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TEXT: Lamentations 3:40
SUBJECT: Doctrine of Repentance #2: Ongoing
Five hundred years ago last fall, Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Everyone knows they're among the most important words in Church History, but not many have read them because a good many of them are very dated and have little or no application to the Christian Life today-unless, that is, you're tied up in knots about who's going to pay for St. Peter's Basilica or how much it will cost you to spring dear old Dad from the fires of purgatory! These were Hot Button issues in 1517, but not now.
The Theses, however, are far from worthless, because the first one is of permanent value to every believer, whenever and wherever he lives. Do you know what it is? This:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent', He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
The keys words are entire life of believers.
From them we learn two critical, but easy-to-forget truths:
This brings us to today's topic, the second in our study of Repentance, what I've called Ongoing Repentance.
Before we get to this daily duty, let's remember what Repentance is. The word, 'repent' means 'to change your mind'. All Greek dictionaries concur. But this 'change of mind' is more than skin-deep. It's not like changing your mind about what you're having for dinner tonight: Mexican or Italian. It is a change of mind so deep and lasting that it changes your entire life. In some places, this change is seen as one: (a) from sin to holiness, and in others, (b) from false worship to true worship. These are not separate things, as though you could start worshiping God without changing your ways! True worship and true living go together-as do false worshiping and false living!
This is what Repentance is, turning from the false and evil to the true and good.
In Luke 13:1-5 (and many other places), the Lord commands all to repent, on pain of eternal damnation. Most preachers are prone to exaggeration; our Lord Jesus Christ is not of them! When He said-
Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish...
.He meant it-and in the fullest sense of the word: Perish! In body and soul, for now and forever!
This is what we studied last week, Initial Repentance or, the kind of Repentance that saves sinners. Now, we move on to the kind of Repentance that sanctifies believers.
I suppose the first thing we need to establish is the duty of Christian Repentance. From the bottom of my heart, I believe in what's called Eternal Security, that not one Christian will fall away from his Savior and be lost.
I also believe that, at the Cross, Jesus Christ reconciled us to God and proved a full pardon to everyone who believes. It is there-and then-that God's justice was satisfied and all our sins were covered!
These are grounds for our Assurance. The saved can know that we will always be saved because Christ has died for us and no one for whom He died can possibly perish!
These are Gospel Truths, but like all the others, they have been abused, twisted out of shape, and made to imply what they don't! Many Christians have doubted-and some have denied-the need for daily repentance. 'If God has already forgiven my future sins, why do I need to confess and forsake them? Or, 'If the death of Christ has only atoned from past and present sins, how are the sins to come atoned for?'
Let's take the second one first: All sins are atoned for by Christ, or not at all. The Bible doctrine of the Cross rules out the possibility of both Purgatory and Penance, which find atonement partly in Christ and partly elsewhere.
The second one is trickier. If the death of Christ (which is in the past) has resulted in the forgiveness of all my sins (including the ones I'm committing right now and will tomorrow), why do I need to repent?
There is an answer to this, but I don't care about it at the moment. Because the important thing is this: The Bible teaches that all of our sins were atoned for at the Cross and It is our duty to repent of our sins every day! Both are certainly true, and whether we can synchronize them or not doesn't matter!
Four times in Revelation 2-3, the Risen Jesus commands His churches to repent, twice going so far as to say-
Repent or else!
It is the Church's duty to repent. But, if you read the Seven Letters carefully, you'll see that particular persons in these churches are called to repentance as well.
Repentance, therefore, is a Christian duty, taken both corporately (in the church) and personally (in each of its members). Including you and me.
The Bible says it is our duty to repent, even when the word, 'repent' is not to be found. Proverbs 28:13, for example-
He who covers his sins shall not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes his sins shall have mercy.
The Inspired Sage is telling us to repent.
Our Lord Himself does, too, as do His Apostles. What does Jesus mean when He says-
If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
He means 'repent' on a daily basis.
As do Paul and Peter, when they urge us to mortify our sins and grow in grace.
Do I really need to cite the Old Testament to the same effect? Doesn't it demand repentance on nearly every page? Jeremiah 7:3, for instance-
Amend your ways and your doings.
And so, whether we can square God's Sovereign Grace with our responsibility to repent is immaterial, and is sometimes a way of getting around a work nobody likes doing!
It is your duty and mine to repent of our sins, repent every day, all day.
Since it's our duty to repent of our sins, what sins are we to repent of? Of course, we're to repent of all of our sins, but let's delve into some of the details.
