VERSE: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation.” 2 Corinthians 7:10
OSWALD: “The new life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness, never the other way about. The bedrock of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a man cannot repent when he chooses; repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for ‘the gift of tears.’ If ever you cease to know the virtue of repentance, you are in darkness. Examine yourself and see if you have forgotten how to be sorry. ” (December 7th)
MY THOUGHT: For a “good girl” who grew up obsessed with the idea of being good, Oswald’s words concerning repentance rocked my religious world the first time I read them twenty-some years ago.
You see, I had spent the majority of my life pursuing holiness – with my ultimate goal, perfection! Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I constantly fell short. Even on my best days, I was a pale imitation of what I instinctively knew God wanted me to be.
Making conscious holiness my pursuit led to wild extremes. Inordinate pride when I did well and seething self-hatred when I didn’t. “Do good, be good,” I told myself as I tried to produce “fruit” in keeping with holiness (Romans 6:22), beating myself black-and-blue with condemnation when I failed. Unwittingly practicing penance rather than true repentance.
The analogy of bearing fruit in John 15 really helped me understand better what I believe Oswald meant when he said that “conscious repentance” results in “unconscious holiness.”
Just as a branch cannot produce fruit on its own unless it is connected to the vine, apart from Christ, I too can do nothing. My responsibility as a branch isn’t to produce fruit. My job is to tend my connection to the vine.
Because sin disrupts that connection and separates me from the life of Christ, I desperately need repentance! For when I repent on the basis of what Jesus did on the cross, I am immediately restored to right relationship with the One who gives me life. Then the Spirit of God, who longs to produce His fruit within me, can do the work only He can do (Gal. 5:22-23).
Conscious repentance leads to unconscious holiness – “never the other way about,” Oswald writes. But sadly, repentance is often the last thing we do though we need it most. So busy trying to be holy on our own, we never access the gift of repentance He provides. As a result we don’t experience the power of God that comes through right relationship with Him.
Perhaps it’s time, as Oswald says, to “examine yourself to see if you’ve forgotten how to be sorry.” To ask, like the Puritans did, for the “gift of tears.” To allow God to break our hearts with what breaks His. So that nothing breaks the communion He longs to have with you and me.
For when we tend the connection between His life and ours, fruit happens! Not the wax counterfeit of religious piety or the plastic facsimile of self-induced purity, but the fresh, satisfying fruit of “unconscious holiness” that emits a fragrance hard to ignore and even harder to resist.
Though we, the branches upon which the fruit grows, remain delightfully unaware.