The Repentance Which Must Be Repented Of

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Recently I sat some friends down, individually, and confessed. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and terrifyingly exposed. These women know my life and my brokenness. They didn’t know how present the sin has become, how intrusive, oppressive, and persistent the temptation.

I know what happens when you “give the devil a foothold,” I know about the sin “crouching at my door.” I got tangled up in my own darkness and wanted more. When I was 19 I memorized this verse and spoke it over me like an incantation: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Rom. 8:6) Still, I was choosing death. Repeatedly. I had given up on hope. Healing was a mirage of deliverance.

The harbinger of these confessions was an hour spent in tears on the floor, angry and desperate. I love my sin and it feels like death to give it up. I don’t feel like God is enough for me. I am ashamed and shattered. When I got off the floor, my howling was replaced with clarity and silence. Presence instead of absence. I felt restored to myself.

Confession is perhaps where God’s power shows up most clearly. Confession restores us to ourselves, our God, and the people we are called to live among. It is not natural. Like most of the extraordinary graces, repentance and confession takes practice.

I am intimately familiar with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.” Easy forgiveness. Apologizing but not receiving. That’s what confession often looks like.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. . . . no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again…It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son. … Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I confess, I ask forgiveness, but I live off a diet of cheap grace, instead of true repentance. I spend a day, a week, months even, feeling sheepish and ashamed, vowing to “get it right next time,” and the time after that. That sheepishness required me to pull myself up by my self-imposed bootstraps, effectively crowding out grace.

“True repentance isalways accompanied by sorrow. . . .  It is not an unimportant change of mind . . . but it is a change of the whole heart . . . . It is a deep, radical, fundamental, lasting change; and you will find that, whenever you meet with it in Scripture, it is always accompanied with sorrow for past sin.

The sinner must repent, not because of the punishment of sin, but because his sin is sin against a pardoning God, sin against a bleeding Savior, sin against a holy Law, sin against a tender gospel.” ~Charles Spurgeon

As much as I “hate” my sin, I find myself slinking back to the cozy cave I have dug out of my own ruins, where I wallow amidst failure, shame, self-pity, and despair.

True repentance is a light I shrink from, but the Spirit in me keeps dragging me back to it. I’m called to surrender, abandon the identity I have claimed, and take on a new one.

“Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community. The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Just this week I needed to confess again. I was in the throes of jonesing for what I find comfort in, the quick fix. But instead of turning inward on myself, I reached out to my husband. After I choked out what was going on, I forgot about it, the longing left, and was replaced by joy. The grace Mike offered was more powerful than the need. It hasn’t returned.

The shadow of heaviness was lifted, the tightness in my chest disappeared, and the constant distraction dissipated. I got my mind back. I could look up from the ground without the fear of being exposed. Confession is an invitation to throw yourself on the mercy of a God who also longs—to forgive, redeem, deliver, and rescue. 

“Costly grace is the incarnation of God.” When I crawl out of my cave and allow the light to sear the darkness from me in a hissing flame, it is the yes of salvation I am claiming, again and again.

Tammy Perlmutter
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Tammy Perlmutter

Writer at Raggle-Taggle
Tammy Perlmutter writes about unabridged life, fragmented faith, and investing in the mess at her blog. She founded The Mudroom to make room in the mess and create a space for people to be heard. Tammy guest posts a bit, writes flash memoir, personal essay, and poetry, leads writing groups, and preaches on occasion. She will has an essay included in the book Soul Bare: Raw Reflections on Human Redemption, by Inter Varsity Press.
Tammy Perlmutter
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  • Fiona Lloyd

    Thank you for being so honest, Tammy. I love the way you remind us of the difference between cheap grace and costly grace. My personal experience tells me that when I throw myself on God’s mercy I will find true forgiveness and restoration – and yet so often I try to work it through in my own strength rather than surrendering to the light of His grace.

    • Thank you, Fiona! I need the reminder constantly. I always feel like I’m the weakest woman on earth! So the good news of surrender is music to my ears.

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    So much power and freedom in these words, Tammy, “Confession is an invitation to throw yourself on the mercy of a God who also longs—to forgive, redeem, deliver, and rescue.
    “Costly grace is the incarnation of God.” When I crawl out of my cave and allow the light to sear the darkness from me in a hissing flame, it is the yes of salvation I am claiming, again and again.”
    Thank you for bringing this truth to light–I’m right there with you, running to Jesus over and over and over again.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Jody! It’s easy for me to say these things when I’m not hiding in my cave, it’s harder to remember it when I start faltering. I write the truths I desperately need to hear.

  • Tammy, your words are always so meaningful. You share your heart and your struggles and we see ourselves there, too. But God is always ready to forgive and to shine light. The grace He gives is costly, because it’s made possible by Jesus through his death and resurrection. Thank you, Tammy, for reminding me of that. Blessings!

    • Awww, Gayl, thank you so much!! I’m longing for the light and I pray that the light would banish all the darkness!