Yesterday, I responded to a question concerning whether a narcissist could be saved.  Within that question was another on whether the narcissist was capable of repenting.  Today I want to take a stab at the definition of repentance.

I would establish two axioms.  It may be that not all believers would agree with me on these, but I believe them to be true and they move me to understand more about sin and repentance.  Here they are:

  1. God hates sin because sin hurts His people and He loves us.
  2. Believers can commit any sin, if they seek to live out of their flesh rather than the Spirit.

Much is made of the Greek meaning of words.  The word, metanoia, is usually the word we see translated as “repentance.”  It means simply, “to change the mind.”  In other words, to think differently.  But to think differently about what?

As we grew up, we created a coping system for our lives.  We learned how to deal with people, how to look at ourselves, and what limits to place on our dreams.  We learned how to deal with life.  Our system may not have worked very well, but it worked well enough to get us through difficulties.  Addictions, habits, attitudes, expectations—these grew out of the system as we created it.  The Scripture calls this system the “flesh.”  It stands against the Spirit, according to Paul in Galatians.  The flesh, because it is unwilling to trust the assessment of the Lord, often embraces sin as a method of getting what it needs.  For example, a person might desire some attention in order to feel good about himself.  He tries some things but doesn’t get what he wants.  When he lies, however, he is able to move attention toward himself.  The need to feel good about himself leads him to crave attention and lying becomes simply one of the ways to meet his need.  This is the flesh at work.

The error that is often made is to think that repentance is thinking differently about particular sins.  When a child lies, the parents will try to move him to repent, to acknowledge the sin and renounce it.  If he says that he is sorry for lying and will try not to do it again, the parents are satisfied.  But the child may only have learned that lying doesn’t work or, worse, that he hasn’t been lying well enough.  He may think differently about that particular sin, but his core thinking hasn’t changed at all.  Next time he craves attention, he may hit someone or break something or use a bad word.  Too often people learn either to sin more discreetly or to exchange one sin for another.  To call this repentance is in error.

Repentance happens when a person looks at his or her life and realizes that the flesh system isn’t working.  To repent is to look outside oneself for life, to seek the life God provides.  The one who repents reaches out to God because God offers something more than he could ever provide for himself.  The flesh system is seen as insufficient and the love of God is accepted.

Someone asks whether repentance is necessary for salvation.  Of course it is.  Why else would anyone look to the Lord for new life?  But repentance is not a decision to no longer sin, nor is it merely regret for former sins.  Repentance is a realization that life isn’t working as is and a genuine desire for something different.  Repentance doesn’t save.  Jesus saves.  But repentance allows us to look outside ourselves to see Jesus.

More tomorrow…



Filed under Freedom, grace, Narcissism, Relationship

12 responses to “Repentance

  1. Jayna Stein

    Wow – this is an awesome post. I was just dealing with one of my children on the very subject of lying, which was attempting to cover up another act of disobedience – and it can just go on and on, can’t it? It comes back to comparison (well, at least I didn’t do THAT), or denial… As this child in question was apologizing for the situation (I’m sorry Mom for doing such and such – but I really didn’t lie because I…(sheesh!!) I said to this child, Yes, it was a lie because you knew what I was really asking you…It is always a matter of right thinking, a matter of RELATIONSHIP – not behavior modification. Understanding who we are in relationship to who Jesus is, thinking the right thoughts based on the truth of who Jesus is and what He represents, and realizing that we are accepted – imperfections and all – and we can just trust Him to take care of the rest. Then we can relax (rest) and not have to strive to be something or someone that we are not meant to be. And then we are free to love and be loved.
    Okay, I’m done – lol!!

    • Right on point! If I know that I am accepted, then I don’t have to use the old flesh tools to gain acceptance or attention. Relationship is the key.

      • Kay

        Dear Dave: Are we not back to repentance? I haven’t known many but have seen their “works”. IF they repent, turn to God for the answers for healing, they can be saved. I know you know God uses people, things and opportunities to turn even the hardest hearts. Since He alone is the Healer, the Savior, the One desiring glory from His creations, He is obviously the ONLY ONE that can change a broken soul. We suffer all sorts of criminal behavior. IS there anything too difficult for God?

