November 30, 2023

The Pain of Repentance Can Lead You to Jesus

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You broke up with your unbelieving boyfriend. You pressed pause on an unhealthy relationship. You confessed your porn addiction to your boss, and now you’re out of a job. You admitted your emotional affair, and not only is your spouse a tornado of emotions, but you’re in excruciating pain from cutting ties with your “secret person.” You decided to leave your church because they’ve wavered on a commitment to God’s truth regarding same-sex marriage. Now you’re discouraged, lonely, and weary about starting over with building Christ-centered, biblically faithful community.

Brother, sister, your obedience is beautiful in God’s sight. He knows how painful it is to honestly face losses which come through his pruning; he removes things from our lives in the process of sanctification.

The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less.

Tim Keller’s sermon on John 15:1–2, The Vinedresser, is full of comfort for you. He addresses the ministry God our Father has as the Master Gardener and how his pruning of us is essential for growth. Our Father examines us—the branches—looking for a few things. Are we abiding in Christ, the true vine? Are we drawing love and life from him or from something else? Are we bearing supernatural fruit, testimony that we’re vitally connected to Christ and his fragrant, fruitful life? Are we stagnant in our faith or resting in circumstances which threaten our devotion to Jesus?

Two verses into this beautiful chapter of Scripture, Jesus says something startling: the Father wounds, cuts, and prunes fruitful, abiding branches! Does he prune to punish? Shame? Sideline from the good life? NO! The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less.

When Loss Equals Gain

Keller says that our Father never cuts or prunes something out of life unless there is a loving purpose behind it. “The skillful eye knows that there are no random strokes of the [Father’s] pruning shears; nothing is cut off that wasn’t a gain to lose because it would be a loss to keep.”[1]

Let those words soak in. The Lord will take his pruning shears and cut things out of our lives, even leafy branches and clusters of tasty grapes we’ve grown fond of. God may take good things, remove not so great things, or outright cut off influences leading us to sin. The purpose in every situation is that we become more like Jesus, bearing more fruit as his life surges, unhindered, through us.

Sometimes good things become ultimate things that distract us from what is best. Friendships, marriages, jobs, ministry opportunities, bank accounts, houses can be good gifts. Good gifts, however, can become more important to us than the Giver. That includes our relationships, use of technology, money, and so much more.

Ever-so-subtly, our focus shifts from Christ to this person, this thing, this feeling. Before we know it, we’re attempting to abide—draw life from, find our meaning in—that gift. We’re in a sinful mess and need rescue! Our Father loves us so much that he will tenderly draw near with his pruning shears to remove things for a time or maybe permanently. He may rearrange our life so that this gift returns to its right place “under the feet” of Jesus (see Eph. 1:22–23).

Turning from sin will mean loss, yet God never initiates the removal of anything in our lives unless he will use it for good—for growth in our lives and glory to his name.

When God’s purposes are mysterious to us, we can find refuge in who he is: a loving, purposeful Father.

No Random Strokes

When I had cancer surgery, I trusted the surgeon to wound me with precision and remove only the diseased tissue. Praise God that the surgery was successful; while my scar reminds me of the pain I endured, I am healthy and cancer free.

Friends, our Father is precise, purposeful, and effective in the surgery he does in our lives. There are no random, haphazard, out-of-his-control acts of pruning. Are you experiencing the Master Gardener’s pruning in:

  • A relationship? Perhaps your relational terrain has been plowed and bulldozed, leaving an unfamiliar landscape that seems lonely and barren.
  • A “not a big deal” temptation or sin struggle that is now in the light and your life is turned upside down?
  • Finances, health, family? These important aspects of life aren’t flourishing anymore but floundering, perhaps failing.

“When You Feel the Steel, Cling to the Vine”[2]

Jesus was cut, wounded, and put to death so that our experiences of pruning are temporary. Our Savior, slain and pierced on the cross for our sins, died and conquered death so that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). When you feel the Father’s pruning, look away from your painful losses and fix your eyes upon Jesus. Grieve, cry, and pour out your heart to God with raw honesty—yet, in your grief, be careful not to push God away. Turning from sin will mean loss, yet he never initiates the removal of anything in our lives unless he will use it for good—for growth in our lives and glory to his name.

When you feel the cost of your obedience, don’t look back! Look to Jesus and cling to him. Jesus is with you in the changed landscape of your life, and he promises not to leave you. “He wounds,” wrote John Newton, “in order to heal, kills that he may make alive, casts down when he designs to raise, brings a death upon our feelings, wishes, and prospects, when he is about to give us the desires of our hearts.”[3]

Father, for any who are walking out a beautiful and costly obedience to you, please pour out your comfort and strength upon them, that they may cling to Jesus by faith—and not turn back to sin.

[1] Keller, “The Vinedresser,” Jan. 12, 1992. https://gospelinlife.com/downloads/the-vinedresser-5769/, accessed Nov. 16, 2023

[2] Ibid., Keller.

[3]  John Newton, Letter VII, November 6, 1777, The Works of the Rev. John Newton. … Published by Direction of His Executors. United Kingdom: n.p., 1821, 201.

A version of this article was originally published here: https://women.pcacdm.org/when-loss-comes-hold-on-to-jesus-wisdom-from-the-sermon-i-quote-most.

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Ellen Mary Dykas

Director of Equipping for Ministry to Women

Ellen joined Harvest USA in 2007 as our first full-time women’s ministry staff. Ellen received her MA from Covenant Theological Seminary and a graduate certificate in biblical counseling from Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF).

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