Repentance. It is one of the defining traits of the Christian walk. It is what changes us to a believer, and it is what sustains us through our lives. Without this act, we become hardened to God and we fall into sin. The fact is, that in this life with our weak flesh, we are prone to wander form the Lord. We set up idols in our hearts and we replace the right worship of God with the worship of ourselves (Col. 3:5). We know that God is a jealous God (Ex. 34:14), that he will not share his glory with anyone else (Is. 42:8), and so something must happen when we worship at a different alter.
An important, and often missed, aspect of repentance is the aspect of change. Many, after sinning, feel guilty, but few actually follow through and biblically repent (literally turn around in Hebrew). Notice how in Jeremiah 4:1, God outlines what needs to happen – “If you, Israel, want to come back,” says the Lord, “if you want to come back to me you must get those disgusting idols out of my sight and must no longer go astray.” (NET, emphasis mine)
One of the most important parts of repenting is putting away the idol that led us to walk away from God. Too often we want to keep the sin that we have. If we are honest (as Paul is in Gal. 5:17), we actually enjoy our sin to some degree. But for those who are in Christ, we are not slaves to those desires (Rom. 6:18) and we are called to be renewed in our desires (Eph. 4:22-24).
It Is Hard!
Often, though, when we talk about change, especially as it pertains to sin, we quickly get bogged down by the fact this change is hard. It is good to know that we have a God who is truly aware of how hard change is, how hard it is to get rid of sin (Heb. 4:15). Notice the metaphor that God uses in Jer. 4:3 to talk about the how hard it will be to change – “Like a farmer breaking up hard unplowed ground, you must break your rebellious will and make a new beginning; just as a farmer must clear away thorns lest the seed is wasted, you must get rid of the sin that is ruining your lives.”
Like a farmer clearing a field (which is really hard work if you have not tried that lately), God recognizes that getting rid of the sin that we have in our hearts will be hard, but it will not be impossible (1 Cor. 10:13). And when we put away those idols, we will begin to bear fruit (Gal. 5:22-23). We will notice that our lives will be different. We will notice that we are changing.
Naturally, however, there will be those who do not recognize the need to change. The passage ends by the Lord promising judgment on those who will not put away the idols that they have worshiped – “If you do not, my anger will blaze up like a flaming fire against you that no one will be able to extinguish. That will happen because of the evil you have done.” (Jeremiah 4:4)
Scripture is full of warnings that encourage authentic repentance (Luke 6:43-45, 1 Cor. 6:9-11). So if you are struggling to put away sin, seek a friend’s help, get an accountability partner, talk with pastor or seek biblical counseling. Do something! But whatever you do, don’t continue to worship at the false altar!