    • Kay

      Thank you, Jayna: You are right on. ALL any of us can do is to (I think) live out the Truth, not allow our tiredness to cause us to just let this one go. Even if the youngster was in homeschooling, he/she gets the World’s Humanism from TV, neighbors, church ‘leaders’, govt ‘leaders’, our textbooks, etc. AND, how long was it in our own lives that we lived-out our flesh patterns? I am older (much) and am stunned how I acted out, burning others a loooonnnnng many years. Lying was the least sin if there could be one, but seeing my deceiving sin broke me.

      I just read a marvelous non-fiction written by a former Islamic Terrorist. He must be 50ish now, but those Christians that loved him never gave up on the Lord’s Truth, Holy Spirit, Agape’ love. He KNOWS Christ, our Lord God, the Holy Spirit better than most ministers. He
      knows what clarity repentance gives the soul…living it, not just saying the ‘good words’.

  2. Sue

    You said that so well!

    Obviously I agree with you regarding repentance. It really isn’t just a change of the mind, it goes deeper than that and I believe is truly a heart issue.

    You have me thinking though and I’m struggling with how to put my thoughts into the written word. But I’ll try.

    I think it’s true that all of us has a bit of narcissism in us. We think of ourselves often and self-preservation is important to us. It’s just a fact of living in the flesh. However, the majority of us humans also see the need to protect others (ie our children and family, the weak and defenseless).

    From my experience (and from my research) the narcissist only sees the need to protect himself and will use any available resource to do that. This self-preservation mode is to the extreme and is needed to ensure the vision of himself as the best, always right, and worthy of worship. Putting others and their needs before himself might require him to do something against his nature (selfish as it is).

    Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe God is more powerful than any human and their flesh. He can make anyone see their error and the need to repent. But I also believe we humans have free will and can quench the Holy Spirit…I don’t believe God will push himself on anyone.

    Good Ole Nebbie has been brought up and I think he’s a great example of someone who repented and turned to God, albeit after God allowed him to lose his mind. But what about pharoah, who never repented?

    Have you, in your lifetime, ever seen a true narcissist (not just a selfish person seeking attention) repent and turn to God?

    Thanks for your patience with my questions!

    • I wish I could say that I had, but my experience is limited I guess. I still believe such a thing is possible, just very unlikely – for the points you mention. I will say that I have met narcissists who in other ways appear to be believers. Not sure what to do with that.

      You are right that the narcissist must protect himself, no matter what. Any apparent vulnerability will almost certainly be either faked or allowed for a greater purpose. And, sadly, their spouses, children, co-workers, etc. are expendable for that protection.

      As you say, we all have some narcissism. That’s simply part of how the flesh is designed. Survival is paramount. But not many are as obsessed as narcissists. PTL!

    • Kay

      Sue: Great reply and great questions. We in the U.S. are witnessing one of the most obvious, endangering narcissist in at least my life time. I have asked Dave the same question: Does he know of any of these sick creations that has turned. He said no. Here’s my problem (I don’t live with or am intimately related) with the narcissist: Is there any
      sin too big for God to handle, forgive? No, of course not.
      BUT, when we are being harmed, or our loved ones are being harmed, it seems we see the sin rather than ‘looking away to our Lord’. Terrible atrocities are occurring; the prisons are filled with it. Many perpetrators are not imprisoned EVER. IF we continue to look to the bad person or his sin, we will never ‘see’ God’s righteousness. I hate to bring it up, but many times evil people were/are being used to turn the World to glorify the Lord. EVERYONE has a free will. The narcissist has a free will. You and I have free will. Can
      he/she be saved? Long and short….yes. A friend in Christ,

      • Sue

        Hi Kay.

        I, unfortunately, have direct experience with a narcissist. He has only recently been diagnosed by a Neuropsychologist as one, but I have lived many, many years with his behavior. He has driven me to the brink of insanity at times. It is only Christ who has given me strength to stay with him.

        The “Christian Narcissist” is a breed unto themselves I think. It can be quite horrifying to be around someone like this at times. In a nutshell, they believe in Christ, but only because it is to their benefit. God is their wish puppet and the thought of serving Him is foreign to them. They don’t see a need to. God is just another crutch or “source” for them; i.e. God will love them no matter what, God will always forgive me not matter what I do…so there is no need to change their behavior.

        They are superior to other Christians, because they “get it” when others don’t.

