In Nehemiah chapters 9-10, the people of Judea come together and confess their sins. They read from the Book of the Law; they name all of their sins publicly; they proclaim the history of creation and salvation—That God created the heavens and the earth and made everything good. God chose Abram & brought him out of Ur, to make for Himself a people. They tell of the Exodus, where God redeemed the Israelites from the hands of Pharaoh, and made them to be a witness to all the nations of the earth. But they rebelled. They chased after the gods of the surrounding nations which were no gods at all, and rejected great gifts God had given them. And God chastened them; He sent them into exile for their disobedience. Because they had disobeyed His covenant and paid no attention to His Law, God made them slaves.
Now the people come before the Lord to confess their sins and to renew the covenant which they have broken.
In these chapters, we see the people of Judea repent of their sins.
What we learn from this passage is the need for repentance.
Martin Luther said that all of the Christian life is one of repentance; not that we are to be continually hopeless, but we should continually be pressing into the grace and mercy of God. Indeed, the first words proclaimed by Jesus were “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, emphasis added).
But what are we to repent of? And why do we need to repent?
We must repent of our sin, because it is sin that separates us from God.
Every day, in thought, word and deed, we sin. Indeed, it is our very nature to sin. We are slaves to sin (see Romans 5:12-6:14). I do the things we should not do; I do not do the things I should do. I lie, wish malice on others, act selfishly. I elevate my wants to a place of ultimate desire in my life.
And because of my sin I cannot stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God on my own merit. I don’t measure up. I miss the mark (which is the meaning of the word “sin”). I’m not perfect—and God’s standard is nothing less than perfection. None of us are perfect.
When God mercifully brings to life the heart of one He chooses to save, we are able to turn from sin and to Jesus. And in that moment of repentance, my unrighteousness is covered by Jesus’ perfect righteousness. My sin is removed because of Jesus’ perfect & sinless life.
Now comes the big question: Do we still sin after God has saved us through the finished work of Jesus on the cross? Yes. Our new desires are constantly at war with our old ones. And sometimes we fail. We do the things we do not want to do, while we don’t do the things we do want to do. And this is why the Christian life is to one of continual repentance. Repentance keeps our hearts aware of our sinful thoughts and actions. It causes us to rely on God’s grace and mercy; Jesus’ righteousness rather than our own.
Repentance breeds humility.
And through repentance, we are slowly made more and more into the image and likeness of Jesus.
So how should we respond today? Let’s take some time and ask the question: Is there anything I need to repent of? What sins have I left unconfessed?
When we’ve answered these questions, let’s take an opportunity to confess our sins both to Jesus and to the people we’ve sinned against where necessary. Let us pursue humility and grow into the likeness of Christ.