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REPENTANCE OF BELIEVERS
by Tony Grant
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of Mark chapter 1 and follow along as I read verses 14-15. "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches." (RV2:29).
14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
There is a notion that I have sometimes encounted that repentance and faith are things that we have only at the beginning of our Spiritual life. A person will say, "I repented of my sins, and I believed in Jesus in a certain ;year at a certain time and that settled for me all things that have to do with religion." Thus, we get the idea that having once repented and believed that there is no more need for repentance and belief. I wish that were so. Unfortunately, I can easily demonstrate to you that it is not.
Yes, repentance and a faith are necessary for the beginning of salvation, but repentance and faith are also required after we have believed the gospel. An ongoing repentance and faith are necessary for our growth in grace.
I. Let us talk about this ongoing repentance and faith. What kind of repentance does a believer have?
It is a kind of self-knowledge. Even though, we know we are children of God, we also know that we are sinners.
Indeed when we first repent; when we first find redemption in the blood of Jesus, it is natural to suppose that we are no longer sinners, that all our sins are not only covered but destroyed. And, as we do not then feel any evil in our hearts, we readily imagine none is there. Some well-meaning folks have imagined this not only when they were first converted, but all the rest of their lives. They sincerely believe, and earnestly maintain, that all sin is destroyed when we are justified; that no sin exists in the heart of a believer.
Now I readily acknowledge that a believer is born of God, and God does not commit sin, but I have never yet known a perfect person on this earth, and so I have to say that a believer does commit sin. Sin no longer reigns in the believer's heart, but sin remains in the believer's heart.
In the high moment of conversion, we may imagine all sin is gone from our lives forever, but soon we discover that there is still pride in our heart. And we learn not that we thought too highly of Jesus in our conversion, but that we thought too highly of ourselves. Yet we know we are in the favor of God. The Spirit still witnesses to our spirit, that we are children of God.
Nor is it long before we feel self-will in our heart; even a will contrary to the will of God. As long as we have understanding, we have a will of our own. This is an essential part of human nature. Our blessed Lord himself had a will as a man; otherwise he was not a man, but his human will was identical to the will of the Father. Thus, at all times, and on all occasions, he said, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt." But, no matter how much we believe in Jesus, this is not always the case with us. We frequently find our will exalting itself against the will of God. We will or want something, because it is pleasing to us though it may not be pleasing to God, and that sin needs to be repented of.
Self-will and pride are kinds of idolatry and both are directly contrary to the love of God. The same observation may be made concerning the love of the world. Children of God are likely to find in themselves a love for the world. At one level, believers may say, "I desire nothing but God. My intent is to live only for God." But in fact, they do not. In the process of time they feel again, though perhaps only for a few moments, "the desire of the flesh," or "the desire of the eye," or "the pride of life." They find in themselves a strong propensity to love the creature more than the Creator. They feel, in a thousand ways, a desire of earthly pleasures. Thus, to some degree they forget God. To some degree they become a "lover of pleasure more than a lover of God." That is a sin that demands repentance.
Again, if we look at ourselves in a spiritual mirror, we do not see perfect sinless people. We see other ugly attitudes that are contrary to love of neighbor and love of God. Love of neighbor thinks no evil of the neighbor, but sometimes we do. Sometimes jealousy comes into our hears and unreasonable suspicions into our minds. Yes, even a bit of malice, hatred, and bitterness. We feel a touch of envy; particularly toward those who have things that we desire, or that we think we desire. We fill some resentment, when we are injured or affronted; especially by those whom we love, or whom we have helped in their time of trouble. When someone does us wrong, we have some desire for revenge, some wish to return evil for evil? You might say, "Of course we still feel these kinds of emotions and resentments. After all we are only human." Nevertheless, in so far are we feel this way toward our neighbors, so far are we from love of our neighbor.
Covetousness is certainly contrary to the love of God; whether it be the love of money, or just a desire of having more of everything. But few there are, even of the real children of God, that are entirely free from covetousness. Martin Luther did say, he "never had any covetousness in him" not only in his converted state, but "ever since he as born." If so, he was the only man born of a woman (except Christ himself), who was born without it. Actually, I think Brother Martin exaggerated his virtue. I doubt that even he was completely without covetousness. None of us are Covetousness, together with pride and self-will, remain in the hearts even of Christians.
And we are also convinced, that as sin remains in our hearts, so it remains in our words and actions. The rule of conversation is the golden rule: "What ye would that others should say about you, even so say you about them." Yet sometimes our conversation is all backbiting, tale-bearing, and evil-speaking. Is it not strange that we do not want others talking about our faults when we are not present, but we are eager to talk about their faults when they are not present. We ought to apply the golden rule to our conversation, but few are there who do so, even among believers.
Let us suppose however, that we are dealing with serious practicing Christians who continually "watch and pray," and so do "not enter into" this temptation of uncharitable conversation. They set a watch upon their mouth, and keep the door of their lips. Suppose that all their conversation is conditioned by grace, and ministers in grace to the hearers: Yet can they say, even when they endeavor to speak for God, that their words are entirely free from any unholy attitude? Do they speak only please God, and not partly to please themselves? Is their intent wholly to do the will of God, and not their own will also? Or, if they begin with the intent of serving Christ, do they continue in that intent, looking to Jesus all the time, talking with Jesus all the time? Suppose they encounter sin in another person, and they reprove that person for their sin, do they hate only the sin and not at all the sinner? When they are instructing the ignorant, do they not find pride in their own knowledge? When they are comforting the afflicted, do they never have some inward self-commendation: Do they not say to themselves, "Now I have spoken well?" And do they not want others to know about how well they speak. Do they not want others to esteem them? When we begin to look seriously at ourselves, we are struck by the fact that much sin cleaves to the best of what we do and speak. And the more we advance in the spiritual life, the more we realize how much need we have of repentance.
