Therefore, having these promises, beloved,
let us cleanse ourselves
from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,
perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV
This week, His Own Heart Ministries wraps up its Worth the Walk series with a look at the role of repentance in the life of a Christ-follower along with five final factors that define repentance as a restorative tool.
Let’s continue looking at the life of Cain, particularly some of the choices set before him in Genesis 4, and how his responses affect his life. His first two responses were arguably unwise. But – as each was examined last week – I honestly believe that his response to a third choice is the one that figuratively sealed the deal concerning Cain’s sad fate.
Since all of that information – again – is available in Post 1 and Post 2, the blog is going to pick up exactly where it left off last week as we ask you to join us in getting serious with the factors of repentance. After all, our responses to sin are very much a matter of spiritual life and death.
Factor 6: It’s the Fruit of Godly Sorrow.
Paul says it best when he tells Corinth that godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow is sincere remorse motivated by a love for God. It’s a sorrow, the apostle says, that actually produces repentance.
But watch this carefully: this sorrow is not at all the totality of repentance. It serves instead as a tenuous first step in the processof repentance, circling back to a change in attitude and behavior. Paul takes care to distinguish godly sorrow with the sorrow of the world– a sorrow that amounts to nothing more than self-pity and invokes no life-affirming change or turning away from the sin. In other words, the sorrow of the world produces death directly because it is self-centered rather than God-centered.
You see, genuine repentance cannot be measured by the number of tears a person cries or how much time one spends whimpering and sobbing after one’s sin is exposed. While repentance can and does involve deeply-rooted feelings, it takes more than feelings to constitute true scriptural repentance; it calls for – say it with me – a God-centered change of one’s heart and mind. Please don’t overlook the pivotal truth that repentance is a choice, not a whim. And it’s a choice based on lovefor Almighty God as opposed to mere feelings of hurt or self-pity. One teacher put it this way:
It is conviction and commitment, not an emotional state into which (or out of which) a person helplessly falls. The fruits of repentance do not flow naturally from a wellspring of tingling sensations or warm fuzzy feelings; they are actions requiring deliberate choices.
John makes it crystal clear that a major key to true and sincere repentance isconfession (see 1 John 1:8-10). Here’s the thing, though: our confession is limited by what we are willing to admit. We live in a culture that has the uncanny ability to (mentally) revising past events and deceive ourselves into believing that past sins were somehow less than sinful.
Or at least prompted by good and upstanding intentions. In other words, not really our fault.
Whatever you do, don’t let Satan trick you into believing that lie. Because here’s the truth: confession means being completely honest with ourselves and with God. He knows what really happened anyway. Confession means getting to the core of the matter by admitting privately and prayerfully our true motives – regardless of how twisted and embarrassing they are – then resolving to never again pretend that those sins are anything other than sin.
King David gives us a great example of what it looks like to put this idea into practice. Look at his words of confession in Psalm 51:1-4:
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
David allowed the light of divine judgment to penetrate the darkness of his innermost being and expose his sins of lust, adultery and murder for what they were. Rather than hide from reality by rationalizing that everybody does it,David wholeheartedly confessed what he had done. What’s more, he threw himself upon God’s mercy. That, my friend, is Godly sorrow, not mere self-pity; and his confession is one of broken-hearted humility, not a self-serving cover-up.
Factor 7: It’s the Fruit of God’s Goodness
A lot of Christ-followers tend to associate repentance with fear of what might happen to us if we don’t repent. And that’s not all bad; it’s actually a healthy fear to have. Certainly anyone who has heard the Gospel and continues to live immorally should be fearful. But in terms of repentance, a good fear of discipline or condemnation is far from the only factor that should lead a person to repentance. The Apostle Paul gets right to the point when he asks if we despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance (Romans 2:4)? Peter expands on the same idea by pointing out that Christ is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Truly, God’s expresses the girth of His goodness through His patience with us. We all know people (actually most of us are those people) who don’t relish the idea of committing to a life of obedience to God’s law the moment we come to a knowledge of the truth; it usually takes time – in some cases, years. That’s the reality. Thankfully, we serve a God who is merciful, rich in kindness and patience, infinitely good. When we do finally, sincerely, wholeheartedly repent and surrender our lives to Him, He most graciously pardons our transgressions.
Factor 8: It’s Necessary for Salvation.
