Experiencing God’s Renewal from the Inside Out
By LESLIE LUDY
Create in me a clean heart, o God;
and renew a right spirit within me.
There it was again — that distracting heaviness that I just couldn’t explain. I sat staring at my open Bible, but the words were merely blurry lines on a page. I was attempting to have a quiet time, but spiritually I felt hollow and empty. With a sigh, I closed the cover and whispered a simple but desperate prayer. “Jesus, I want to have a close relationship with You. But I feel so far away from You and I’m not sure why. Please show me what to do.”
It didn’t make sense that I felt a barrier in my relationship with Christ. I was seventeen, and had been a Christian since kindergarten. For most of my life, I’d had an unwavering passion for spiritual things. When I was nine, I’d memorized the entire book of Philippians. At ten, I’d led my neighbor friend to Christ. Even at a young age, my walk with Christ was real and vibrant. I loved to pray, worship, write spiritual truths in my journal, read Christian books, and study Scripture. I was purposeful about sharing Christ with others.
But when I entered high school, something changed. I still went to church and had daily quiet times. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I no longer had an intimate connection with Christ. My prayers seemed to go no further than the ceiling, and the Bible seemed uninteresting and hard to understand. I felt like I was merely going through the motions of Christianity.
I had a genuine desire to put Jesus first in my life. So why this growing spiritual dullness? Where was it coming from?
As if in answer to my question, a verse began to resound through my mind. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully” (Ps. 24:3-4).
I sat silently pondering those words. Was my heart pure before God? Were my hands clean in His eyes? As I forced myself to take an honest look at my conduct over the past few years, I knew the answer was no.
Scenes began to replay in my mind. There had been many moments of subtle compromise and even of willful sins; sins that I had never confessed or made right. All the while I’d been professing to have a strong relationship with Christ, I’d been breaking His heart by living a lifestyle of continual compromise. I had justified my actions by looking at other Christians’ standards and reasoning that many of them were making the same choices, so it must be okay for me, too. But now I saw clearly how wrong this logic had been. I had strayed far away from the One who had given everything for me.
As this reality sank in, I was flooded with remorse, but also with hope. I felt as if the King Himself was standing there, extending a beautiful opportunity to me. It was an opportunity to come away from compromise, purify my heart, and experience a vibrant, unhindered relationship with Him once more.
Instinctively, I sensed what I needed to do. He was calling me to repent; to allow Him to cleanse me and make me new. My Lord was not condemning me; rather, He was inviting me to experience His forgiveness and restoration. His love for me was so deep that He longed for me to remove everything that stood in the way of my ability to walk in intimate fellowship with Him.
My heart was ready to respond. Snatching up my journal and pen, I knelt beside my bed and asked God to show me, one by one, every past or present sin in my life that needed to be dealt with. Memories came to my attention that had long been forgotten and part of me wished they could stay that way. But gradually, as I confessed and repented of each unconfessed sin within my heart, I began to feel a freedom unlike I’d ever known.
I felt directed to make things right not only with God, but also with others whom I’d wronged. I sat down with my parents and repented of lies I had told them and the many ways I had shown them disrespect. I apologized to my younger brothers for not being a Christlike example to them. I called friends and asked their forgiveness for hurtful things I’d done.
Over the next few weeks, there were other practical steps that God led me to take as a part of the repenting and cleansing process. I destroyed remnants of damaging past relationships that still had a hold over my heart — notes from former flings, photos of past boyfriends, even some of my old yearbooks that carried memories of sin and compromise. I threw away sensual outfits that I subconsciously wore to draw the attention of guys. I tossed out stacks of popular magazines that were fun to read, but had subtly filled my mind with a disdain for innocence. I got rid of music that applauded impurity. It did not matter how small or subtle the compromise seemed; if there was even a hint of impurity in it, I snuffed it out of my life.
