The Test of First Reaction
First reactions tell us a lot. And we discover a lot about King Josiah when, in response to God’s Law being found and read, he tore his royal robes.
I’m referring to 2 Kings 22, specifically verse 11: “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.” Why?
Essentially, the High priest, Hilkiah, had recovered the Book of the Law from the temple and routed it to the king. When King Josiah’s assistant, Shapan, read it to him, the king was overcome with the immediate realization that the people he was leading were out of step with what God required. They were, in a word, disobedient. His first reaction? He tore his clothes.
Tearing one’s clothes was a sign of brokenness and humility, an indication that true sorrow was present and real repentance was occurring. By instinctively tearing his clothes as a response to the news, Josiah was displaying his grief and sadness over his nation’s sin and rebellion.
What is our first reaction when we realize we’ve been living in disobedience? What’s our immediate response to God when his Word points out the area(s) of sin in our hearts? I confess—too often mine is one of either procrastination (i.e., “I’ll deal with it later.”), rationalization (i.e., “It’s not really that bad.”), or blame (i.e., “It’s not my fault.”). Perhaps you can relate to the moments of denying and excusing obvious disobedience, those times when you look too much like the first Adam in the garden when he was exposed to his sin.
The hard reality is that we find out a lot about ourselves by our first reaction to our sin. And when it’s short of personal revulsion and humble confession, even noticeable distress, something’s amiss in our life. We’re not “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7) when we keep our disobedience in the dark, coddling it in secret.
James refers to similar attitudes and actions in his letter, calling God’s people, in response to their sin, to “grieve, mourn, and weep; turn your laughter to mourning, and your joy to gloom.” (4:9). Frankly, true repentance and confession is not hard to spot; spiritual sadness over sin will show up physically in a number of ways. You can’t hide grief and remorse when you truly feel its pain.
This is what is needed if revival is to rain down from heaven: Josiah-like disgust over disobedience. May God grant us a rediscovery of his Word to the extent that we disdain any notion of not following it. And may the Holy Spirit empower a penitent heart and a humble posture (2 Kings 22:19) so that we experience repentance without conditions, submission without reservations, and obedience without hesitation.