In the early days of his struggle toward the truth, Augustine made a prayer, “Lord, save me from my sins, but not quite yet.” Then sometime after that he prayed, “Lord, save me from all my sins, except one.” And then came the final prayer, “Lord, save me from all my sins, and save me now!” It was when he made that final decision against evil that the victory was his. There is no joy and strength and, for that matter, no peace, like that which visits the soul which has taken an unconquerable resolve against that which is evil.
it is also true that he does not hear the prayers offered by many Christians when they cling to some sin. David said, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 66:18). Isaiah wrote, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you so that he does not hear” (Is. 59:1–2). Do these verses describe your prayer life? If so, you must confess your sin openly and frankly, knowing that God “is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
If I have been dishonest with a friend, it is not very easy for me to talk about anything with him or her. I may be able to force my way through a conversation about the weather, my work or our families. But I do not bring up more personal things. It is only after the air has been cleared between us, after forgiveness has been asked and received, that I am once again able to open up with my friend. It is the same in my relationship with God. If sin keeps me from him, then he is like a stranger and my prayer flows slowly, even though I have believed in Jesus. Instead, I must confess my sin and learn to spend time alone with my heavenly Father. When I do that, my prayer will become the kind of communion that I have in conversation with a close friend.
The psalmist knew that “if I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 66:18). “The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked” (Prov. 15:8), because they remain wicked precisely amid the hypocrisy of appearing to repent (Barth, CD 1/2, pp. 768 ff.; IV/2, pp. 557 ff.). It may only complicate matters to strike a halfway covenant with sin and learn to compromise with clever self-deceptions. The penitent act must have the intent of finality, unlike that of sailors who desperately throw their belongings overboard in a storm but long for them in the calm that follows (Luther, How Confession Should be Made, LW 39, pp. 30–33; Hugh of St. Victor, SCF, pp. 271 ff.; Weaver, CT, p. 151). True repentance requires the abandonment of the life of sin (Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? XXXIX, ANF II, p. 602). It leads to the reshaping of behavior (Calvin, Inst. 3.4). It is not a hedged bet that tries to both repent and cling to sin.