“Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy.”
St. Isaac the Syrian
We see from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that being ‘born again’ provided no protection from sin. The Church, founded only recently, and therefore, we have to assume, full of people who had been born again, was consumed with factionalism, and that factionalism was both a cause of and a symptom of the corrosive effects of sin. If we list the issues his letter covers, we see – across the gap of nearly two thousand years – ourselves. Paul covered a number of different issues related to both life and doctrine: divisions and quarrels, sexual immorality, lawsuits among believers, marriage and singleness, freedom in Christ, order in worship, the significance of the Lord’s Supper, and the right use of spiritual gifts; all of these are with us today. Did the Corinthians listen? If we are to judge by Clement’s letter to the Corinthians (written, probably, about fifty years later), things were little better at a later date, as clement writes:
we consider that we have been somewhat tardy in giving heed to the matters of dispute that have arisen among you, dearly beloved, and to the detestable and unholy sedition, so alien and strange to the elect of God, which a few headstrong and
self-willed persons have kindled to such a pitch of madness that your
name, once revered and renowned and lovely in the sight of all men,
hath been greatly reviled.
Both Peter and Paul had, he reminded them, been betrayed by ‘jealousy and envy’ – so again, among the brethren, strife and dissension had led the Church into crisis.
Paul had not preached a Gospel that required the Church to draw away from society into some Essene like wilderness, he had preached it in an urban area rather like many of our own – one full of different cultures with various ideas about matters such as sexual morality, spirituality and marriage. He called the Corinthians out on the view some of them had expressed, which was that as they were saved, they could indulge in sexual vice without it having any impact. Repentance was not some one-off event, after which the born-again could do as they liked, and the thought that it was was a dangerous one, as it obscured the fact that sin persists, and that as long as it does, so must repentance.
The blood of the Lamb was shed for all, but not all receive him, and not all of those who call him Lord will be recognised as his by him when they call on him. Like the Corinthians, we have not learned the lessons Paul taught, and the sins mentioned by him and Clement are still there in us. Because so few now seem to believe in the reality of the devil, we often, to our peril, neglect the use he can make of our tendency toward sin. This is a race we must pursue to the finishing line, confident that if we strive in Him and show true repentance, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.