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Repentance — What it Is and What it Ain’t – Part Three
In Psalm 51:11, David pleads with God, saying, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” This one-sentence prayer, part of David’s prayer of repentance to God, reveals a sobering spiritual reality we need to understand, namely, it is possible for God to remove His blessed presence from our lives. Let that sink in for a moment. It is possible to no longer experience the intimate relationship, deep friendship, and even family closeness with God that we once knew. And to lose the close fellowship of God’s Spirit is to lose His guidance, empowerment, and the joy of His salvation working mightily within us.
No one who once knew God wants to reach a point where they can no longer feel His presence or hear His voice— and, I mean, no one.
What Does Losing God’s Presence Mean?
To be out of God’s presence means to no longer have His spiritual fellowship and blessing over our lives. It means we have forfeited any intimate communion with Him and can no longer experience the comfort, direction, purpose, and power that comes from His Spirit dwelling richly within us. And it’s a lonely, dark, miserable, and depressing place to be.
Tragically, in the book of Judges, we see this described in Samson’s life. Though freakishly strong, Samson lost the blessing of God’s presence and power to work through him as a leader over Israel because of his lust and sin. And his lack of obedience to God’s standards of holiness, along with his blatant disregard for God’s purpose in his life, resulted in his tragic public downfall.
Samson’s sad example warns us not to presume upon God’s abiding presence to always be with us, irrespective of how we choose to walk before Him. Remember, sin and disobedience have consequences, both in this life and in the life to come. And our unrepented and persistent sin and rebellion can, and will, easily quench and grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), putting a great gulf between us and joyful fellowship with God (1 Thess. 5:19). I mean, why should we expect to relish in the joy of His approval and presence when our actions show our complete rejection of His standards and ways? It just doesn’t work that way.
Let me give you a few examples to prove this point.
Biblical Examples of Losing God’s Presence
Scripture contains several sobering examples of God’s people forfeiting His blessed presence for a season because of their sin and rebellion against Him.
• Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land because of fear and unbelief resulted in 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
• King Solomon’s turning to idol worship because of his many foreign wives led to God’s promise to tear the kingdom away from his descendants.
• Saul’s pride, envy, and independence from God’s word resulted in losing the kingdom and his reign as king over Israel to David.
• And even David lost the joy of his salvation after his sin against Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. Yet He found forgiveness and restoration only after fully repenting, without excuses (Psalm 51).
Through these accounts and others, we learn how unchecked, besetting sins can earn God’s discipline and the chastisement of withdrawing His presence from those He loves in order to bring them back into a relationship with Him.
The Agony of Divine Abandonment
To grasp the gravity of this loss of His presence, consider the very first biblical example: Adam and Eve being banished from Eden and God’s presence after their sin and rebellion. We see their heartbreaking exile from God’s presence in Genesis 3:23-24: “Therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”
Now, no longer able to walk with God “in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8), Adam and Eve, and all humanity after them, faced toil, pain, hardship, and death outside of God’s protective presence. Similarly, Cain faced wandering and fear as a “fugitive and vagabond on the earth” after murdering his brother Abel (Gen. 4:12). The loss of the safety and security of God’s intimate presence left him isolated and alone, which was not God’s original plan for their lives, and not a good place to be— ever.
What Life is Like Without God’s Presence
Losing the fellowship of God’s Spirit dramatically affects every area of life. We may struggle with feelings of isolation, anxiety, aimlessness, despair, and debilitating guilt. Without access to God’s wisdom and perspective, we fall victim to poor decision-making, with moral confusion not far behind. Our spiritual vitality evaporates, leaving behind deadness, dryness, and powerlessness in its wake. We become just a living shell of what we once were when we could experience the presence of God in our lives.
Indeed, shutting ourselves off from the Source of life has tragic consequences that touch every aspect of our lives. So, we must carefully guard against anything that could earn the removal of such an infinitely precious gift.
Restoring God’s Abiding Presence
The good news is that Scripture offers hope for restoration through genuine repentance. Just as “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5), so God promises that if we draw near to Him, He will forgive, forget, and graciously reciprocate and draw near to us once again (James 4:8). No matter how far we have strayed through our disobedience, it is not too far nor too late to reclaim the blessings of His abiding presence.
But how is this done? How can we experience God once again?
By examining the accounts of divine forgiveness and restoration in Scripture, we can uncover some spiritual principles to apply in reclaiming God’s manifest presence:
Examine Your Heart Before God: Invite His searching gaze to reveal any areas of offense that may be hindering close fellowship, such as unforgiveness, pride, or secret sins (Psalm 139:23-24).
Confess Everything Completely: Hold nothing back from God (like He doesn’t know already?). Agree with Him about the true ugliness of your sins, calling them what Scripture calls them, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:4, 1 John 1:9, 1 Samuel 15:23).
Repent Thoroughly and Honestly: Turn away from all that offends God and turn wholeheartedly towards Him in submission and obedience to His complete Lordship over every area in your life. Again, hold nothing back from God, give Him everything (John 14:15, Romans 8:13).
Walk Accountably: Surround yourself with wise, merciful companions who will help you persevere in living uprightly and fruitfully before God (Hebrews 10:24-25). Don’t try to go it alone. After all, it didn’t work the first time, did it?
By applying these biblical strategies, you can find healing, hope, and restoration in your walk with Christ. And by His astonishing grace (which I still can’t comprehend), He invites us to come freely and find the refreshing rivers of His presence flowing freely once again in the wastelands of our lives.
Standing Ready to Welcome Us Home
Never forget that we serve an incredibly merciful and compassionate God who stands ready to lavish His presence abundantly upon all who seek Him. He yearns for reconciliation even more than we do. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son reminds us that the Father is constantly looking expectantly down that road for signs of His wayward child returning home. And when He catches sight of us finally turning back, He runs to embrace us, fully restoring all that was lost in that painful absence (Luke 15:11-32).
What wondrous love is this— that our God never gives up on us, regardless of how far we stray? He graciously disciplines those He loves to spur our return to Him freely and wholeheartedly (Revelation 3:19). And understanding both the blessings of walking in God’s presence and the agony of losing that gift, He offers us a powerful motivation to pursue intimate fellowship with God above all else.
By His grace, may we fervently guard our hearts against anything that could earn separation from the One who is Life itself— the loving Lord Jesus Christ.