        It truly is a nightmare to live in this situation for more reasons than I have room for here.

        I truly question whether he will ever be saved, because he quenches the Holy Spirit so much…he doesn’t need Him, you see.

        I do admit that I understand that a narcissist can be saved, God is God…but I am coming to the realization that he will not allow himself to be truly saved.

        So glad I found a place to talk with other Christians about this!

    • Sue,
      I am on the road for the next couple of days, but will check email from time to time. It interests me very much that a psychologist has diagnosed him as a narcissist. As I have written before, that takes a considerable level of convincing. Did you get any hope from the dr? My guess is, not really. Most psychologists feel that narcissists are not only nearly incurable, but also very unpleasant to work with. But the diagnosis is a step in the right direction, at least.

      Also, there are some ways to work around the narcissism, to manipulate the narcissist, if you will. The basic idea is to know him better than he knows himself. Remember that he doesn’t really want to know himself. If you can understand his thinking patterns, there is some hope for either controlling his narcissism for him or with him.

      Chances are that you already do this. Because of the time you have been together, you have learned coping techniques for yourself. You have developed some ways to get him to do what needs to be done andyou have found some ways to mitigate his actions toward others. I am very much of the opinion that narcissists can be controlled – you just can’t let them know they are being controlled.


      • Sue

        Hello! Hope your travels are going well.

        My husband was actually being tested for ADD, when it was discovered that he had this personality disorder. The psychologist was sure he had ADD, as our daughter has a mild form of, and based on behaviors that our daughter told him about and that he observed himself.

        It turned out that he didn’t have ADD…even the doctor was surprised by the personality disorder discovery. But after reviewing research that I’ve been doing, he certainly fits the profile, albeit I don’t think he is to the extreme.

        You’re right, I have learned over the years to deal and maneuver around his behavior. And yes, I can control him to a certain extent. The problem is, that control is in the form of being his parent. And it’s very tiresome.

        The lies, though, are the worst. I find it very hard to forgive him when they are continual and the effects they have go beyond just him.

        It takes a lot of strength some days…and some days I just don’t have it in me. I have biblical grounds to leave him, but I just haven’t been given the go ahead from God…and I’m not sure that I will.

        Today is a tiresome day. Prayers are welcome!

        God bless.

      • Thanks for this comment. I believe that narcissists can be controlled because their needs are so great, but thank you for pointing out the cost. Taking care of them, guiding them to better behavior and relationships, helping them fit into both normal society and the family – these are things that need constant energy. Too much for most people. They are like the dog that continually pulls against the leash. The walk gets old real fast.

        Lying is probably just how he learned to cope with reality. And, yes, they are awful and he is responsible for them. He can learn not to lie, but it might be very difficult. He may not even understand what a lie is and why it hurts you so much. This is what makes life with a narcissist so difficult. I appreciate your willingness to share.

        I will continue to pray for you.

  3. Kay

    Repentance: I have a close acquaintance that told me 40 years ago he would never say he was sorry for anything. He calls himself a Christian. So, according to him, he didn’t need to ASK the Lord’s forgiveness for his sin(s), never admits wrong in any case, doesn’t need to ask anyone’s forgiveness for his flesh life…and now he’s one of millions of people calling themselves Christians filling The Church with lukewarm-ness.

    Repentance is daily; many days repentance is hourly until I, not God, gets it that I need to live out my entire life “in Christ”. There is zero Christian, calling him/herself by my Lord’s Name that does not need to live an humble life to get on track for the Lord’s Will. It takes bowing my knee to His Kingship to keep the fellowship sweet with Him and my “neighbors”. I am not talking about works for Salvation.

    I accepted Christ as my Savior, later my King, but the words, the heart just wasn’t there to walk in THAT KIND of righteousness, THAT KIND of holiness. Was I a Christian? I said the right words, but I never changed. What made the difference? I began to witness in mine and others lives our hearts’ understanding grace is my Lord. He
    has changed me by His Blood, The Cross, Ascension, but the ‘key’ of accepting what He DID was to know for sure He is “in” my spirit, He is righteous, He is holy and sin harms me, others and The Church, His Body. In comes needed repentance. I think I was a Christian long ago, but I stayed a “baby” needing milk, not meat. My flesh stayed ‘stinky’.

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