As many of you now know, we're tweaking The Table in significant ways this Fall. One such tweak is the introduction of DNA groups. We hope these gatherings of 2-3 people will foster discipleship, nurture, and accountability within our community (hence, DNA!). We hope they provide a context in which people can be known, listened to, encouraged, comforted and corrected. We hope that people grow in their ability to apply the gospel message to their hearts. And, we hope that these groups produce more disciple-makers, who are equipped to speak gospel-encouragement into the lives of others.
In my experience, the effectiveness of such groups depends largely on the honesty and vulnerability of participants. The deeper the confession, the deeper the repentance, the deeper the faith, the deeper the transformation. Or, as Keller says, "pervasive, all-of-life repentance is the best sign that we are growing deeply and rapidly into the character of Jesus."
However, I'm aware that such transparent confession and repentance cannot be manufactured. We can't engineer this. I don't expect these groups to produce anything simply because we're setting them up.
The quality of our repentance is directly tied to our functional understanding of the gospel. Sin is always ugly. There are no acceptable sins. Therefore, confronting our sin is always unpleasant. And if I don't get the gospel, my sin will drive me to (a) despair, (because it is too devastating), or (b) denial (because my self-worth is rooted in performance).
If I don't believe that God is inexhaustibly gracious, I may...
- suppress knowledge of sinful thoughts and desires for fear of being exposed before Him or others.
- externalize sin, and focus on behavior in order to make my sin seem more manageable.
- downplay or minimize the sins I am committing (since the reality of falling short is so devastating).
- redouble my efforts to become a successful human being in order to cover faults and feel better about myself (which may just be another way of atoning for sin and furthering a self-salvation project).
- bitterly resent God (since I suppose he withholds blessings until I meet a certain standard of righteousness).
- drift from communion with God for fear that I haven't done sufficient penance.
- view God in a utilitarian manner. The thought process is as follows; "God won't truly be good to me until I do sufficient penance. Therefore, God won't give me what I want until I feel bad enough about sin. Therefore, I'll try to feel bad enough about sin and do enough to make up for it so that God will give me what I want." Such thinking reveals that God is penultimate in my heart, and some other thing which God gives is my ultimate desire.
- resist the correction of others (because I can't come to grips with the fact that I am - in fact - a sinner).
In sum, disbelief in God's boundless love keeps us from actually dealing with sin; from true repentance.
By contrast, a robust understanding of the gospel liberates us to confess freely and repent deeply.
God does not wait for us to pursue him. He seeks us. He condescends to meet us. He promises to be forever with us and for us. Jesus dies and rises to make good on this promise. Once secure in Christ, we're free to deal with our sin in all its hideous contours. We are completely known, and completely loved. Therefore, the debilitating pressure to "measure up" is eradicated. God knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves, yet loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves. Therefore, we can come clean.
Further, when we taste and see the goodness of this God - the God revealed in Jesus - we realize that our deepest problem is idolatry; treating something or someone besides God as ultimate. This, in turn, changes our perspective on sin. The problem isn't simply our destructive behaviors. It's the corruption of our disordered hearts; hearts that refuse to desire God. From such hearts spring all kinds of ungodliness. But the ungodly behavior appears downstream from an ungodly mind that believes lies about God, and an ungodly heart that worships false gods. This motivates us to repent not simply for our actions, but the thoughts, desires, dreams and motivations that precipitated those actions. And such repentance is fueled by grace. We repent to commune with God, the greatest Gift of all, not to measure up, to convince ourselves we're godly or to please other people.
As with basically everything in the Christian life, this is easier said than done. But I hope it encourages you to deal with what needs to be dealt with in your life.
God is not an exacting creditor who refuses to lend more blessing until your previous accounts are paid in full. He is a prodigal Father who longs to "fall on your neck" (Luke 15:20) and embrace you.
Repentance isn't paying up.
It's turning back;
back to the God who will never turn from you.