Question: What does it take to restore fellowship with God after sin?

What does it take to restore fellowship with God after sin?

            Every person sins in life.  It is a reality of life that unbelievers live in sin.  Paul writes regarding the condition of the unbeliever,

·         And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,
·         2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,
·         3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Eph. 2:1-3)

Paul describes the unbeliever, who walks “according to the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.”  In other words, the unbeliever does nothing but sin, because he is independent from God and does not trust God for anything.

A believer also sins, because he still has a sin nature. Every believer inherits a sin nature at birth passed down from his father (Rom. 5:12). The believer, like Paul, wants to do the right thing, but doesn’t, and the things he doesn’t want to do, he does anyway (Rom. 7:15).  Even after salvation, the sin nature within still seeks to control the believer.  He will have that sin nature until he dies. Therefore, he will continue to sin in time.  When he does, what does he do? Let us be specific in the mechanics of restoring fellowship.

            First, awareness of sin will come from the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). The whole world has guilt because of sin.1  Paul writes, Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Rom. 3:19) The world may not respond to its guilt, but it is guilty.  The world suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). The world of unbelievers rejects the truth and becomes callused before the Holy Spirit’s convicting ministry because their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1:21-22).God is holy and sin makes us guilty before holy God regardless of how we feel.

The same is true for the believer.The Holy Spirit convicts the believer of sin.  That conviction produces guilt in the heart of the believer. For example, Paul writes, “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11:27)  The “whoever” includes any believer who approaches the communion table with sin in his life and he does not deal with it in a godly way. That person is guilty.  In fact, James records for us the standard of life and the horrendous predicament of what sin does to his relationship with the Lord. James writes, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (Jam. 2:10)  James is writing to believers who did not take sin seriously.  He clearly states that even if a believer keeps all of God’s Word and he sins in one way, it is as if he is guilty of the whole thing.  He still has eternal life (John 17:3).  He is still God’s child (John 1:12), but he has objective guilt and fellowship with God is broken.

Secondly, the believer will turn to God in repentance from His sin (cf. 1 Thes. 1:9).  That turning is called repentance. Paul writes,

  • 9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.
  • 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
  • 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. (2 Cor. 7:9-11)

The godly sorrow is from the objective guilt.  It is God’s real reason He designed feelings in humanity.  God designed the feelings to draw us closer to Himself.  Feelings are like the red lights on the car dashboard.  The light tells you something is urgently wrong and you need to act quickly before more trouble develops.  Those feelings cause godly sorrow, which God designed to produce repentance.

            Repentance comes from a word (metanoia) meaning “change of thinking.”  Repentance means you change your thinking about God and begin to pursue Him, instead of the independence of sin.  Note the clear actions in 2 Corinthians 7:11 (above) that result from true repentance in life.2

            Thirdly, restoration of fellowship requires confession. John tells the believer to confess his sins to the Father.  John writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:9) We would not know our sin, unless the Holy Spirit convicted us. We would not confess if we did not change our thinking through repentance. God wants us to confess the sin.  The word for confess (homologeo) means “say the same thing.”  God wants us to say the same thing He says about sin.  He wants us to agree with Him that we did not live by faith, that we did not depend on Him and that we did not humbly submit to His will. We do that by acknowledging that what we did (like get angry or cheat on a test) is sin against God.

When we confess (acknowledge that we sinned), then He promises to forgive us from the sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  The “all unrighteousness” is the reality that we are not even aware of all of our sin, but God, in His mercy, does not overload us with guilt.  He merely makes us aware of sin that we have learned about at our point of spiritual growth in life.  When we confess, He forgives and cleanses.

Fourthly, depend on His control of your life.  Paul writes, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.”  (Eph. 5:18)  Although, the believer is always indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), the only way a believer is filled with the Spirit is when he has confessed his sins and he is humbly choosing to be dependent on the Holy Spirit’s control of his life and he does what is pleasing to the Father.  Jesus said, “”For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 6:38)  Paul writes, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. (2 Cor. 5:9)

Fifthly, press on in His power. God wants every believer to live in the same resurrection power that Jesus lives in now.  That can only be done in a pure and holy life dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit under the rulership of Jesus Christ.  Paul states it well,

  • 18 the eyes of your understanding  being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
  • 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power
  • 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, (Eph. 1:18-20)
This may seem complicated, but it all can happen simultaneously through confession of sin.  I have broken it down, just like teaching a person how to get behind the steering wheel of a car and the steps of learning how to drive.  In the beginning, it seems like a lot of steps, but eventually, it becomes natural. Sometimes everything is complicated to children and children only want things simple. 

Growing believers want to learn the spiritual life and will think through Scripture until they can clearly understand.  They will wrestle with the text, but not wrangle with believers.  They will humbly learn, rather than get huffy that someone had a different view from them.  May you be blessed as you grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ!

1There is a difference between objective and subjective guilt.  Objective guilt is that awareness of doing wrong before God. It is true guilt.  It comes from the conviction of the Holy Spirit of sin against holy God.  Subjective guilt is the feelings that something is wrong, but there is not awareness of what it is.  It may be feeling bad because of being caught doing wrong (caught with the hand in the cookie jar).  This is the subjective guilt that Judas felt after betraying the Lord Jesus.  He “felt” guilty (which included the fact of objective guilt), and his feelings overcame him and he took his life rather than repent before the Lord (Matt. 27:3-5). There is also the assembly of feelings, because of lost opportunity. This is what Esau felt when he realized his lost opportunity for the blessing that would have been his (Heb. 12:16-17).  Objective guilt is dealt with through repentance, confession and dependency on the Lord.

2There will be an article on the “Results of Repentance” in a few short days on this blog.

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