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How Many Times Do I Have to Repent?

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

A few weeks ago, I met with a passionate young Christian man, on fire for God but still unsure of his salvation. He was raised Catholic but hadn’t gone to confession in years and that guilt was starting to get to him.

“How many times do I have to repent to be truly forgiven?” was near the top of his list of questions. “Once,” I told him. “But then why are we commanded to confess to God and ask forgiveness when we sin,” was his wonderful follow-up question. Here’s how I answered him; The vast majority of Protestants believe that once you’ve sincerely cried out to God to forgive your sins, and acknowledged Jesus as your Lord, you are born-again, the Holy Spirit enters you and all your sins past, present and future are forgiven. But it’s clear from the story of the four kinds of seeds (Matthew 13) that there are people who appear to respond to God who only did so out of emotion and as soon as difficulty comes they “fell away.” We believe that group never was truly born-again and therefore never “lost their salvation.” They simply never actually had it to lose.

So, then how do we know that we’ve truly been born again? Here are three signs to look for, lived out over a long period of time:

  1. We have passion to live for God. He is the purpose for everything we do.

  2. We have a desire for personal holiness.

  3. Our lives bear real fruit. We are kind, generous, forgiving of others, helping others.

So why the need to confess and repent of our ongoing sin? Because the temptation to sin, and our actual sin, is like a weight that will hold us back from fully accomplishing the three things above that ought to be the mission of all true followers of Jesus.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” Hebrews 12:1

When I confess my sins daily or more often than that some days, I am telling God what he already knows, but I want him to know that I know it too – and that is, I’m sorry for letting those sins hinder my mission to live for him. Those sins I don’t confess will never keep me out of heaven, but may prevent me from truly loving God and living for God. That’s why Christians need to regularly confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. The goal isn’t salvation. We have that. The goal is personal holiness – what theologians refer to as sanctification. Salvation is an event. Sanctification is a process.

If you’ve gotten out of the habit of confessing your sins regularly to God, it may be why you feel spiritually “stuck.” Occasionally, I’ll find myself in a habitual sin, or angry at someone that I really don’t want to stop. So, I don’t confess, because it feels hypocritical – which it is. But at least I can pat myself on the back that I’m not a hypocrite! That warped logic also needs to be confessed. Lukewarm Christians don’t wake up on a given day and say, “I think I’ll be a lukewarm Christian.” Lukewarm Christians slowly become lukewarm because they settle for “good enough.” And good enough often begins with unconfessed and un-dealt with sin that robs us of our salvation.

Where are you today? Has good enough – been good enough for you?

How following Jesus works in real life.

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