A listener recently asked the theologian John Piper on his ‘Ask Pastor John‘ podcast, “How can I say that I have repented if I commit the same types of sin over and over?” The listener, “Doug,” said he often is “seized by depression” when he thinks of having to ask for repentance over and over again for the same sin. He often wonders, “Does god forgive sins you continue to repeat?”
Piper responded by first telling all his listeners, “Doug’s question is one of the most common questions that an honest and serious Christian has to ask.” This question is an “urgent” and “common” one within the lives of honest Christians.
Piper answers the reader’s question ‘Does God forgive sins you continue to repeat?’
Piper said its incorrect to use the word repentance for habitual sins we commit. He pointed to language in the New Testament, specifically in 1 John 1:8-9, where the word confession is used instead of repentance.
The 75-year-old theologian said, “Any thought, any attitude, any word, any facial expression, any gesture, any action that does not flow from a treasuring of Jesus is sin….Sin is a condition of the heart that is bent away from God in preference for other things, and sin is any expression of that preference in our mind or attitude or behavior.”
When the Bible uses the word repentance in the New Testament, it is referring to the experience Christians have when they surrender their life to Christ, Piper continued. Repentance happens if a Christian’s life “takes a terrible turn into a path of destruction from which we need to be called back,” he said, and referenced the beginning chapters from the book of Revelation.
Piper defined two different types of confession. One type of confession is an expression of guilt and sorrow for a sin that one really has no faith they can’t control themselves in giving into it again. He gave five different examples, one of those was this: “I’m going to respond in a belittling way to my wife when she looks that way at me again, probably two days from now.” Meaning the confession is “superficial” and is a “cloak for fatalism” regarding those type of sins. He called this an “I feel bad about them, but I can’t help myself” type of mentality.
The other type of confession is like the first in that a person feels guilt and sorrow for sins, but different in that the person chooses to wage war on the sin itself. “You aim, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to defeat it,” Piper said. “You plan to rob the sin of its power over you.”
The ‘Desiring God’ author gave two different types of sin a Christian commits, one that “blindsides you” and one that is “premeditated or planned.” Describing a blindsiding type of sin, Piper gave examples of some he experiences, such as “spontaneous, unkind words that just pop out of my mouth.” He said that sin leaves him ashamed as soon as he says the words. He said another might be when an advertisement ignites an old memory of something that leads to a sinful, sexual thought.
Planned or premeditated sin is something one thinks about before committing, Piper said. “You actually sit there or stand there weighing whether to do it or not.”