We’ve talked a lot this week about repentance and the love of God.
But what about our bad habits? What about repeated sins? If repentance is to change my attitude toward sin, then how can my repentance be genuine if I continue living in sin?
More to the point, will God forgive me for things I repeatedly do?
The beautiful simplicity of the gospel is that I am acceptable to God not because of the magnitude of my faith, but because of the object of my faith. If I cling to self-righteousness for my sense of self-worth, then of course I will feel miserable when my failings persist. But if I cling to Christ’s righteousness, then I will feel grateful for God’s unending forgiveness.
THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL
John was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. In addition to writing one of Jesus’ biographies, John also wrote a series of letters to Christians living in the Mediterranean world. He begins his first letter by emphasizing the historical reality of the gospel:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
John was living in a day when people were beginning to forget just who Jesus was, and others were popping up to make claims about Jesus that weren’t true. John’s letter is largely devoted to correcting these false teachers, but it’s helpful for our question as well.
The gospel isn’t based on wishful thinking—it’s not even primarily about religious teachings. It’s about a person: a God who walked among us as a human being, a God who stretched his arms out and gave his life as payment for sin, and a God who rose from the grave to proclaim his victory over even this greatest of enemies.
If he is the object of our faith, then, we have only to look to him for forgiveness and healing.
THE IMPACT OF THE GOSPEL
Secondly, John takes some time to unpack the wondrous reality of the gospel:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)
A relationship with God demands moral purity. The absence of moral purity demands payment, but rather than demand our blood God offers his own.
We can respond to sin by living in denial, but John will allow none of this. Instead John encourages us to confront the brutal reality of our sin while maintaining confidence in the cleansing forgiveness offered by God.
In one of his sermons from the last century, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones put it this way:
“So as I am aware of my sinfulness and my unworthiness and my unrighteousness, I look to the blood of Jesus Christ, and I see there the forgiveness of God. I see the justice of God; I know that there God has forgiven and still forgives and will forgive….I can have this confidence that the death of Christ upon the cross is the propitiation for my sins—indeed, for the sins of the whole world—and that all my sins have been dealt with and are covered, are removed and banished there in Him.
Knowing thus the faithfulness and justice of God and the power of the blood of Christ to deliver me and to cleanse me from the guilt and stain of my sins, I can with confidence go forward, knowing that all is clear, my conscience has been cleansed, and I can continue to walk with God.”
And that’s what separates gospel repentance from “cheap” forms of grace that ignores the gravity of sin. It’s tempting, after all, to dismiss Christianity because God’s forgiveness gives us license to do as we please. On the contrary; God’s grace sets us free to walk with him, and as we walk with him our character changes, our hearts are molded continually into the image of his Son.
So if you struggle with the need to repeatedly repent for the same thing, take heart; you are not alone. The gospel promises that you are made clean by the endless grace of God, and the gospel likewise promises that as you move forward in the presence of God and the presence of like-minded Christians, your repentance will gradually become a real and lasting part of your character, until that day when all shall be made perfect and complete.
Take heart, dear Christian; God’s not done with you yet.
 Martin Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002), 134.