These steps were not taken from a sense of trying to earn God’s favor. Rather, they were actions that came naturally and willingly, out of a heart overflowing with love and desire for Him. I wanted absolutely nothing to stand in the way of experiencing intimacy with my heavenly King.
It was like the response of the new believers in the book of Acts: “Many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:18-19). As a direct result of these believers’ obedience and repentance, “…the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:20).
The same principle became true in my own life. As I responded to God’s gentle conviction, repented of my sins, and made things right with others, my relationship with Him began to thrive like never before. His Word came alive to me. My Christianity became real and life-changing. And my life began to reflect the holiness of my King.
Of course, this repentance and “house cleaning” process didn’t mean that I no longer stumbled or struggled with sin. But sin no longer ruled my life or clouded my relationship with Christ. By God’s grace, I learned how to recognize sin and quickly respond to the conviction of God’s Spirit — to repent and make things right before sin had a chance to gain a foothold in my soul.
Since that time of confession and repentance, there have been many other purifying seasons that God has walked me through. Each time, the process has been painful and humbling, but in the end there is incredible beauty, freedom, and joy. I can honestly say that when I feel the prick of God’s conviction, it is sweet to my soul — because I know that He loves me too much to leave me ensnared by sin.
A lot of us have grown up in Christian circles that shy away from talking about sin, repentance, and personal holiness. We are often conditioned to think that any prick of remorse over the wrong choices we’ve made is a feeling that is to be avoided at all costs; that we should tune out conviction and simply focus on God’s unconditional love for us.
But what freedom and life we miss when we fail to let God shine His searchlight within our souls and purge the dross from our inner life! We are conditioned to think that the process of being made holy is a dour, miserable, legalistic experience. And yet, I find it fascinating that several places in Scripture describe the “beauty of holiness.” (See 1 Chronicles 16:29; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalm 29:2; and Psalm 96:9.) To be cleansed and refined from sinful strongholds and shaped into a reflection of Christ is truly an amazing, joyful, beautiful privilege; one that was made possible by His precious blood.
In order to experience the “beauty of holiness” we must welcome His conviction instead of pushing it away. We must be willing to acknowledge our sins instead of justifying them. By God’s enabling grace, we must repent and let Him make us new, no matter how difficult or humbling the process may be.
Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” To “regard iniquity” in this verse means to harbor unconfessed sin within our hearts. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a direct relationship between unconfessed sin in our soul and our ability to know God and make Him known.
When our oldest son, Hudson, was about nine years old, we had a family time of confessing sin and asking each other’s forgiveness. Hudson responded to God’s conviction that night and made many things right with his family members. In fact, that time of confession and repentance went on for more than two hours — mostly because of Hudson’s willingness to take it seriously and respond humbly to God’s conviction. Afterwards, he felt light and joyful. “It felt like I was wearing a backpack of heavy rocks,” he told us, “and once I confessed my sin, the heavy backpack disappeared.” From that point on, Hudson’s personal relationship with Christ began to thrive.
If you are ready to unload your own heavy backpack full of spiritual rocks and experience a thriving, unhindered relationship with Christ, I encourage you to take some time alone with God, and sincerely echo the prayer of the Psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart … and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).
Ask God to shine His searchlight within your soul and bring to light any unconfessed sin or sinful patterns in your life. Respond to His loving conviction. Receive His enabling grace to repent and turn from your sin, and to make things right with others you have wronged. And remember that, “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).
There isn’t a specific formula for confession of sin and repentance, but there are some key biblical principles that can greatly help in this process. Let’s explore them.
1) Embrace Conviction, Reject Condemnation
When you think of God’s conviction, what images come to your mind? Do you envision a harsh, angry, critical tyrant who only wants to condemn you and rub your nose in all of your faults? Or do you envision a gentle, loving, patient Father who loves you so much that He longs to set you free from the sinful baggage that is weighing you down? If the first, then you are confusing God’s conviction with the enemy’s condemnation. The two are very, very different. God’s conviction is born in love, with the desire to see restoration and renewal. Proverbs 3:12 reminds us, “For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (emphasis added).
