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Is repentance real if you keep repeating the same sin?

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In a recent blog, Pastor John Piper addresses a question that is often asked by people who contend with a stubborn or stronghold sin in their life. They want to know if their repentance is real, then why do they keep struggling with the same sin?

It’s a great question, and one I have asked myself many times over.

A caller to Piper’s podcast laid out this question:

“Does true repentance mean that we never ask for God’s forgiveness for the same sin twice? Numerous are the times that I have had to ask for forgiveness for all manner of sin. But how can I say that I have repented if I commit the same types of sin over and over? This question plagues me to such a degree that I am sometimes seized by depression when I think of it.”

In trying to overcome pornography, I kept falling back into the same old traps and habits that Christ had freed me from in the past. At one point, I felt like the sheep in this video.

Jesus would rescue me from on situation and, a few weeks, days or even hours later, I was back doing what I begged Jesus to free me from.

I remember falling into the trap of believing that my repentance wasn’t real or, worse, that my salvation wasn’t legitimate because “real Christians” aren’t supposed to sin, right? After all, Romans 6:11-12 proclaims, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”

But, there I was, allowing the same sin to reign over my body once again. That’s when Satan had a field day by shouting lies right in my ear, “You hypocrite! You’re beyond saving. You’ve blown it. God has turned his back on you?”

Confess, don’t repent

Piper explains that we should not use the word “repent” for the way we respond to daily sinning as Christians.

“Sin is a condition of the heart that is bent away from God in preference for other things, and sin is any expression of that preference in our mind or attitude or behavior,” Piper wrote. “Rather, the word repentance in the New Testament refers to a more basic, fundamental change of mind, the kind we experience at the beginning of our Christian life.”

Repentance is agreeing with God that his way is right and our way is wrong. Do I think it is possible to truly, deep down believe that my behavior is wrong, and still feel powerless to change it? Yes.

Rather than repeatedly repenting of the same sin, Piper encourages us to confess that sin instead. He cites 1 John 1:9 as the authority. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

He warns against confessing a sin — particularly a stubborn sin — with a type of fatalism in that although we feel bad about committing the sin, we have already surrendered to the idea that we will probably repeat the same sin again even before the week is out.

That is one type of confession, but there is another.

It’s a confession where your hatred of the sin is so real that you have every intention, as you confess, of making war on that sin tonight or this weekend. You aim, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to defeat it, Piper wrote.

You’re not just seeking forgiveness for committing the sin, you’re asking the Holy Spirit to empower you to do battle to defeat the sin once and for all. That requires a different mindset.

Premeditated sin

Piper said the first confession concerns a “premeditated sin” which he describes as “actually sitting there or standing there weighing whether to do it or not — whether to look at the pornography or not. You take ten seconds or ten minutes or ten hours wrestling, and then you do the sin.”

He warns that any confession that cloaks fatalism, hopelessness, makes peace with sin, or is premeditated is more dangerous to our souls that the guy who accidentally types the wrong domain into a browser window,  unintentionally winds up on a porn site and parks there for a while.

In Romans 7:15, Paul admits “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” It’s not a premeditated sin. Paul truly wants Jesus to cleanse him of his desire to sin.

“To the degree that your confessing of sin has made a kind of fatalistic peace with sin’s inevitability, and to the degree that your sin falls into the category of premeditated unrighteousness, to that degree, you should be frightened that you are on a path that may well lead to destruction,” Piper writes.

He’s suggesting there is a big difference between the guy who finds himself returning to pornography repeatedly several times a year and the guy who literally sets up an altar to facilitate the viewing of pornography night after night.

It boils down to this question, are you confessing a frequent occasional sin, or a premeditated one that you already know you’re going to repeat again?

To read Piper’s entire blog, visit www.desiringgod.com.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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