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Satan Hates Repentance So You Don’t Have To 

Repentance is not antithetical to love, compassion, and gentleness.

Feb 1, 2024

Repentance in Our Cultural Moment 

In 2019, sociologists Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff noted a phenomenon sweeping college campuses and contributing to an increasingly hostile environment around speech and dialogue. Anything that a person interpreted as uncomfortable or non-affirming, they suggested, was now being called “trauma.” All that was needed as evidence of this trauma was the subjective feeling or sense of the individual. In their words, “it was not for anyone else to decide what counted as trauma, bullying, or abuse; if it felt like that to you, trust your feelings. If a person reported that an event was traumatic (or bullying or abusive), his or her subjective assessment was increasingly taken as sufficient evidence.”1Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (New York, NY: Penguin, 2019), 75.  

What Haidt and Lukianoff noted highlights that broader culture is indeed experiencing a shift in its understanding of human fulfillment. Increasingly, the individual’s purpose is seen as actualizing his or her every desire. To be “your true self” and to “live your best life” is equated with acting on the impulses that come naturally to you.2Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2018, 475. Taylor here comments on “expressive individualism.” A Supreme Court majority opinion even claimed that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”3Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 883, 851 (1992), Anything less than expressive individualism is seen as a sad failure to living life to its fullest potential.  

The back side of this shift in our understanding of human fulfillment, of course, is a radical redefinition of “harm.” Anyone or anything that stands in the way of a person expressing their “true self” is not seen as merely uncomfortable or inconvenient, but as judgmental and bigoted. They are seen as effecting no less than harm. This has obvious and far-reaching implications for the Gospel call to repentance. Repentance, after all, is a radical call to lay down our own prerogatives, desires, and pleasures in response to a better set. But as many in the church are finding, the call to repentance is increasingly being perceived as unloving, insensitive, or legalistic. 

For a church to lovingly call a wayward couple back from unrepentant cohabitation is seen as abusive.4David J. Ayers, “The Cohabitation Dilemma Comes for America’s Pastors, Christianity Today, March 16, 2021,  For a sister in Christ to warn her friend about the dangers of her creeping closeness with that male co-worker is intrusive. Even the prospect of evangelism itself is coming to be seen as a judgmental infringement. What’s worse: many in the church have adopted these unbiblical assumptions. Entire churches have been built on libertarian notions of repentance and conversion: “you can take it or leave it; we are simply here to help you along your spiritual journey.”  

This is alarming. Should the call to repentance disappear from our Gospel vernacular in this present age, all hope of individual conversions and success in counseling is lost.   

Repentance in the Scriptures 

The danger for the church in this environment is the temptation to redefine its concept of love away from the biblical version. But this is actually the most unloving misstep the church could make. If biblical love involves the call to repentance from sin, then it’s the church and the biblical counselor who are in danger of rendering themselves biblically unloving by their omission of repentance as a necessary component of genuine life change. 

The Bible has a radically different take on repentance compared to that of our emerging culture. In the Scriptures, repentance and love walk in lockstep. Take in the instructive words of Jesus, speaking to the Rich Young Ruler: 

“A man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:17-22). 

Notice what’s going on here:  

  1. The Rich Young Ruler had a set of loves. He deeply loved his money. To call him away from his money may be perceived as unloving to the notion of self-fulfillment. But Jesus sees the man’s greater heart-need for a change of loves. 
  1. Jesus did not believe loving the man and telling him the truth were at odds with one another.  
    “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him…”  Jesus viewed loving the Rich Young Ruler and telling him a hard truth as two complementary pieces of the Gospel. 
  1. Sometimes, people still walk away. Sometimes the counselee ghosts you. I have been confidently informed that the reason the wayward don’t respond well to the Gospel call to repentance is that it was “not done the right way.” This is always a possibility. But it’s important to see that even Jesus, the best and most loving evangelist who ever lived, still experienced rejection. This is because of hardness of heart, not necessarily the failure of the sharer (1 Corinthians 1).  

Repentance is Good News 

The Gospel reminds us that repentance does come with a cost (Luke 14:25-33). But it also gives us great hope: anyone who is willing to turn away from their base loves and desires can have a greater freedom in Christ. No one who repents of a deeply-held love will – in the end – be disappointed. The task of the counselor is often that of helping counselees see that the temporary losses of misplaced loves always yield the greater blessings of God through new and rightly ordered loves.  

Often repentance is difficult because our old way offers a sense of security and familiarity. We fear that if we repent of what is familiar and safe – no matter how sinful our old loves were – we might not have enough sustenance for the rest of our journey. To that Jesus provided a direct reply: 

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). 

Charles Spurgeon noted that “There is nothing in the law of God that will rob you of happiness; it only denies you that which would cost you sorrow.” Friend, if you believe you are loving your wayward friend or counselee, but are failing to call them to repentance, be careful that your notions of love and harm haven’t been more influenced by the culture than by the Scriptures. Repentance is not antithetical to love, compassion, and gentleness. Repentance is God’s good news. It is God’s vehicle away from the wiles of the enemy and toward life, and it more abundantly (John 10:10).