Obviously, you're to repent of your known sins. When David, for example, cut off the hem of King Saul's robe, his heart smote him-and he apologized to God and the King. Or, when the cock crowed, Peter's conscience bit him, and he went out and wept bitterly, and renewed his love for Christ and the desire to serve His people.
To not repent of known sin is to mock God (as though He doesn't know!); it hardens your heart, and runs the risk further or even fatal hardening! David knew all about this, and described his unhappy experience in Psalm 32-
When I kept silent, my bones waxed old
Through my groaning all the day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me,
My vitality was turned to the drought of summer!
When he finally came clean with God, he was forgiven and restored. But only when he came clean with God!
A second thing you're to repent of are your unknown sins. Even the most informed and sensitive conscience is uninformed and insensitive to many of his sins, most of them, in fact.
But, whether they're intentional or otherwise, they're to be confessed and repented of. How would you do this? Psalm 19:12 is a good place to start-
Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults.
Thirdly, you're to repent of your Original Sin. This is a tremendously difficult doctrine to understand, no less explain. But we all know it's true. There is something wrong with us-not only in what we do, but in what we are! It is the guilt, pollution, and impotence of Original Sin. Which you're to confess it to God and seek His forgiveness. This is the meaning of Ezekiel 16:3, where the Lord wants His people to know-
Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.
In other words, although they were physically circumcised and genetically connected to Abraham, spiritually, they were uncircumcised and descended from the dirty, disgusting peoples of Canaan.
Known sins. Unknown sins. Original Sin. If these need to be repented of, repentance has got to be an ongoing affair, your daily duty till Jesus comes!
Taking my cue from the old Confession of Faith, I told you Repentance is both-at the same time-a gift of God and the responsibility of man. What's true of One-Time Repentance is true of the Everyday kind as well.
The Prince and Savior God exalted way back when (Acts 5:31), is still exalted, and still-
Giving repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins.
This means seeking repentance is also Seeking the Lord; and that while we're mindful and grateful for the work of AA and others who help people stop drinking, gambling and so on, True Transformation, that is, Repentance, is the work of God done by God alone through our Lord Jesus Christ alone!
Still, repentance is our responsibility, and we ought to take responsibility for it. How can we do that, or do it better?
Firstly, we can read the Bible more and reflect more deeply on it. Repentance assumes sin, but, in today's world, sin is called everything but sin! We can slip into this worldly sort of thinking, and need the renewing of our minds. Which comes in connection with meditating on God's Word, Psalm 119:99-
I have more understanding that all my teachers,
Because your testimonies have been my meditation.
Secondly, we can pray for the knowledge of our sins, a hatred for them, and the power to repent of them! Psalm 139:23-24-
Search me, O God, and know my heart,
Try me, and know my thoughts!
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting!
Take my word for it: this will not be a pleasant experience! In one way, I really admire the Hindus with their yoga. In yoga, you empty the mind to find the god within you. In Christian meditation, we fill the mind to find the devil in us!
If asking God to turn His spotlight on our hearts is painful, one of the ways He often does it hurts even more. Thirdly, we can take criticism! Not every rebuke is a true one or helpful. We must allow for that, and not take every correction to heart. But some rebukes need to sink in on us, even if they're not spoken as gently as they ought to be or by the people best suited to speak them. Abraham was a better man than Pharaoh or King Abimelech, but when they rebuked him for calling Sarah his sister, they were right! These awful pagans with their harems full of wives spoke the Word of God to His prophet who, in this matter, wasn't listening to God.
Fourthly, let down your defenses. Some people have such an inflated sense of their self-importance that even the slightest pang of conscience or gentlest rebuke puts them on the defensive. If their own hearts smite they, they quickly explain it away-It's the woman Thou gavest me! And, God forbid! if anyone should call them on their temper tantrum or overspending or other fault, that person becomes their enemy.
When it comes to sin, people, it's time to take a breath! You are not as bad as people say you are; you're much worse! The moment you realize this-that you're down in the mud with the rest of us and living on God's Grace Alone, is the moment that repentance becomes real and lasting and, to some degree, even sweet, Psalm 141:5-
Let the righteous smite me,
It shall be a kindness.
Finally, live in hope, repent in hope. The Lord who died for you also died to procure everything you must have to enter Heaven.including Repentance. He gave you Saving Repentance way back when (I trust). Now, He'll give you His Sanctifying Repentance. You can count on Christ!
You can repent with the full assurance that, however partial your repentance is, God will accept it for Christ's sake. He will pardon and renew, sustain, and finally, glorify you. And not because your repentance is perfect, but because you Savior is Perfect!
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