Conviction is that gentle prick of discomfort upon our soul that we feel when something needs to be corrected within us — sinful attitudes and actions that His Spirit desires to cleanse from our lives. Conviction is not a sign of God’s disgust and anger toward us; rather, it’s a sign of His great love and delight in us. Conviction is always paired with hope. It gives the message that there is something richer, deeper, and better for you to experience! Conviction is an invitation to be made more like Jesus Christ and to enter into deeper fellowship with Him.
Condemnation, on the other hand, has no hope or life associated with it. It gives the message that you are a miserable failure and you’ll never change! Condemnation constantly questions God’s love and causes us to focus on ourselves and our faults, instead of on our loving Savior and His mighty power to cleanse and make new.
Think about the woman who was caught in adultery in John 8:3-11. There was a marked difference between the way that her accusers treated her and the way Christ treated her. Her accusers saw only her sin and offered no hope or grace for forgiveness and renewal. But Jesus saw her as a precious life that He could redeem and renew.
And yet, just because He didn’t condemn her didn’t mean He left her to wallow in her sin. Rather, He forgave her and then told her, “Go and sin no more” (v. 11). Jesus corrected her; but His correction was not angry and condemning; it was loving and full of hope.
Don’t allow the enemy’s condemnation to drown out the sweet sense of God’s conviction in your inner life. When you hear the voice of accusation and hopelessness whispering to your soul, simply refuse to listen or give it any credibility in your soul. Remember, those messages never come from God.
And when you feel the gentle prick of God’s conviction, don’t shy away from it just because you are afraid of feeling remorse over your sin. Rather, embrace it as a sign of His tender love for you and respond wholeheartedly, knowing that it will lead to amazing life and freedom.
2) Don’t Keep Christ in the Hallway
Think of your soul as a home. If you have given your life to Christ, He desires to take over the rulership position of this home. Are you allowing Him to access every room in the house? Or are you keeping Him in the hallway? So many of us have areas in our lives that we willingly surrender to Him, while other areas remain under lock and key because we want to remain in control of them. Do any of your soul’s “rooms” have a padlock and high-tech security system blocking the door? If Jesus asked you to surrender your love life to Him, would you gladly and willingly do so, even if it meant giving up your dream to be married? If He asked for your addiction to pop-culture entertainment, would you be willing to let it go? If He called you to give up your lifelong dream and pursue a different path, would you be willing to say yes?
Often we shy away from God’s conviction because we are afraid to let go of our control over specific areas of our lives. The enemy convinces us that God is an unloving tyrant who only wants to make us miserable. But nothing could be further from the truth. He desires to be in the Lordship position of our lives so that we can experience the very best He has for us. I can say from my own experience that every area that I have truly surrendered to Him has become an area of amazing blessing.
Do not allow the enemy to worm his way into your thoughts and warp the nature of God. We serve a God of love. He asks for rulership over our lives not to make us miserable, but to bless us beyond all we could imagine. It is always safe to lay our most precious dreams at the feet that were pierced for us.
If you feel Christ knocking on the door of your heart, be willing to let Him in — not just into the hallway of your inner home, but into every single room within your soul. Whatever He leads you to do — whether making something right or laying down something you’ve been clinging to — don’t delay to obey Him. No matter what He asks, He is worthy of our wholehearted yes.
3) Repent and Turn
Imagine you are heading straight toward a steep cliff, haphazardly walking closer and closer toward the edge of a sheer drop-off. Suddenly someone warns you of the dangerous direction you are going. What should you do? Shrug carelessly and keep walking toward your doom? Or stop, acknowledge your mistake, and turn and go the opposite direction? One choice leads to death and the other to life.
Repentance of sin is similar. Once we recognize we have been heading in the wrong direction we should immediately acknowledge our failure, ask God to forgive us and then — by His enabling grace — turn and walk the other direction. True repentance is more than merely saying the words “God, please forgive me.” It is leaning on the supernatural strength of God to turn from our sin.
