Repentance: A Lesson from Prison Mondays

by Dr. Becky Luman

 

Prison Mondays

Most Mondays I have the privilege of teaching a Bible study for female inmates at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. We recently discussed God’s love for us as shown in forgiveness and how the Holy Spirit cultivates in our hearts the ability to forgive others. Then, a woman asked, “Will God always forgive me of anything, even if I continue to do the same thing?” Several more inmates chimed in with this question asking about being forgiven of sins like abortion. I assured them that God would forgive anything at any time–if we were sorry for our sin and asked Him to forgive us.

The women seemed particularly interested in the issue of forgiveness “even if I do the same sin again and again.” I quoted Jesus’ words in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” I emphasized the power God gives believers to conquer sins, even habitual sins, as we surrender to the Holy Spirit. I reminded them that He is gardening our hearts to “grow” us toward the character of Christ.

As I left the prison, the theme of “repentance” echoed in my mind. In what way is “repentance” related to the believer’s capability to quit doing the same sin again and again?

Repentance as a Way of Life

Jesus began his preaching ministry proclaiming the same message as his cousin John the Baptizer: “Repent.” To John, a repentant person would change his/her behavior. They would not continue the God-offending lifestyle after their baptism. Jesus extended the message thus: “Repent AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL.” The good news Jesus taught is that the Son can free us from slavery to sin. We are not doomed to a cycle of disobedience and brokenness.

The Greek word translated “repent” means to “to turn from evil, and to turn to the good.” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology). Some Christians seem to think that they no longer need to repent once they’ve made the fundamental turn toward God for forgiveness. But indeed, our entire Christian journey is full of opportunities to turn from our own short-sighted, destructive way and turn toward God’s good and perfect way.

Repentance means that I acknowledge that God has the right to set the boundaries of my life. He declares what is good and evil. As a child of God, I must agree with Him (even against my own desires). I must ask for His grace to align my attitude and actions with His righteous ways. Our victory over habitual sin may be immediate or gradual. We may need others to help us such as a recovery group like AA or a Christian counselor.

God’s Grace: God’s Response to Repentance

As believers, our repentance is a “continuing discipline that we undertake at increasingly deeper levels, bringing more and more of ourselves to God in humility and trust.” (Craig Dykstra, Vision and Character: A Christian Educator’s Alternative to Kohlberg). Always when we turn from our way toward God, He responds with grace. Grace is both God’s loving favor to underserving sinners and the transformative power given to help sinners change. (Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology). As I return to lead another Monday morning prison Bible study, I am so glad I can say to my sisters in Christ: “Yes, God will forgive you AND he will break the power of sin in your life as you surrender to Him.”

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