Friday, November 09, 2007

Genuine Repentance
"...till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet"

"If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows the Lord's will but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumption, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved. Do not suppose that the Gospel is magnified or God glorified by going to the worldlings and telling them that they may be saved at this moment by simply accepting Christ as their Savior, while they are wedded to their idols, and their hearts are still in love with sin. If I do so I tell them a lie, pervert the Gospel , insult Christ, and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness." -C.H. SPURGEON

Strong and necessary words.

Repentance is a forgotten word within the church today. It is virtually left out of most gospel invitations you will hear presented at crusades, concerts and church gatherings. The use of the "R" word, as it is referred to by contemporaries in postmodern ecclesiology, should be avoided because it is too offensive to our advanced sensibilities, it is intolerant and nonecumenical, emergent unfriendly, and church growth stifling. They will say that it doesn't have "curb appeal" and lacks compassion.

But yet, it is unmistakably central to the biblical record. To paraphrase what Calvin once said: "a Christian's life should not be marked by just one act of repentance, but by a daily life of repentance." That is my contrite and painful prayer for my own life - to be that kind of man in the Lord though I fall woefully short most days. But praise be to God for His sanctifying grace that conforms us to Jesus and does not leave us to ourselves (Titus 2:11-12).

It is as Newton once so powerfully bursted forth in confession by saying: "I am a great sinner; but HE is a greater Savior!" Amen? SDG!!!

What then does it mean to repent of sin? Why is it so important? Can lost, sinful people have eternal life without it? Is it a grace that God gives or an act of obedience that man must do... or both? If someone never repents of their sin can they ever truly have the assurance of salvation?

Puritan pastor and theologian, Thomas Watson, gives solid answers to these and other important questions. I would encourage any of you who do not have his profound book, The Doctrine of Repentance, to add it to your library. It is rich truth that deserves an essential place within your home and church.

His Unworthy Servant in His Unfailing Love,
2 Cor. 4:1-7

Luke 5:32
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

Luke 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Acts 17:30-31 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.

Rom. 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

2Cor. 7:9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.

2Cor. 7:10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

2Pet. 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

by Thomas Watson

So what is repentance?

  1. Seeing your sin – 1 John 1:8,10.
  2. Sorrowing over your sin – We must do more than admit it. We must internally engage with it. Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 2 Corinthians 7:9.
  3. Confessing your sin – We must put our sin into words and agree with God that what we did was wrong. Psalm 51:4; Hosea 14:1-3; 2 Corinthians 7:11; 1 John 1:9.
  4. Being ashamed of your sin – Watson: “blushing is the color of virtue.” Jeremiah 6:15; 31:19.
  5. Hating your sin – Job 42:5-6.
  6. Turning from your sin – Watson: “Reformation is left last to bring up the rear of repentance. It is not the heart of repentance, but the fruit of repentance.” Matthew 3:7-8; Acts 26:20.
a. At the very least, this means removing yourself as much as possible from places of temptation (Proverbs 4:14-17).
b. If your sin was against other people, then you must go to them and ask their
forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24).
c. If the sin involves stealing, then restitution must be made (Luke 19:8).

There is no rowing to paradise except upon the stream of repenting tears. Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.

Why are the wells of repentance stopped? Do not the sinners of the land know that they should repent? Have they no warning? Have not God's faithful messengers lifted up their voice as a trumpet and cried to them to repent? But many of these tools in the ministry have been spent and worn out upon rocky hearts. Do we think that God will always put up with our affronts?

Some bless themselves that they have a stock of knowledge, but what is knowledge good for without repentance?
Learning and a bad heart is like a fair face with a cancer in the breast. Knowledge without repentance will be but a torch to light the way to hell. Repentant tears may be compared to myrrh, which though it is bitter in taste, has a sweet smell and refreshes the spirit. So repentance, though it is bitter in itself, yet it is sweet in the effects. It brings inward peace.

