Chambers was firing on all… chambers? today when he wrote:
Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation . . . —2 Corinthians 7:10
Conviction of sin is best described in the words:
My sins, my sins, my Savior,
How sad on Thee they fall.
Conviction of sin is one of the most uncommon things that ever happens to a person. It is the beginning of an understanding of God. Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict people of sin (see John 16:8). And when the Holy Spirit stirs a person’s conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not that person’s relationship with others that bothers him but his relationship with God— “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight . . .” (Psalm 51:4). The wonders of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven person who is truly holy. He proves he is forgiven by being the opposite of what he was previously, by the grace of God. Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, “I have sinned.” The surest sign that God is at work in his life is when he says that and means it. Anything less is simply sorrow for having made foolish mistakes— a reflex action caused by self-disgust.
The entrance into the kingdom of God is through the sharp, sudden pains of repentance colliding with man’s respectable “goodness.” Then the Holy Spirit, who produces these struggles, begins the formation of the Son of God in the person’s life (see Galatians 4:19). This new life will reveal itself in conscious repentance followed by unconscious holiness, never the other way around. The foundation of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a person cannot repent when he chooses— repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for “the gift of tears.” If you ever cease to understand the value of repentance, you allow yourself to remain in sin. Examine yourself to see if you have forgotten how to be truly repentant.
I for far too long lived in a manner that was largely characterized by feeling bad about having fallen so short. I failed my own expectations and was sorrowful. I felt bad that I let others down, but I didn’t love others as much as I loved myself. I was heartbroken that I had failed myself so miserably. This was not repentance. This was worldly grief and it produced death in me daily.
I did not turn to God to save me because it was not Him I was concerned most with pleasing. I assumed He hated me as much as I hated myself for failing.
It was not until I was freed to release this stubborn reliance and loyalty to self that God revealed to me the magnificence of what He accomplished in Christ for me. Not only that, but I realized that my blind eyes and deaf ears had been opened for me. It was not me who had finally surrendered or capitulated to Him, but Him who had broken through and softened that which I strived so diligently to keep hardened and unrepentant.
Only then did I realize that my sin was against God. Only then did I concern myself primarily with the relational distance between God and myself as a result of my sin. Previously I was obsessed with my relationship to myself. How did I feel about me? What did I want? What did I regret? What did I wish? Who did I wish God was?
All of this nonsense evaporated in the flaming heat of Christ’s love demonstrated on His Cross. All this silly talk about forgiving myself and getting to know myself and finding myself was made obsolete when I was given grace to understand Who God is and Who I am in Christ by faith. I do not know if I was “saved” or a “Christian” prior to this epiphany. I suspect I likely was not. But I also rest in the mercy of God’s long wick of extending to me time and opportunity for Him to find me before I permanently lost myself.
I had pursued holiness and hoped for repentance. As Chambers points out, this is bass-ackwards. God revealed to me Himself in a way that wooed me into repentance and by my reciprocal love for Him is now producing in me holiness and has perfected this holiness once for all by grace through faith in the death of Christ alone