Read that last sentence again. Admittedly, it may seem an obvious point for those of you who’ve journeyed through this series with us. Still, it’s a point worth restating for in order to balance the tension between works and grace in terms of salvation. Some Christians oppose at all costs the notion of salvation by works (see Ephesians 2:8-9). The problem that arises with prooftexting this passage (removing it from the overall context of Scripture) is that it tends to underemphasize – or not emphasize at all – the scripturally sound necessity of repentance.
This is serious stuff, so please stay with me here. Never, ever does Paul say that salvation does not involve our cooperation with God. When he condemned the notion of justification by works of the law he was specifically addressing the Judaizers (Galatians 3:11). These were people who wanted to require non-Jewish converts – Gentiles like you and me, in other words – to perform certain Jewish-related acts that God never required of them. Paul’s point here was that there is nothing a person can do to cause God to owe him or her any semblance of salvation. Paul is in no way saying that human cooperation – which includes the human ability of making free choices – is not involved in the process of salvation.
Scripture is clear in pointing out that a person’s decision of whether to repent while the window of opportunity is open has everlasting repercussions; therefore, we should not hesitate to say that a deliberate, on-purpose decision to repent is an absolute requirement for a person’s salvation. There’s simply no way around it.
Christ Himself expounded on certain sins in Israel’s past to drive home the point to His listeners that [un]less you repent you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:2, 5). Repent or perish. Ultimately, that’s the simple choice each of us must face. Peter’s statement that God does not desire that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) carries the same message: Those who do not ultimately come to repentance will surely perish.
Factor 9: It’s an Inseparable Part of Saving Faith.
James, the half-brother of Christ, tackles a tough question in the second chapter of his New Testament letter: is faith really faith if it produces no visible works in a person? Take a close look at James 2:14-20 below:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
As James teaches. The act of having faith and the act of believing are one and the same. But at the same time, he also points out that the kind of faith that claims to believe but bears no fruit is pointless – of no use to God’s Kingdom – actually nothing more than intellectual assent. The faith that pleases God, he counters, is the faith that results in obedience to God’s law and acceptance of Christ as His provision for salvation.
For James, then – and for any believer pursuing an intimate, spiritual relationship with God – faith that motivates a person to do nothing but say I believe is not the faith that saves. Saving faith is, without a doubt, a faith that produces positive behavioral changes. It is a trusting conviction that motivates a person to repent – to change mind as well as behavior; It brings a person’s life into harmony with the will of God.And make no mistake, that is the kind of believing referenced in Acts 16:31. Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved, in other words, speaks of a specific type of belief; the type that results in pro-active repentance and conversion.
Factor 10: It’s a Routine Occurrence, NOT a One-Time Event.
If you think of repentance as a one-time action – a ritual to be done at the onset of salvation – you may want to rethink that definition. There is indeed an initial repentance at the tine one accepts Christ as Savior, but it is so important to realize that repentance also requires ongoing maintenance. It’s a process involving continuous introspection, frequent exposure to the Scripture, regular prayer, even occasional fasting. Theologians often agree that the best description of repentance is to view it as means of growth, a continuous chain of changes leading to maturity.
Repentance is also a God-centered state of mind; one that influences every aspect of a person’s life. It is sharpened through paying attention to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, which always directs one along the path established by God’s law. Conversely, it is dulled through neglecting the Spirit’s convicting presence. And leaving the sphere of the Spirit’s influence is a serious, life-or-death matter. James was speaking to Christians who had lapsed into worldliness when he wrote:
Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:7-10).
Christ’s admonition to the seven churches of Asia Minor are filled with urgent warnings to repent and turn away from practices that conflict with God’s will (see Revelation 2-3). Paul called upon the church at Corinth to discontinue fellowship with an immoral church member until he had repented of his sinful activity (1 Corinthians 5:1-6).
Again, repentance involves a state of mind. It’s a disposition; a life of obedience that involves continual changes and a continuous desireto do the will of God merely for the purpose of doing what is right in the sight of God.
Of course, no human – including you or me – has or will ever reach a state of absolute perfection this side of Heaven. We will occasionally slip and stumble; sometimes we’ll even dive or – gulp – jump headlong into sin. Thankfully, God will accept our repentance and forgive us as soon as we turn away from the sin, into His arms, ask for His mercy, and thank Him for His grace.
Scripture clearly tells us that the sinning Christian can turn from his or her sin, then experience spiritual cleansing through repentance and be restored to right relationship with God. 2 Corinthians 7:1 gives us one of many examples of this truth:
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.