O God of Grace,
You have imputed my sin to my substitute, and have imputed his righteousness to my soul, clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe, decking me with jewels of holiness. But in my Christian walk I am still in rags; my best prayers are stained with sin; my penitential tears are so much impurity; my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin; my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance; I need my tears to be washed; I have no robe to bring to cover my sins, no loom to weave my own righteousness; I am always standing clothed in filthy garments, and by grace am always receiving change of raiment, for you always justify the ungodly; I am always going into the far country, and always returning home as a prodigal, always saying, “Father, forgive me,” and you are always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it, every evening return in it, go out to the day’s work in it, be married in it, be wound in death in it, stand before the great white throne in it, enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, the exceeding wonder of grace.
— "Continual Repentance", from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, p136-7.
Do you ever feel like you’ve failed so badly that you can’t relate to God?
You feel filthy. Pathetic. You’ve let him down – again.
Saying sorry doesn’t seem to cut it. It doesn’t seem enough. Your sin is too big for a mere apology. It requires something more.
So you try to deal with the guilt yourself. You beat yourself up. You tell yourself you’re a failure. You wallow in the guilt, because after all, it’s what you deserve. You repent of the same sins over and over, hoping that this time, deep down, you really mean it and God will forgive you.
We try to atone for our failures, resolve to try harder next time, and maybe then we’ll feel like we’re forgiven.
In all of this, what never occurs to us is that in trying to atone for our perceived offences, we commit a greater one – we doubt that Jesus’ blood can in fact atone for our sins in full. We forget the free and full forgiveness offered to us in Jesus and insist on adding our own acts of penance.
Saying sorry doesn’t cut it. Your sin is too big for a mere apology. It does require something more. It deserves death, judgment and hell. It’s that serious. Too serious to be dealt with by a week of wallowing in guilt. Too big for a few good deeds to make up for it.
Sin deserves death. Yet for the Christian, that death has already taken place. The cost of our rebellion has already been paid by another. Jesus’ death has done everything necessary. We simply look to him, and receive forgiveness as a gift.
Have you repented enough? Almost certainly not. There are sinful depths to our hearts that will take a lifetime to uncover. We will always need to repent.
Does that mean we can never approach God? Not at all. Jesus has done everything necessary for us to draw near. Beating ourselves up, punishing ourselves – it would never be enough. Wonderfully, for the Christian it is never necessary.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)