The tears were real, the heartbreak undeniable. As Eric stared at the floor, he recounted his awful choice.
We prayed together. Eric, repenting for saying yes to the all-too-familiar sin; me praying for this young man to have strength to remain faithful. I encouraged Eric, assuring him of the forgiveness found in Jesus’ finished work. Had I truly understood the nature of repentance at the time, I could have better helped Eric.
A change of mind
The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means to think differently afterward. It is used over 30 times in scripture to stress a change of mind or purpose. While repentance can lead to changed behaviour, deep repentance always starts with a changed mind.
We do this by identifying the untruth at the root of our behaviour. When you identify the lie you choose to believe, you can repent (metanoia) and think differently. You turn from your lie to the truth. Your thinking changes, and when that happens, your motivation changes and that changes behaviour.
Compare that with focusing on repenting from bad behaviour which makes repenting an occasional trigger we pull when we cross the line. We believe the more sincere we are in our remorse, the more likely the repentance will stick, but if honest, we know that sort of repentance has a short shelf life.
When we identify and turn from wrong thinking, repentance is a practice we must nurture daily to see lasting change. It is what Martin Luther meant when he wrote “the entire life of a believer should be one of repentance.”
Fruit to root
Here is what I wished I had said to Eric that day in the quietness of my office.
“Eric, I want to show you a helpful tool to pursue repentance throughout life. Remember this saying,” I instructed. “Fruit to root. Here’s how it works. Think of a tree: the fruit, the trunk, the roots. Asking good questions and reflecting on the tree parts will help lead you to deeper repentance.”
For more on “Fruit to Root,” watch this video from Vertical Small Groups.
The fruit represents observable sinful behaviour. Ask: “What was the situation?” “How did it happen?” “How did I respond?”
The trunk represents your thoughts before you acted. Ask: “What thoughts crossed my mind when I did that?” “What did I feel when I said that?” By reflecting on the thoughts and feelings that led to your sinful behaviour, you will gain insight to help identify the root.
Jesus said that where your treasure is, there will be your heart also. What you treasure in your heart determines your thoughts. The tree root represents your desires and motives. Ask: “What did I want at that moment?” “What did I hope would happen?” “What did I fear at that time?”
Recently, I was with some friends and during our conversation we spoke about a mutual acquaintance. Later that day the Spirit convicted me of what I had said. It wasn’t mean-spirited, but it was at this person’s expense. Were I to focus on my behaviour I would repent from gossip and promise God I would do better next time.
But let’s do deeper. Right before I gossiped I thought, “It would be funny if I said…” I was feeling left out of the conversation because I didn’t know this person well. Let’s keep going deeper.
At that moment I hoped to have the attention brought back to me. I wanted my friends to notice me; saying something funny, even though it was gossip, seemed to be the best way to achieve that. At the root of my gossip was a lie I had embraced, that my friends’ opinion of me and the attention on me would bring a sense of value and happiness to me.
It’s not pretty, but sin never is.
Our lies are as varied as our personalities and circumstances, but every sin is a low-hanging fruit of a deep lie we believe. They are the lies we need to repent of. That is the face of deep repentance.
But what follows? If we turn our backs on the lie, what should we turn to? We’ll consider that in part two.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill McCaskell is the National Director for One Hope Canada.