Consider the sin of halfhearted worship. While we are hearing the word that is able to save our souls, we are thinking about everything else. When we offer up our prayers to God, we are distracted by the most trivial notions. Even when we receive the bread and wine of holy communion, even while we are at the table of the Lord, we are sometimes more focused on what we will have for lunch than on our spiritual food, and this putting everything else before God makes our worship an abomination to the Lord.
Again: How many sins of omission can we be charged with? We know the words of the Apostle Paul: "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." But we also know a thousand instances, wherein we might have done good, to enemies, to strangers, to our friends, and did it not. How many omissions are we guilty of, in our life toward God! How many opportunities did we miss of celebrating the Lord's Supper, of hearing the word preached, of public or private prayer?
I could go on talking about the depressing evidence of our sinfulness, after we accept Christ, but this is surely enough to make evident the truth that although we may by the Spirit resist and conquer both outward and inward sins, yet we are never totally free of sin and temptation. Therefore, we need to continually repent of sin as we find it in our lives. Whenever we sin, and we do sin, we need to repent of that sin. It does not matter if we have been a Christian for sixty years or more, we will still find sin in ourselves, and repent of it, and receive God's power to overcome that particular sin, and then go forth to continue in Christ. For though a Christian sins, that does not mean that Christ has rejected that Christian. Not at all. If we sin, we are still in Christ, the Holy Spirit is still with us, and the Holy spirit will point out the sin to us and lead us in repentance.
II. Thus, there is a repentance even after we believe in Christ, and until we repent, we can go no farther in the spiritual life. But supposing we do repent, then we are called to "believe the gospel." We are called to believe even after we have first believed.
This secondary belief is different from that first belief wherein we believed in order to be saved. Believe the glad tidings of great salvation that God has prepared for all people. Believe that Christ is "able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God through him." Christ is able to save us from all sin. Christ is able to save us from all the sin that cleaves to all our words and actions. He is able to save us from sins of omission, and to supply whatever is wanting in us. It is true, this is impossible with man; but with Christ all things are possible, and we have his promise both in the NT and the OT, So we read in DT30:6, "The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul." Again we read in EZ36:25f, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. And I will put My Spirit within you, and ye shall keep My judgements, and do them. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses." In the New Testament, in LK1:68f "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us, -- to perform the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies should serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life."
We have therefore good reason to believe that Christ is not only able, but willing to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This is the cleansing we need, namely, that the Great Physician, the Lover of my soul, is willing to forgive my present sins.
And we are to continue to believe in this same Christ who loved us, and gave himself for us. Christ has saved us from all condemnation by his blood that is continually applied to cleanse us of sin.
Thus we can not only say
Every moment, Lord, I want the benefit of your salvation;
but, likewise, in the full assurance of faith, we can say,
Every moment, Lord, I have the benefit of your salvation!
For, by that faith in his life, death, and intercession for us, renewed from moment to moment, we are cleansed, and no condemnation is found in us.
By the same faith, we feel the power of Christ every moment resting upon us, so that we are spiritually alive. Without this power of Christ, no matter how much we have told ourselves we believed in the past, we are lost at this moment. But as long as we retain our faith in Christ, we "draw water out of the wells of salvation." Leaning on our Beloved, we receive help from him, to think, and speak those things that are acceptable in his sight. All our designs, and actions are begun, continued, and ended in Christ.
Thus it is, that in the children of God, repentance and faith exactly answer each other. By repentance we feel the sin in our hearts, and cleaving to our words and actions: by faith, we receive the power of God in Christ, purifying our hearts, and cleansing our souls. By repentance, we are aware that we deserve punishment for all our attitudes, and words, and actions: by faith, we know that our Advocate with the Father is continually pleading for us, and thereby continually turning aside all condemnation and punishment from us. By repentance we have an abiding conviction that we are still sinners; by faith we receive not only mercy, but grace to help in every time of need. Repentance says, "Without Christ, I can do nothing:" Faith says, "I can do all things through Christ strengthening me."
Thus, we see the mischievousness of the opinion that once we are saved, we are not only cleansed of our sins, but we sin no more. When we accept Christ as our savior, we are delivered from the dominion of sin. That is to say, we begin to develop the power to do right, and to love and serve the Lord. We are no longer addicted to sin, but sin is not totally obliterated from our lives; as we all know only too well. Even after we have accepted Christ, our lives remain a spiritual battleground, but Christ gives us the power to win that battle.
Understand this: At the very moment of salvation, we are born again. In that instant, we experience that inward change from "darkness into light," from the image of the devil, into the image of God; from the earthly to the spiritual. Yes, we are changed, but we are not entirely changed. We have the image of God in us, but we also have that old human image of our first parents. We still retain a depth of sin against which we must struggle and of which we must repent. And repenting we still believe the gospel. We believe that Christ is able to save. Christ is always able. The gospel says that before we knew Christ he was able to take care of all our sins. Surely then after we have known him, he is still able to take care of our sins. So the word for us both now and forever is the word of Mark 1:15, "Repent and believe the gospel." Amen.
Source: John Wesley, SERMON 14
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 04/11/01