The Case for Radical Repentance

Gathered under a full moon, on the center mall at the University of Texas, nearly 300 students joined me for an evening of serious, biblical reflection on radical repentance. As hundreds of other students passed by, I spent nearly 90 minutes proclaiming a new perspective on the topic and then guiding the responsive “Prayer of Radical Repentance, which you’ll find below.

A few paces from where we gathered stood a larger-than-life bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, inscribed with these words: “If a person does not have something worth dying for, their life is not fit to live.” That, I told the students, is half the call of the Gospels: to lose your life for Christ’s sake and thus find it. But I suggested the reverse of King’s statement is equally true: “If a person does not have something worth living for, then they are not ready to die.”

So often we call each other to confess the sins that have broken God’s moral laws, such as sexual impurity, arrogance, strife. But how often do we choose a repentance that comes to grips with how unwilling we are to die for Christ, how we retreat from serving Christ with sacrifice?

Mascot or Monarch?

For example, in how many ways do we diminish Christ, treating Him more like our evangelical “mascot” than our Monarch (the way royalty in Great Britain is mostly a figurehead)? What about the sin of manipulating Christ, using Him only as far as we think we need Him? Or hoarding Him by seeking His blessings with no real intention of sharing them with those who don’t know Him? Or withholding our deepest affections from Him because we are afraid of what it might cost?

Put simply, should we not declare with broken hearts all those “innocent” ways we have abandoned our passion for Christ, substituting it with fine “Christianly” endeavors performed in His name? Does our repentance praying ever get that radical? Is it true repentance if it doesn’t reach that level?

I shared the same message with the National Prayer Committee (NPC) recently, taking them to Zech. 12:7-13:3 to make my case. From among the beautiful cascade of revival themes in that book, I focused on Zechariah’s repentance, which he called “mourning” and “grief.”

The brokenness portrayed in Zech. 12:10-14 is truly radical. A great sorrow rises up from every sector of the nation, because their Deliverer has been pierced-by the ones to whom He has come in glory (compare Rev. 1:5-7), by the ones He has come to save.

No wonder the sound of mourning fills the land. The covenant people realize they have betrayed and wounded their Messiah (both His body and soul). They have grieved the heart of the only son, their only hope (Zech. 12:10). Enabled by the Spirit, tearful supplications surge like waves from one clan and tribe to another, from the least to the greatest. They radically repent, not over violating God’s law, but over violating His Son!

A Revelation of God’s Glory

In his booklet called “The Mortification of Sin,” 17th century Puritan scholar and Oxford University dean John Owen wrote, “[Christi is grieved by our many lusts, as a tender, loving friend is grieved at the unkindness of his friend. He is grieved by our harboring in our hearts with Him His enemies, and those whom He came to destroy The Lord Jesus is wounded afresh by our betrayals.”

Owen continues: “Look on Him whom thou has pierced, and be in bitterness. Say to thy soul: ‘What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace, have 1 despised and trampled on! Is this the return I make to the Father for His love, to the Son for His blood, to the Holy Ghost for His grace? What can I say to the dear Lord Jesus? How shall I hold up my head with boldness before Him? Do I account communion with Him of so little value, that for this vile lust’s sake I have scarce left Him any room in my heart? What shall I say to the Lord? Love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, joy, consolation-I have despised them all, and esteemed them as a thing of nought, that I might harbor a lust in my heart. Shall I daily grieve that Spirit whereby I am sealed to the day of redemption?'”

Now, that’s radical repentance. Radical repentance revolutionizes mind and action in response to a fresh revelation of Christ’s glory Radical repentance is an outcry not primarily over individual sins, but first of all over the grief I have brought to my Savior!

Biblical brokenness is really all about Him-about what we’ve done to Him. Yet so often we make it sound like it’s mostly about us and how sin has affected us.

The “Prayer of Radical Repentance” below is a potent antidote for our lusts. More importantly it focuses on renewing great joy in the heart of the Master we’ve pierced so often. It’s all about revival. Because His joy among us is the source of our renewal.

A Prayer of Radical Repentance

We press into Your heart this day, glorious God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We celebrate all that Your precious Son is-who He is to us iand for us, over us and within us, through us and before us and upon us.

Before all heaven we proclaim:

  • Christ is supreme!-He is sovereign, sufficient, and totally satisfying!
  • Christ is our hope!-He is the summation of all Your promises, the source of all Your riches, more and more and more, for now and forever!
  • Christ is our glory!-He is Alpha and Omega, the consummation of all Your purposes, for all creation, for all the ages to come! In Him our life is hidden with You, until the hour He returns in the final triumphs of grace and truth.
  • Christ is among us!-He is accessible to us, in all of His fullness, here and now. He stands with us, willing and able and ready to act for us, and in us, and through us!

SELAH: Pause for silent reflection

Therefore, we REPENT-individually and on behalf of all Your people:

  • We repent . . . for how we have diminished Christ, regarding Him as our mascot rather than our Monarch.
  • We repent . . . for how we have hoarded Christ, seeking His blessings for ourselves, with little though about bringing those blessings to others. We’ve assumed that He was there only for us. We’ve forgotten that He is Lord of neighbors and nations.
  • We repent . . . for how we have avoided Christ, withholding our affections from Him because we were afraid of what it would cost us. By our lifestyles, we’ve denied that He’s truly supreme and sufficient. In His place we’ve substituted creeds, and programs, and organizations, and causes-as well as our own feeble attempts to look spiritual. In doing so, we’ve abandoned the consuming passion for Him He deserves, as the Center of everything.

SELAH: Pause for silent reflection

Forgive us! Cleanse us! Purify us! Resurrect us! Reconvert us! Restore us! Refill us! Recommission us! By the bloodThrough Your mercy. O Lamb of God! O Lamb of God!

We are ready-Ready . . . to revolutionize mind and action. Ready . . . to embrace the full extent of Christ’s supremacy. Ready . . . to walk with Him for all He really is. Ready . . . to wrap our lives around Him, and the mighty advances of His kingdom. Ready . . . for this and for nothing less.

So together, in brokenness and hope, here and now-O God of our salvation-we cry out for all to hear: “Lord Jesus, Come and conquer us! Lord Jesus, Come and conquer us! Lord Jesus, Come and conquer us!”

SELAH: Pause for silent reflection

Wonderful Father: Standing at this crossroads moment, we pledge to Your Son the words of Saint Augustine:

You called, You cried, You shattered my deafness.
You sparkled, You burned, You drove away my blindness.
You shed your fragrance, and I drew in my breath.
Therefore, from now on, I will pant for YOU alone.

To that end, Father, visit afresh with Your Spirit every one of us. May He turn this prayer of radical repentance into a radical way of life, for all your people, everywhere. Hallelujah! AMEN! Let it be done!
(This prayer is intended to be prayed responsively)