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When Repentance Feels Impossible

Christian, have you ever found yourself ferociously dominated by some public or secret sin? Have you tried to fight, day in and day out, against some pesky lust of the flesh only to find yourself continually falling into its miserable grip? Have you ever become so frustrated in your walk with Jesus that you’ve considered just throwing in the towel? Have you ever felt so dirtied by the filth of your habitual sins that you couldn’t fathom God forgiving you again?

I have.

Two years into my journey with Jesus, I became more than fed up with the lack of success in my fight against the flesh. I stopped apologizing to God for my sins, tossed my Bible under the bed, bought a bottle of Captain Morgan, and started smoking like a chimney. I quit suppressing my desire to engage in ungodly relationships and dove headlong into a very sinful situation with someone. I was done battling. Done!

But my misery didn’t cease as I raised my white flag—it only intensified. In my pre-Jesus days, I could revel in sexual immorality and drunkenness and not feel a smidgen of conviction about any of it, but now things were different. The thrills of sin brought my flesh an immediate sense of satisfaction, but that cheap satisfaction only gave way to gut wrenching sorrow. The Spirit of God had really made me into a new creation in 2010, and because of that, I couldn’t be at peace in sin.

I knew I had a choice to make. I could continue my toddler-like rebellion—keep my Bible under my bed, light up a Marlboro every 20 minutes, keep dating this guy, and do my best to numb my inner conflict with rum and tequila . . . or I could repent. I could ditch my sins and return to the peace and joy that obedience to Christ would bring.

Sounds like a pretty easy choice, right? I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to crawl out of the pit of my sins and into the comforting embrace of Jesus. But the problem was I felt totally unable to do so. Repentance felt far beyond my grasp.

“I can’t resist the temptation . . .”

“God won’t give me power to repent . . .”

“I’ve sinned too much for him to forgive and help me now. . .”

Thoughts like these filled my mind any time I pondered repentance. I wanted to stop sinning, but I didn’t believe I could. I wanted to run to Jesus, but I didn’t believe I could. I felt I was at the mercy of my sinful nature—forced to bow the knee to its every inclination.

I’m not a “let’s blame everything on Satan” person, but in hindsight, I think the hopelessness I felt had his fingerprints all over it. There’s no doubt that only I was to blame for my sins, but I think Satan saw the mess I’d created as an opportunity to slither in and wreak more havoc on my faith. I think he breathed out his lies when I was in my weakest state to keep me paralyzed in my sin and far from Christ. I think he persuaded me to believe I couldn’t resist temptation. I think he persuaded me to believe God wouldn’t help me. And I fell for it all.

I know there has to be somebody out there reading this today who is feeling as hopelessly crappy as I felt a few years ago. Stuck. Weak. Doubtful. Depressed. They want to escape but feel like they have no route of escape. They think that sin will forever and always hold them in the palm of its miserable hand.

I’m writing this blog for that person.

Weary brother or sister, I want to tell you from personal experience that there is hope for you. You are not too far-gone. In Christ, repentance is possible, joy is attainable, and peace is yours for the taking. The Jesus who saved you is the same Jesus who is going to snatch you up from this hellhole of hopelessness. He loves you, even in all your sin, and is ready to help you fight your way out of this.

But the problem is you have a hard time believing that, right? These days, you probably have a hard time really believing anything the Bible has to say. You feel like if God’s word were really living and true—as it claims—then you wouldn’t be in this mess. You’d be flying high on the wings of eagles, soaring over sin and temptation and doubt and despair. Yet here you are. Drowning.

Please hear me when I say this (and I’m praying God would give you abundant grace this very second to believe it): The issue isn’t the truthfulness or God’s word or the surety of God’s promises or the effectiveness of the gospel;the real problem here is your unbelief. It was mine, as well.

  • God says he won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your ability to withstand (1 Corinthians 10:13), but you haven’t believed him.
  • God says he gives you power by his Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8: 13), but you haven’t believed him.
  • God says his mercies are new for you every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), and that he will finish the good work he began in you (Philippians 1:6), but you haven’t believed him.

And in all your unbelief, you’ve pulled back from God and the power he graciously extends to you to live faithfully. There was a time—and I’m sure you remember it well—when your belief in God’s promises was loud and vibrant and growing. But now it’s just barely hanging on. Your faith, from which the power for godliness and holiness arises, has been pushed down and muzzled.

My friend, the thing you need to see today more clearly than anything else is that the battle you’re engaged in is not merely one for willpower and self-control over outward sins. You are in a battle to believe the truth.

You didn’t have the power to make your heart believe the truth the day you trusted in Christ, and you don’t have the power to make your heart fully believe the truth again, today. Only the Spirit of God can reignite and animate your faith. But you do have a responsibility in this process—a responsibility to place yourself before God and call on his name.

You don’t have to muster up faith that isn’t there or pretend to really feel the truth when you don’t, but you do have to seek the Lord. You do have to pull the Bible out from under the bed and read it. You do have to pray. I know you might say, “Matt, I’ve been praying! And he hasn’t answered!” Have you really sought him, though? If you’re anything like I was a few years ago, your prayers are probably super spontaneous and always less than 2 minutes long. This isn’t what seeking the Lord looks like. Seeking the Lord is setting aside a block of time—or maybe blocks of time—out of your day to do nothing but focus your mind on Jesus. For me, this looked like getting up an hour earlier than normal and spending 30 minutes praying and 30 minutes reading. And after work, I’d spend another 20 or so minutes praying and 30 minutes reading. I’m not saying that’s exactly what you need to do, but it is where I started.

I know a “seeking regimen” like that may feel overwhelming. But 1) if anything is worthy of your time and devotion, it’s God, and 2) don’t worry about mustering up the resolve to seek the Lord for the next week, month, or year; just resolve to seek the Lord today. Ask God to pour out his grace to help you believe the truth today. Knock on that heavenly door. Open that heavenly book. Sit and wait and read and pray. Don’t get discouraged by thinking about tomorrow or next week or next month. Just make today a day that you seek the presence of God. He will give you grace for tomorrow.

Like the father of the prodigal son was waiting on the porch to welcome home his dirtied and starving child, God is anxiously awaiting your return. So run to him—or limp to him, if you have to! Lock arms with the Christians around you and let them help carry you. The Lord will not turn his head the other way in disgust as he sees you approaching. He will embrace you. He will forgive you and cleanse you and empower you to wage war against your sin. I can tell you this with confidence because I have experienced it myself. The Lord really does draw near to and strengthen those who will, even in the weakest of faith, draw near to him.

The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.” – Psalm 145:18

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:11-13


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