For example, if God convicts you of the sin of gossip, don’t merely ask His forgiveness and then run right back into your old patterns of gossip the next day. Ask Him to enable you to live completely differently in this area of your life. Instead of tearing others down with your words, build them up. If He convicts you of laziness, don’t merely acknowledge your sin and then go right back to your slothful patterns. Instead, ask Him for the grace to exchange laziness for diligence. True repentance brings about a true life change.
And remember, God’s grace is more than His “hug” or favor. His grace enables us to do what is impossible in our own strength; namely, to repent and turn from our sin and to be holy just as He is holy. (See 1 Peter 1:15.) So if you have been trying to live a holy life in your own strength, it’s time to tap into the amazing, enabling grace of God. With Him, nothing is impossible.
4) Receive God’s Forgiveness
Many of us struggle to “feel forgiven,” even after we have confessed our sins to God. But receiving His forgiveness is as simple as choosing to agree with God, no matter what your emotions might say. God’s Word says that, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). It says that He “forgives all of your sins” (Ps. 103:3 NIV). And it says that He removes our sin as far away from us as the east is from the west. (See Psalm 103:12.)
I love what Corrie ten Boom says about this — He casts our sin into the depths of the sea and posts a sign, “No fishing allowed.” It’s dishonoring to God to repent of our sin, ask for His forgiveness, and then continually go fishing and try to dredge those past sins back up and wallow in guilt over them.
I encourage you to stop asking the question, “How do I feel about this past sin?” and instead ask “What does God say about this past sin, now that I have confessed it and repented?”
Don’t wait to receive His forgiveness until you feel forgiven. Stand on the truth of God’s Word and command your emotions to agree. Every time you doubt His love and forgiveness, immediately go back to the Word of God and stand on those promises that He casts your sin from you as far away as the east is from the west. Base your reality upon what He says, not upon what you feel. And as you stand upon God’s truth and forgiveness, your emotions and feelings will soon follow.
5) Make Things Right
When Zacchaeus repented of his sins and invited Christ into his life, he didn’t merely ask Jesus to forgive him. He also made things right with those whom he had wronged. In fact, he went above and beyond simply returning what he had stolen: “Half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Lk. 19:8).
In response to God’s conviction, this man removed the idolatry from his life by giving away what was most precious to him (his money) and by giving back four times more to those from whom he had taken. Jesus did not treat these steps as extreme or unnecessary. Rather, he declared, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk. 19:9).
Oftentimes, when God brings conviction into our lives, He asks us to go beyond merely saying a prayer of repentance. He may lead us to take specific steps in order to make things right with others. Have you stolen something? Maybe God is asking you to return it or pay back what the other person lost. Have you been insensitive toward someone? Maybe God desires you to ask that person’s forgiveness for specific things you have said or done. Even if it is hard to go to someone you have wronged and make something right, there are amazing spiritual benefits that come from these humbling steps of obedience.
It’s important to note that it is not always appropriate to specifically confess things that you have done wrong against another person. For example, if you criticized someone behind their back and they never knew it — it may cause hurt and offense if you were to go to that person and tell them what you said about them. A better approach could be to go to the person who heard your critical words and apologize for not being a better example of Christ with your tongue. Or God may lead you to simply bless the person you criticized in some creative way. Be sensitive to God’s Spirit and He will be faithful to guide your specific steps of obedience.+
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Letting God cleanse and renew us from the inside out is more powerful and life-changing than any health detox or spring cleaning routine ever could be. Yet, we so often bypass this “spiritual house cleaning” process out of selfishness or fear. If you are ready to experience the most amazing intimacy with Christ and the greatest freedom of spirit you could ever imagine, allow God to shine His searchlight with your soul. Let Him have His way in your heart. You will never regret it!++
++ For a detailed guide on walking through the repentance process, see our “Cleaning Out the Inner Sanctuary” resource available at setapart.org/free-resources