I do have to begin by mentioning that my final paragraph yesterday, where I mentioned the Prison, was slightly out of place. The Prison is actually a central part of this 5th step on repentance, and one that we’ll touch on again today.

St John begins by giving us a definition of sorts, for repentance: “Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life….Repentance is self-condemning reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair…”

This at least gives us a taste of what St John has to say. The word ‘repent’ literally means to turn away from one thing and to begin to go in a new direction – in the Christian life, repentance is when we turn our backs on sin and face a new direction – toward Christ. The Holy Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church are very clear that repentance is not simply feeling bad for some sin we’ve committed. True repentance is when we get to the point where our strongest desire is to no longer sin – we stand and face Christ. Of course, most of us will again fall into sin, and one of the great beauties of Christ is His willingness to forgive us again and again and to accept us back, as long as we come again to this place of truly repenting.

As we can see from St John’s title for this step, true repentance is difficult. Putting off the old man of sin and self-will, and putting on a new man, wholly subject to Christ, is hard. It often runs contrary to so much of what our fallen minds desire. So not only does repentance involve turning from the sins we continually fall into (a struggle to be freed from our addictions to sin), but it also involves a struggle within our own minds – to follow Christ, or to follow me. And that is a real struggle for Christians of all spiritual levels.

But we keep always in mind that the desire of our sweetest Jesus is to forgive us and draw us unto Himself. This is why St John can say that repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair – the person who is repenting knows that God is faithful to forgive him. Despair comes from an inability to believe that God will forgive us; this thought has no place in the Christian life, since Christ wants all to be saved.

Finally, another word on the Prison. In the text, St John finds men undertaking extreme (to our minds) repentance. They weep and wail for their sin, they are covered in ash and sackcloth, they pray continually, some with prostrations and others unable to lift their eyes from the ground. This may seem harsh to us, but I’ll make 2 points – 1) we see this type of repentance in the Old Testament rather commonly, 2) this must be taken in the context of St John’s book, not in isolation. These men are praised by St John, they are obviously not despairing of their salvation or forgiveness. Instead, what we learn is that these men had once been very close to God, and through some sin had fallen. Once they had tasted the sweetness of the presence of God, they wanted nothing else in life but to be close to Him again. Their actions are not bizarre, but rather show the strength of their desire to once again be right with God. This is a beautiful image for us to see – it reveals the glory of the presence of God, and it gives us a glimpse of true repentance.

We may not have the intensity of the men in the Prison, but we can offer our own prayers and actions of repentance – we show our true desires by our actions, and we open our heart to God in prayer.

May God bless our repentance and forgive all our  sins, drawing us ever closer to Him!

Matthew Jackson