Category Archives: Repentance

The Discipline of Ongoing Repentance

The Discipline of Ongoing Repentance

In regards to Romans 8:13, John Owen said the following: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Romans 8:12-14 “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

A few chapters later, Paul wrote “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). We can only mortify the flesh by perpetually magnifying Christ in our hearts. As we walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5), we will experience the repentance that leads to live—and such repentance is an ongoing work of the Spirit within us as we behold and become like Jesus Christ, our Savior.

John Stott writes:

“The first great secret of holiness lies in the degree and the decisiveness of our repentance. If besetting sins persistently plague us, it is either because we have never truly repented, or because, having repented, we have not maintained our repentance. It is as if, having nailed our old nature to the cross, we keep wistfully returning to the scene of its execution. We begin to fondle it, to caress it, to long for its release, even to try to take it down again from the cross. We need to learn to leave it there. When some jealous, or proud, or malicious, or impure though invades our mind we must kick it out at once. It is fatal to begin to examine it and consider whether we are going to give in to it or not. We have declared war on it; we are not going to resume negotiations. We have settled the issue for good; we are not going to re-open it. We have crucified the flesh; we war never going to draw the nails.”[1]

Let us therefore, embrace a lifestyle of repentance from our sin and faith in the risen Christ.

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[1] Brian Hedges, Christ Formed in You (Shepherd Press, 2010), 138.  See also A Lifestyle of Repentance.

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A Heart of Sackcloth & Ashes

My heart is fickle and often festering with sin. It reminds me of my perpetual need of grace. Thankfully, God has provided His grace through the New Covenant promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Without the Spirit of God softening my calloused heart, I would remain unchanged. Without the grace of God placing His Spirit within me, I would remain stubborn and unaffected–despising Him and His ways. Yet, He has given the very thing I opposed–Himself–in order to help me obey the very word that I formerly ignored. He has done that for all of His people, by producing in them the faith to know and be known by Him. How sweet the grace of God that comes through faith and repentance… and how reassuring that His love, as found in Christ, can never be lost again (Rom. 8:31-39).

(Image Source)

Yet, even in our sin, the love of Christ compels us toward faith and repentance–that we may become the new creatures that He regenerated us to be. John Murray describes repentance in this way:

“Repentance consists essentially in change of heart and mind and will. The change of heart and mind and will principally respects four things: it is a change of mind respecting God, respecting ourselves, respecting sin, and respecting righteousness. Apart from regeneration our thought of God, of ourselves, of sin, and of righteousness is radically perverted. Regeneration changes our hearts and minds; it radically renews them. Hence there is a radical change in our thinking and feeling. Old things have passed away and all things have become new.”[1]

Repentance is in accord with our new nature. It is a willful turning from sin and turning to Christ. It is an acknowledgement of who God is, who we are, who Christ is, and what God has done in and through Him–for us and for Himself!! It requires embracing Him rather than our sin. In fact, we find in the Old Testament that people often put on sackcloth and ashes to symbolize their repentance. Sackcloth was rough and rubbed against the flesh–something that the Spirit-empowered heart will do as it makes war with the sinful flesh (Gal. 5). The ashes symbolized an understanding of mankind’s humble state of being nothing but “dust” before a holy God. Yet, it was from the dust that God made and exalted man to be His image-bearer, and it is through Christ’s death and resurrection that God has enacted a new creation in which we shall once again be raised from the dust of death and become image-bearers of His beautiful Son. This is all by the power of His Spirit (2Cor. 3:18).

The Spirit that was active in Christ, is now active within us. Throughout the Gospels, we see the Spirit’s ministry of glorifying the Father through Christ’s obedience; as well as the exaltation of Christ who carried out the Father’s plan by the power of His Spirit. Thus, the Spirit of Christ in us compels us to turn and experience life-giving faith as we are not only born-again (John 3), but perpetually renewed by His life-giving, sustaining power. Thus, a lifestyle of faith and repentance is how we apply the gospel power of the Holy Spirit to our lives. He transforms us in order that we might display an increasingly pure and beautiful reflection of Jesus Christ. This is God’s work in us and for us, for our good and His glory!!

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[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 114.

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The Necessity of Repentance

He was going to die. There was no reason to prolong the inevitable. He had flirted with death long enough, and was running out of time. He had tried every other tactic imaginable–all of them to no avail. There was only one means of deliverance, but could he actually do it? There had to be some other way. But, there wasn’t. He had been struggling for hours–127 to be exact. This was the defining moment. Could he really cut off his own arm?

He did. Could you? Would you… if that’s what it took to save your life?