We are to find as much bitterness in weeping for sin as ever we found sweetness in committing it.
Surely David found more bitterness in repentance than ever he found comfort in Bathsheba. Tears have four qualities: they are moist, salt, hot, and bitter. It is true of repenting tears, they are hot to warm a frozen conscience; moist, to soften a hard heart; salt, to season a soul decaying in sin; bitter, to wean us from the love of the world. And I will add a fifth, they are sweet, in that they make the heart inwardly rejoice. David, who was the great weeper in Israel, was the sweet singer of Israel. The sorrows of the repentant are like the sorrows of a travailing woman: "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world". (John 16:21).

Be as speedy in your repentance as you would have God be speedy in His mercies.
Many are now in hell that purposed to repent. Satan does what he can to keep men from repentance. When he sees that one begins to take up serious thoughts of reformation, he bids them wait a little longer. It is dangerous to procrastinate repentance. The longer any go on sinning, the harder they will find the work of repentance. Delay strengthens sin and hardens the heart and gives the devil fuller possession. A plant at first may be easily plucked up, but when it has spread its roots deep in the earth, a whole team cannot remove it. It is hard to remove sin when it comes to be rooted. The longer the ice freezes the harder it is to be broken. The longer a man freezes in security, the harder it will be to have his heart broken.

Presuming upon God's mercy can be eternally fatal.
Many suck poison from this sweet flower. Oh, one says, "Christ has died; He has done all for me; therefore I may sit still and do nothing." Thus they suck death from the tree of life and perish by a savior. So I may say of God's mercy, it accidentally causes the ruin of many. Because of mercy, some men presume and think they may go on sinning. But should a king's clemency make his subjects rebel? The psalmist says, "there is mercy with God, that he may be feared," (Psalms 130:4) but not that we may sin.

Can men expect mercy by provoking justice?
God will hardly show those mercy who sin because mercy abounds. Many would rather go sleeping to hell than weeping to heaven.


There are several deceits of repentance which might occasion that saying of Augustine that `repentance damns many'. He meant a false repentance; a person may delude himself with counterfeit repentance.

1. The first deceit of repentance is legal terror
A man has gone on long in sin. At last God arrests him, shows him what desperate hazard he has run, and he is filled with anguish. Within a while the tempest of conscience is blown over, and he is quiet. Then he concludes that he is a true penitent because he has felt some bitterness in sin. Do not be deceived: this is not repentance. Ahab and Judas had some trouble of mind. It is one thing to be a terrified sinner and another to be a repenting sinner. Sense of guilt is enough to breed terror. Infusion of grace breeds repentance. If pain and trouble were sufficient to repentance, then the damned in hell should be most penitent, for they are most in anguish. Repentance depends upon a change of heart. There may be terror, yet with no change of heart.

2. Another deceit about repentance is resolution against sin
A person may purpose and make vows, yet be no penitent. `Thou saidst, I will not transgress' (Jer. 2.20). Here was a resolution; but see what follows: `under every green tree thou wanderest, playing the harlot'. Notwithstanding her solemn engagements, she played fast and loose with God and ran after her idols. We see by experience what protestations a person will make when he is on his sick-bed, if God should recover him again; yet he is as bad as ever. He shows his old heart in a new temptation.
Resolutions against sin may arise:
(1) From present extremity; not because sin is sinful, but because it is painful. This resolution will vanish.

From fear of future evil, an apprehension of death and hell: `I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him' (Rev. 6.8). What will not a sinner do, what vows will he not make, when he knows he must die and stand before the judgment-seat? Self-love raises a sick-bed vow, and love of sin will prevail against it. Trust not to a passionate resolution; it is raised in a storm and will die in a calm.
3. The third deceit about repentance is the leaving of many sinful ways
It is a great matter, I confess, to leave sin. So dear is sin to a man that he will rather part with a child than with a lust: `Shall I give the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' (Mic. 6.7). Sin may be parted with, yet without repentance.
(1) A man may part with some sins and keep others, as Herod reformed many things that were amiss but could not leave his incest.

