And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. - 2 Timothy 2:24-26 [ESV]
I used to pray from this passage that the Lord would grant me the grace
Let me not mince words or notions either. What I am saying is that I would find myself from time to time depending too much on a sort of Christian auto-pilot. You know what I mean, right? Having developed moral habits, in times of weariness where instead of repenting of my self reliance, I would beach myself on the shore of "I don't feel like dealing with this right now" island, and vacation there and let my moral habits do all the work.
In other words, like every other believer, I would find myself at times unwilling to deal honestly and biblically with myself - justifying my spiritual stagnation with an inarticulate and delusional notion that it wasn't really my fault somehow.
Having read in the scriptures that repentance was something the Lord grants, I concluded that unless and until the Lord granted me the grace to repent that I needed, I would be stuck in the rut, and so I would pray in this way.
Make no mistake, the Holy Spirit within me was certainly willing that I repent, but my flesh
being weak continued to rule over me through my own selfish desires -
and my flesh did not want me to repent. So I would ask for this same grace that enabled my first repentance, hoping to find in this "new" grace the strength to suddenly desire
obedience over disobedience.
But it was hit and miss and mostly miss at that. Unanswered prayer such as this kind tell us that something is not right in what we are praying for. God is generous and lovingly kind, and desires our sanctification far more than we do. If God isn't answering a prayer that I think would result in my being closer to the person He calls me to be, there is probably something wrong with either my prayer or my heart.
But since the desire to repent does not come from my flesh (which cannot produce a good fruit such as that) I know this desire is from my Lord who is in me through the Holy Spirit. His heart is right.
So the problem isn't a matter of a wrong hearted prayer. I must be asking the Lord to do something for me that He is either not going to do, or that He has already done, and I am ignorant of.
Let's figure out which it is.
Given how our Lord commands believers to repent six times in the book of
revelation, and the command to believers to repent is functionally
identical to the command to walk in the Spirit, I became persuaded that while God does in fact grant that first repentance (that ended in my justification), it wasn't just a one-time ability to repent - it was the Holy Spirit quickening my "dead-in-trespasses" soul, so that I was able to believe and repent.
In the moment I believed, this same Holy Spirit began to indwell my life - binding my life up in the life of Christ, who through the Spirit was now within me. Since that moment I have, by way of the Holy Spirit within me, the ability to act
upon the will of God which the Spirit within me makes known. That is, I have the persistent grace of being led by the Holy Spirit - and in this way, I have all I need already to repent.
I should pause here however to clarify that last part - lest some reader interprets what I wrote through the wrong lens.
I don't receive private vocal instructions from the Holy Spirit, nor do I imagine that He is communicating instructions to me through random thoughts, signs, or goosebumps. I have no dialogue with the Holy Spirit whatsoever. The way I know His will is far from mystical: He causes me to desire to live a life that pleases the Lord; He makes me see my sin for the rebellion it is and causes me to hate it contrary to my own desires. He testifies to the truth of the scriptures so that I know them to be true. It is a soul deep communion, but not the kind where I convince myself that every mundane happenstance in life is actually a coded message from the Holy Spirit that I must interpret by way of my "Spiritual maturity". In short, I perceive these things as coming from my own mind and thoughts - recognizing that those thoughts which the scriptures make plain cannot arise from my fallen flesh (which can produce no good thing) must arise from the mind of Christ through the Spirit within me. The bad tree of the flesh does not produce the good fruit of the Spirit.
So I certainly don't mean to imply any mystical hocus pocus. If that sort of stuff is your bag, I encourage you to get honest with yourself.
Getting back to my main line, I discovered that, when it comes to repentance, God had already granted me the ability to repent when I received the repentance that led to life. What (or rather Who) I received in the first work of the Spirit, I received for the rest of this present life - the Spirit Himself.
He has continued to
give me the desire to repent of my disobedience - an ongoing grace
which is more than sufficient for my temporary deliverance from
I am not suggesting that the Lord does not from time to time grant profound (seemingly effortless )
deliverance (He can and sometimes does!) but this is the exception and not the rule.
I have come to understand that repentance for the Christian means turning away from sin by faith through obedience to the will of God as revealed
by and through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This is not a prayer request; this is commanded of us: Repent!
Even if the old man, is incapable of unaided repentance, the
Christian is able to obey the will of God through the indwelling Holy
Spirit. It is simply a matter of faith and genuine worship.
The bottom line for me when I saw this was to conclude that I shouldn't continue in my fruitless prayers for God
to make me repent (against the will of my flesh), since the fact that I am asking that shows that I am in the flesh and not in the Spirit. This is being double
minded. What I need to do is stop obeying the flesh and it's desires. I
need to repent.
Obviously I, that is my 'old man' or my 'flesh' (not the meaty part of my body or even my physical form, but rather the 'me' that desires to slake ever passing desire) doesn't have the ability to repent, but Christ within me, through the Holy Spirit, has proven Himself victorious over both sin and the grave - so my job is to not walk (ie conduct myself) according to the desires of the fles, but rather according to the desires of the Spirit- in faith.
That last part crowns all. Listen: when you want to do a thing you know is sin, or not do a thing you know you're called to do, and in that moment you reason that Christ is your Lord and so you struggle with finding some way to justify the sin you want to pursue - but instead decide to obey Christ over and against obeying you own desires- this hinges on whether or not you believe Christ has the right to expect and receive your obedience. If you believe Christ is your Lord, you submit to Him - and if you deny it, you don't. Some people don't realize this struggle is a struggle of faith. Listen: there is no magic key to Christian obedience - it just comes down to faith.
You cannot truly repent except that you believe Jesus has the right to command your obedience. Walking by faith, walking by or 'in' the Spirit, and 'repenting' are all ways of describing the same thing - the 'How' part of being a right and proper Christian. Your ongoing sanctification depends upon growth in truths such as this.