When repenting of heart sin, it is hard to evaluate the sincerity of your repentance. Are you really relinquishing your sin? Or are you going through the motions of repentance with no serious desire to change? Who’s to say? Often times in our divided hearts, it is impossible to determine. I often find myself praying, “I repent, help my un-repentance!”
Mark 9:20-27 teaches an important principle. A man brings his demonized son to Jesus and asks if Jesus can do anything. Jesus answers, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The man does not try to fake faith. Rather, he is humble and genuine. His honesty is born out of his utter desperation. He immediately cries, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
What a statement. He is saying he does have some faith in Christ and His power. But he also has doubt. He has probably tried many things, many times before to obtain healing for his son, all to no avail. His faith is ragged and worn thin, hanging on by a thread. We know Jesus loves such honesty. He compliments it in Nathaniel in John 1:46-47.
Jesus does not appreciate fake sincerity. It’s easy in human relationships to smile and act as though you trust someone even though you have serious doubts. Social conventions call for and sometimes seem to demand such pleasantries. But when dealing with the God of the universe who knows all things, it is always better to just lay all your cards on the table as this man did. Prayer should truly be a baring of your soul.
This prayer “I believe, help my unbelief” has become a pattern for me that helps me wrestle honestly with the Lord in many areas. Here’s an example. Often before I preach I will pray for God to use the message in other people’s lives. As I persevere in prayer, I often notice at least two desires competing in my heart and prayer.
There is a genuine desire for Christ to be honored through the preaching of His word. There is a longing for people to repent and believe for their joy in Christ. But there is also the subtle desire lurking in the shadows that I want the sermon to go well so I'll look great. A part of me loves my honor more than Christ’s. It seems to always be there chasing me like my shadow (Romans 7:21).
I hate that this self-centered desire seems so ever present within me. I pray against it. I repent, but it pops back up. I wonder, “Have I really repented?” So what do I do as I drive to a meeting where I'm supposed to proclaim God’s word? I pray, “I repent but help my lack of repentance Lord.”
I build upon this pattern. “Father, whatever in me is pure and desires to exalt you and serve others, fan it into flame. Pour spiritual gasoline on it! But Lord, whatever is sinful and selfish, masquerading as holy, please kill it. Put sin to death in me! I repent, help my unrepentance, Lord!”
This is the best way I know to deal with a divided heart. Jesus responds so graciously to the man in Mark 9. Even though the man admits a lack of faith, Jesus still heals his son by casting out the demon. (This shows that prosperity preachers who teach that you must have “complete faith” before you can receive a miracle are unbiblical.) Jesus’s grace and mercy in this story encourages me to be open and raw with Him about the lack of faith and sinful selfishness lingering in my heart.
When I pray this way, I often find myself saying to myself I wonder if my heart is 60% pure and 40% sinful today as I prepare to preach. Maybe I'm 70% sinful and 30% pure. I often find myself hoping and praying that my heart is at least 51% God-centered and only 49% self-centered at most.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a spiritual oil check stick for our heart? At any given moment we could dip the stick into our hearts and evaluate our sincerity. It actually might not be so wonderful for multiple reasons. First, we might be horrified to the point of paralysis at what we find. Or even on our best, most Spirit-filled days what we find might lead us to pride.
The deepest danger would be the subtle temptation to not rest in our works, but to rest in our sincerity, ultimately just another form of legalism. We could pat ourselves proudly on the back for how genuine our faith is. We could condescendingly look down our noses on others who we suspected were less sincere.
The good news is we don’t need a spiritual dipstick. The man in Mark 9 didn’t say, “I'm 51% believing and only 49% in doubt.” He was just brutally honest with Christ that he was a mixed bag. He had some faith and some sinful fear.
We must live this way daily as well. “I believe in You Lord, help my unbelief. I repent, help my unrepentance. I rest in You, help my anxiety. I hope in You, help my doubt…” The good news is we don’t have a relationship with Christ based on the sincerity of our heart but rather based on the sincerity of His love for us and His 100% commitment to us that drove Him to the cross and kept Him there.
Pray with raw honesty. Wrestle with the Lord about your divided heart. Don’t be content to stay where you are. Beg Him to change you and grow you, to sanctify you and conform you to His image. But never rest in your perceived “purity percentage”, nor overly beat yourself up over remaining corruption. Rather rest in the finished work of Christ. Look to His purity. Rest in His 100% completed work on your behalf.