(2) An old sin may be left in order to entertain a new, as you put off an old servant to take another. This is to exchange a sin. Sin may be exchanged and the heart remained unchanged. He who was a prodigal in his youth turns usurer in his old age. A slave is sold to a Jew; the Jew sells him to a Turk. Here the master is changed, but he is a slave still. So a man moves from one vice to another but remains a sinner still.

(3) A sin may be left not so much from strength of grace as from reasons of prudence. A man sees that though such a sin be for his pleasure, yet it is not for his interest. It will eclipse his credit, prejudice his health, impair his estate. Therefore, for prudential reasons, he dismisses it. True leaving of sin is when the acts of sin cease from the infusion of a principle of grace, as the air ceases to be dark from the infusion of light.


donsands said...

This man of God knew how to explain repentance! Marvelous and convicting.
It's a word that's lost it's meaning in our age.

Mike Ratliff said...

You won't even hear the "R" word in some churches today. Thanks for this post Steve!

cyd said...

The "R" word...good one, Mike!!

Another fading pulpit topic is the fear of God. Thomas Adams has a great quote on Psalm 130:4 in the Treasury of David (Spurgeon):

"One would think that punishment should procure fear, and forgiveness love; but no man
no more truly loves God than he is most fearful to offend Him...

...we fear Thee for Thy justice, and love Thee for Thy mercy; yea, fear Thee for Thy mercy, and love Thee for Thy justice; for Thou art infinitely good in both."

Thanks for posting another wonderful article, Steve.

MikeB said...

Hey Steve!
I thought you might be interested in a quote from an article on Rick Warren that I found in the Independent (UK) newspaper where Bono of U2 is a guest editor this week:

"The key to his operation is not theology - he preaches a relatively middle-of-the-road, intellectually undemanding form of evangelism - but organisation. Warren may not be on television, but he's been a presence on the internet since 1992, before Netscape or Microsoft Explorer. A bit like Howard Dean's insurgent campaign for the US presidency (until it fell apart), or the approach taken by guerrilla organisations such as al-Qa'ida, Warren sees the internet not only as a tool of communication but also of empowerment.

People are not only encouraged to take their own decisions in his system; figuring out what they should do to help others is at the core of his message. "It's not about you," reads the opening line of his book, and he means it. The purpose of life, he believes, is to figure out what God intends each of us to achieve, and then to set about achieving it. The internet makes it that much easier for everyone to thrive as individuals, but also to feel part of a vast, growing support group."

Here's a link to the article:

Check out my blog when you get a chance:

To God Be the Glory,

Puritan Belief said...

Esau went weeping not to heaven but hell whilst seeking repentance.

The key question here is:
How does one repent? (2 Tim 2:25)
Can everyone repent? (Heb 12:17)

Christinewjc said...

Hello Steve,

This was a great post! I totally agree that "repentance" is a term that many of the Emergent churches ignore and/or skip over. That is why there are so many churches these days preaching a "new gospel" that is unrecognizable to the truth in God's Word.

Teaching Jesus Christ and him crucified is the foundation of the Christian faith. Yet, we have so-called "Christian gays" claiming that Christ's sacrificial death on the cross is "insane."

I wouldn't have believed it until I read about this!!

The book of Jude warns us about such heresies creeping into the church the closer we get to the end times. I see it happening at an alarming rate these days.

Anyway, I also wanted to congratulate you for winning 4th place in the Weblogs Awards!! After reading some of your posts I can see why! I am adding you to my blogroll today.

May God richly bless your work for Christ!

In Him,

Christinewjc said...

Speaking of ignoring repentance and advancing heresies, I thought you might like to read about this:

"Oprah and Friends" To Teach Course on New Age Christ

samurai said...

This post truly hit home for me today... I have been meditating on what it means to know, and be known... and these words hold some pertinent truth.

Thank you for taking the time to share them.

Eric said...

This is very challenging and convicting to me. I am humbled what I read and question my own repentance.

Eric said...

I am humbled and convicted and question the depth / sincerity of my own repentence.