Last Thursday evening, I watched the dramatized documentary of Aron Ralston who spent 127 hours* trapped in a cold, dark canyon. Ralston was a young “canyoneer” living in Colorado–ambitious and care-free until that life-changing experience in April 2003. Like so many times before, he had gone spelunking without telling anyone where he was going. It was a great get-away from everything and everyone. A heart-throbbing date with solitude and adventure amidst the majesty of creation. However, unlike so many times before, something happened that changed everything. When descending into the crevice of Blue John Canyon, a large boulder dislodged and tumbled down alongside Aron, wedging his right arm between the boulder and the canyon wall. The physical pain was immediate, but the emotional horror set in more gradually.

There was no one around for miles. He was alone. Even worse, he had not told anyone where he would be. The predicament he now faced could not be overcome by the guiles of a seasoned canyoneer. Over the course of 127 hours, it took everything he had to simply stay alive–including drinking his own urine. Yuck! During those hours, he reflected on many things–the people he most loved, the experiences he most enjoyed, and the joys of a future that he may never experience. He thought of people and situations and conversations that he longed to have–and other things that he wished he had never said or done. His whole life flashed before his eyes, but the same conclusion remained… He could die in that canyon or he could self-amputate and experience the hope of another day.

Imagine the thoughts you would think as the conflicting emotions flood your heart and turn over your stomach.

As I’ve reflected on the movie that dramatized Ralston’s life-changing experience, I cannot help but be reminded of words that Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:27-30 on the topic of lust:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

His words are strong, and their implications difficult. The picture is meant to be disturbing. Jesus was speaking of the nature of sin and the danger that it poses to all who take it lightly. He illustrates the costly nature of true repentance by gripping the senses with a strong dose of hyperbole. He wanted his listeners to understand the relative discomfort of repentance as compared to the terrifying discomfort of hell. In other words, He wanted them to understand faith and repentance as “radical, life-saving amputation.” Embracing the gospel is neither cheap nor comfortable, but it is always good and life-giving. You see, sin has every intention of destroying us. It’s like spiritual gangrene that seeks to consume and poison from the inside out. Yet, there is hope. It is painful and costly, but it is hope, nonetheless. Our only hope for halting the life-destroying gangrene of sin is the gospel. When Christ went to the Cross on our behalf (Heb. 12:1-2), he dealt with our sin completely. He carried every ounce of the curse that we deserved; He bore the full extent of God’s wrath that had been stored up for us. And, in reality, the gospel cure is not nearly as painful and costly to us as it was to the One who has provided salvation of our souls.

In Mark 1:15, Jesus announces that the kingdom of God has arrived, and that through His coming, the day of salvation is at hand. He calls people to “repent and believe,” and in so doing, provides the means by which they might be freed from their eternal predicament–eternal condemnation before a holy God who abhors sin. They have a choice–turn from their sin and experience eternal life, or continue living in sin as they remain blissfully ignorant of their coming demise. The same reality is true of us. Spiritually-speaking, we’re all trapped by the boulder of our sin. We cannot dislodge it. But, we can embrace the only means of deliverance–faith in Jesus Christ. By turning from our sin and turning to Christ, we renounce the things of this world and embrace a lifestyle of living for the pleasure and glory of One.

That which gets us into the kingdom–faith and repentance–keeps us in the kingdom. God has called us to a lifestyle of faith and repentance, as we radically amputate anything that prevents us from a life centered on Jesus Christ. When our tongues cause us to sin, we restrain them. When our television or our computers cause us to sin, we get rid of them. When food and sex cause us to sin, we invite accountability and self-discipline.

Radical amputation is unpleasant. Yet, it’s the life of all who would treasure Christ alone. Some things are easy to amputate. Other things, not so much. By God’s grace, some boulders are easier to dislodge and the repentance seems rather routine. But, sometimes the repentance is all-consuming and requires every ounce of strength to sacrifice that which seems so dear to us. Yet, casting off that very thing might be the only means of truly saving our lives… If we are living for something or someone other than Jesus Christ. Sin and idolatry should have no foothold in our lives, as the Spirit will not tolerate the spiritual decay and ongoing disobedience of our hearts and lives. Rightly understood, imputation (the great exchange of Christ’s righteousness for our sin) leads to amputation (a radical embrace of Christ above all things). In the kingdom of Christ, there can be no competing allegiances–everything must be seen in relation to our beloved King.

What sort of life-saving repentance might God be calling you to radically-embrace as you seek to follow Christ?

May the Lord grow us in grace as we seek to treasure Christ, and may He empower us to self-amputate whenever that is necessary.

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*[Disclaimer: There are various aspects of this movie that should render caution before viewing. It has a bit of colorful language and carnage, as well as two suggestive scenes worth skipping over. Here is the “Plugged In” review.]

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