This post originally appeared on Theology Rocks
“For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
When I was in fourth grade, I had my first “girlfriend”. I went from the flutters of the butterflies in my tummy, to the “check yes” box in the note I gave her. I even endured the mockery from my parents upon asking them to buy me a box of Valentine chocolates for her. I went to the daily break time, pulled out the heart-shaped box from my backpack, and placed it in her hands. She looked at me as her face lit up and ran off in excitement. As I watched her run off with the sweets (I figured it was due to her shyness), I began to turn sour. She ran around to share her new heart with all the other boys she fancied, as my heart broke. I was betrayed.
Now, that occurrence is no longer so tragic to me, but at the time it was the source of all sorts of emotional discord. What’s much worse is when we turn to the reality of the story of Judas (John 18:2-12 cf. Mt. 26:47-56, Mk. 14:43-52, Lk. 22:47-53). God incarnate is his teacher (i.e. John 12:1-4); he hears the very words of God. Yet he comes to his beloved teacher with a kiss of betrayal. Jesus knew Judas was part of God’s plan of redemption and Satan’s tool. But what can be said of the believer? The believer has been given a new heart and desire for God (Ezekiel 36:26). God is holy and hates sin (Lev. 19:2). He is just and must judge sin (Psalm 9:7-8). But that wrath and condemnation we deserved was placed on Christ on our behalf so God can give grace (2 Cor. 5:21). Why do I so often forge that grace into a knife to stab Him in the back (Romans 6:1-2)?
I have such tendency to do my very best at my spiritual disciplines in front of others. I even pray and read Scriptures in secret. I do my very best to have fellowship with God and be grateful that He has called me friend. So when I sin, when I break that fellowship with God, does He feel that same sense of betrayal? Whenever I find myself on my knees repenting of my sin, I often forget to search and think through what I’ve truly done. I blandly say, “God forgive me” with such nonchalance that a six-year-old would not be satisfied. I don’t fully realize that I have just betrayed God.
This is why sometimes we can feel like Judas: we betray God and don’t even treat it seriously. However the main difference is Judas never truly repented of his sins; whereas, the genuine believer is in continual repentance, even repenting of his superficial repentance.
Understanding the gravity of sin leads to genuine repentance. It’s easy to show the outward signs of repenting without truly having a heart of repentance. That’s the whole point of the parable Jesus gives in Luke 18:9-14 about the Pharisee and tax collector. In Malachi 1, God begs the people to stop sacrificing. Why? Because God does not want the outward acts of repentance without the inward heart of repentance. God doesn’t desire you to go to a confessional and give your spiel to a priest. God does not desire for you to sacrifice a lamb. God doesn’t desire you to wear sack cloth and sit in ashes. God doesn’t desire you to simply say a prayer. God desires true repentance from the inside out.
O GOD OF GRACE,
YOU HAVE IMPUTED MY SIN TO MY SUBSTITUTE, AND HAVE IMPUTED HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS TO MY SOUL, CLOTHING ME WITH A BRIDEGROOM’S ROBE, DECKING ME WITH JEWELS OF HOLINESS. BUT IN MY CHRISTIAN WALK I AM STILL IN RAGS; MY BEST PRAYERS ARE STAINED WITH SIN; MY PENITENTIAL TEARS ARE SO MUCH IMPURITY; MY CONFESSIONS OF WRONG ARE SO MANY AGGRAVATIONS OF SIN; MY RECEIVING THE SPIRIT IS TINCTURED WITH SELFISHNESS.
I NEED TO REPENT OF MY REPENTANCE; I NEED MY TEARS TO BE WASHED; I HAVE NO ROBE TO BRING TO COVER MY SINS, NO LOOM TO WEAVE MY OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS; I AM ALWAYS STANDING CLOTHED IN FILTHY GARMENTS, AND BY GRACE AM ALWAYS RECEIVING CHANGE OF RAIMENT, FOR YOU ALWAYS JUSTIFY THE UNGODLY; I AM ALWAYS GOING INTO THE FAR COUNTRY, AND ALWAYS RETURNING HOME AS A PRODIGAL, ALWAYS SAYING, “FATHER, FORGIVE ME,” AND YOU ARE ALWAYS BRINGING FORTH THE BEST ROBE.
EVERY MORNING LET ME WEAR IT, EVERY EVENING RETURN IN IT, GO OUT TO THE DAY’S WORK IN IT, BE MARRIED IN IT, BE WOUND IN DEATH IN IT, STAND BEFORE THE GREAT WHITE THRONE IN IT, ENTER HEAVEN IN IT SHINING AS THE SUN.
GRANT ME NEVER TO LOSE SIGHT OF THE EXCEEDING SINFULNESS OF SIN, THE EXCEEDING RIGHTEOUSNESS OF SALVATION, THE EXCEEDING GLORY OF CHRIST, THE EXCEEDING BEAUTY OF HOLINESS, THE EXCEEDING WONDER OF GRACE.
“Continual Repentance” Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: a Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 76.