperfections of my heart. I stand in the shelter of His obedience with my disobedience. When I could not give my life, He gave His death. When I cannot turn as I ought, He grants His perfection in my frail footsteps. My part is the willing turning of faith. His part is the perfect fulfillment of grace. And with all of creation - we proclaim, “Who is like our God?”