This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fruit in Keeping with Repentance

True repentance is a matter of life and death. We are all born moving in the wrong direction. .  . away from God's glory and toward self-glory.   We are born moving toward death, hopelessness, defeat and darkness.  If we do not "turn around" we will never arrive at the destination that we were created to enjoy.  God Himself is the chief end of man.  He is life, hope, victory and light.  He is the destination that satisfies our every yearning.  Yet connecting to God is never a matter of moving a little farther down the path we are presently traveling.  Finding God is not about "personal growth" or "personal discovery" or "gaining confidence in ourselves" as we continue down our life's path.  Finding God requires repentance.  We must turn our souls 180 degrees if we are to find Him.  This is what "biblical repentance" is . . . a turning away from sin and a turning toward God . . . a turning from self as Savior and a turning to Jesus as Savior.  

The path that leads to eternal joy requires repentance from each person. Jesus and the apostles tied repentance as a condition of entrance into God's kingdom.  In Luke 13:3 Jesus proclaims, "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."  

Jesus and the apostles were also concerned that we understand the difference between true repentance and false repentance.   In Luke 3:8 Jesus commands, "Bear fruits in keeping with repentance."  There is a kind of repentance that leads us to sweet communion with the Triune God, but there is also a kind of repentance that leads us farther away from His presence and blessing.  Not all repentance is created equal.  Our pride loves the kind of repentance that feeds self-righteousness and keeps us moving in the same direction toward self-glory and self-governance.  But God calls us to a kind of repentance that confronts our sinful hearts and turns our passions toward the honor of His name.  

How can we discern whether our repentance is true or false?  Whether it is fruitful or fatal?

The apostle Paul answers this question in the clearest of terms in 2 Corinthians 7:8-12.  Paul had written a severe letter to the Corinthian church to confront sin in the church.  After sending the letter, he wondered whether it would bring godly sorrow leading to true repentance or worldly sorrow that would have killed the church.  Paul rejoiced that the Corinthians truly repented of their sin.  He wrote, "I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.  (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

Both Saul in the Old Testament and Judas in the New Testament are examples of individuals who experienced a worldly sorrow over their sin, yet they did not biblically repent.  They both admitted, "I have sinned."  But neither committed by God's grace to change the orientation of their lives from sin to God. 

Paul describes seven characteristics in the Corinthian's repentance that made him believe that their repentance was true.  These seven characteristics help us to understand the fruit that is in keeping with true repentance.

2Cor. 7:11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

How did Paul know that the Corinthians repentance was true?

Paul lists seven qualities that were true of the Corinthians' repentance. 
      1.    Earnestness— True repentance is earnest for righteousness to rule one's life.  "Earnestness" is a determination to see something through to completion.  Earnestness means we do not procrastinate, but we willingly deal with sin quickly and thoroughly.  Earnestness means we become impassioned about changing our orientation to God and to sin. Earnest in making the necessary actions toward sin. 

Recently, my mom caught the flu from me.  I felt horrible about the pain and suffering she was experiencing as the result of her contact with me.  I became very EARNEST in my care for her.  I could not take her to the doctor fast enough.  What can I do to help her?  I phoned her many times throughout the day.  I went to the store to purchase her some food and medicine.  I watered her plants so she could rest.  I did not think to myself, “I will deal with this tomorrow.”  True repentance produces demonstrable evidence that we desire practical righteousness and we are earnest in entering into that righteousness today. 

2.  Eagerness.  When Paul writes the words, "eagerness to clear yourselves" he is not suggesting that true repentance is eager to prove one's innocence.  That is what false repentance does.  But this eagerness yearns to demonstrate that our repentance is genuine.  True repentance is eager to do whatever it takes to show others that real repentance is our hearts commitment.  It desires that all who know of the sin will also know of the repentance.

When we sin, others ask, “How do I know if you have truly repented?”  Worldly sorrow becomes frustrated with that question.  HOW DARE YOU QUESTION MY INTEGRITY?  True repentance rejoices in the opportunity to prove itself.  It wants to demonstrate that change has really happened.  For instance, if a husband has committed adultery and truly repents.  He will desire to humble himself to prove his repentance is real.  He will become an open book to his wife and others.  He will offer freely his phone, email and text records.  He will communicate his schedule for each moment of the day.  He will offer full disclosure of credit card purchases.  He will make his mileage log on his car available.  "Eagerness" makes him willing to wear a tracking device on his ankle if necessary!!  His heart communicates to all, "I am eager to prove the change God has wrought in my life.  I want to give you all the information that you need to show that I have changed.  I am an open book now to defend my repentance."  True repentance asks, “What evidence do you need to show you that I have repented?”  True repentance willingly gives more information than asked, not less. Eagerness welcomes uncomfortable probing by those who have been wronged and those who are part of the restoration process.  The decision to repent is a matter of a moment in time, but the process of repentance usually takes a long time. 

3.  Indignation.  This is indignation over our own sin, not the sin's of others.  True repentance is angry at one's own actions.  Angry at the reproach that the sin has brought to Jesus and His church.  Sin becomes revolting when we see it in the light of God’s holiness.  We realize that our sin is a rejection of God’s holiness and sovereign authority.  Our sin is no small matter!  It is not a little thing.  It is right to become angry about it.  Repentance brings us back to a deep solemnity regarding our own sin.  We agree with God about its severity and seriousness.  We are not merely upset by temporal consequences of our sin, but by the fact that we tried to rob God of His glory!   We are indignant over OUR actions.

4.  Fear.  Sin always begins with a casual view of God and His justice.  Repentance brings us to a fear of God and a deep awe of His holiness.  When Isaiah saw the LORD he cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is 6:5)  Repentance brings a person face to face with God's holiness and inspires a godly fear of Him that leads us to humbly seek His mercy and to worship Him.  True repentance changes the way we think about God.

5.  Longing.  True repentance possesses a longing to see our soul and our sin as God does.  We no longer are willing to be blind to the ugliness of our own sin.  True repentance longs for reconciliation with God and with the people who our sin has hurt.  True repentance longs to be a joy to others, not a pain.  It longs to see ALL the damage our sin did and to take appropriate action to move toward that end, regardless of the personal cost.  It refuses to take ones eyes off their sin in order to be comfortable.  In true repentance, we embrace the discomfort of repentance in order to love God and others.

6.  Zeal.  True repentance is consumed with a desire to be holy.  It is thirsty for God.  It makes us long to be a sheep that hears His voice and follows him.  It makes us a fervent fan of God.  It produces an energy boiling up inside moving us upward to communion with God.  We no longer see our discipline in the Word and prayer as obligations to fulfill, but as joys to pursue. We want to hear God’s voice.  

Psa. 19:10 More to be desired are they than gold,
                        even much fine gold;
             sweeter also than honey
                        and drippings of the honeycomb.
Psa. 19:11   Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
                        in keeping them there is great reward.

True repentance does not leave us as a mild-mannered Christian, but as one who pursues holiness with passion and zeal.  

7.  Punishment.  True repentance is ready to see justice done, even if that requires personal pain and cost.  It is eager to make restitution and to receive the penalty that the law demands for such a sin.  It does not seek to protect oneself from the just penalty, but accepts the consequences of one's own sin.

Repentance is a lovely thing.  It is not something to loathe, but something to love.  Repentance is the beginning of grace in our lives.  Through repentance we realize our sinful condition, renounce sin before God and run in faith to Christ.

Martin Luther ignited the Reformation by nailing 95 Thesis to the door of the Whittenburg Chapel.  The very first thesis was, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ . . . willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  Amen and amen.

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