Sin is rarely spontaneous. Vice usually has a history.
When we “fall” it’s usually because we’ve been dragging along the bottom for a while. Picture the iceberg. The 10% tip that floats above the waterline belies the 90% of ice that sits just beneath the surface.
How often do we think of sin in terms of an action, thought, or word in the moment? Something spiteful slipped out of our mouths or something evil rose up within us. We regret it; perhaps even apologize for it. In our minds we just “repented” of it. But deep down we know this is likely to happen again, so our repentance feels shallow, hollow, or both.
If sin is rarely spontaneous, then what does this mean for repentance?
Sorrow for a moment of sin is a starting point. But it rarely absolves the heart, and almost never resolves the deeper issue.
Biblical repentance calls us to deeper self-awareness and deeper reflection. My words, thoughts, or actions today are likely the fruit of many days, months, or years. What you see or hear in me is most often the overflow of my life. If I live with brooding anger or constant hurt and feed my mind on violence, then I’m more likely to speak sharply and give a certain salute when other drivers offend me. Similarly, a life of peace, tranquility, and faith (irrespective of suffering) will produce fruit consistent with it.
An angry moment is really not “because I’m tired.” A bitter spirit is not because “someone mentioned that name again.” Malice comes from a history of woundedness. Sexual lust often has more to do with power and disconnection than a passing billboard.
The challenging work of spiritual formation involves the intentional work of self-examination. And true repentance may mean that we need to pause and ponder more deeply. A few tears, a fleeting moment of guilt, and a quick apology may place a band-aid over the wound for a moment. But these things are not the marks of true repentance. True repentance looks up longer, looks back farther, looks in deeper, and commits to the work of real formation.
As our Lenten fast continues, we have a glorious opportunity to be spiritually shaped. It’s life-changing. Our formation happens not by painting over old layers with platitudes and apologies but by stripping the old layers off and getting back to the bare wood before the Craftsman begins the restoration.
His grace sustains us in this gritty work, if we’re serious about becoming different men and women for the sake of our friends and families, and for the glory of God.
Sin is rarely spontaneous. What history has contributed to your vulnerability today?