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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Daily repentance is our battle to live free
Text:LD 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 75

Psalm 51:1,2

Psalm 119:43-45

Hymn 1

Hymn 81

Scripture readings:  Romans 6:1-14, 2 Corinthians 7

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 33

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Brooks Hatlen was an old man by the time he finally got out.  Back in his youth, around 1905, he committed some serious crimes and ended up in Shawshank State Prison.  There he spent almost the rest of his life.  He became the prison librarian and settled into life on the inside.  But finally, in 1953, Brooks Hatlen was paroled.  He got out, he was placed in a half-way house, and took up a job at a local grocery store.  But this was a vastly different world and Brooks Hatlen wasn’t prepared for it at all.  He didn’t know how to cope.  He contemplated killing the grocery store manager just so he could be sent back to prison.  Instead, he decided to hang himself. 

Now that’s a fictional story; it’s from a classic prison film.  But the story isn’t farfetched.  It’s a well-known phenomenon.  Prisoners who spend long stretches of their life in prison often become institutionalized.  They’ve become so accustomed to life in prison that, if they finally get out, they just can’t cope.  They know how to survive in prison, but not on the outside.  They don’t know anything about things like paying bills or making meals.  Sometimes they reoffend just so they can go back to what they know and what they’re comfortable with.  It’s sometimes called the jail-house mentality.

The Bible is clear that human beings in the unregenerate state are enslaved to sin.  Slavery is like a form of imprisonment.  In fact, while Romans 6 speaks about slavery to sin, Romans 7 describes it at one point as being held captive.  Apart from Christ, we’re in prison.  We’re not free.  We can’t not sin.  But Romans 6 gives us the glorious message that Christ frees the prisoners.  According to verse 6, we’ve been crucified with Christ and therefore are no longer enslaved to sin.  Through Christ, we’re free!  Sin no longer has dominion over us, because we’re under grace.

That’s the way things are in principle.  In the sight of God, everyone who believes in Christ has had their sin crucified with him.  It’s gone, it’s dead and out of the way.  Moreover, this makes a difference for the believer living on this earth.  Before Christ, we can’t not sin.  After Christ, we can not sin.  Our wills are made alive by the Holy Spirit, and we can choose not to sin.  However, we don’t do this consistently and we’ll never do it perfectly while we live in this world.  Still, the possibility of saying no to sin is there for Christians.

The problem is that we often have what could be called a jail-house mentality.  Those who’ve been imprisoned by sin find it difficult to live free from sin.  Like prison, sin can become familiar and comfortable.  Prison is an awful place, and so is sin, but you get to know your way around it.  You can grow to like it, despite its downsides.  Even as Christians we can feel drawn back to sin, just like institutionalized ex-cons feel drawn back to prison.  Every day we have a struggle to live free.  Every day we have to struggle to get it out of our minds that sin is better than Christ.  This battle has a name:  repentance.  Literally, repentance means to have a change of mind.  We have to change our mind about sin and being imprisoned to it.  So this afternoon, with the help of the Catechism, we’re going to learn about this important facet of life as a Christian.  We’ll see that daily repentance is our battle to live free.  This battle involves:

  1. Our attitudes and emotions
  2. Our actions

According to what we confess in Lord’s Day 33, there are two parts to daily repentance.  There’s the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new.  Both involve a process and you can see this in the way we speak of “dying” and “coming to life.”  This isn’t something that happens in an instant.  It’s a process that takes place every day in the life of a believer. 

As Christians, we continue to sin.  Though we’re right with God through Christ, we will still fall into sin as long as we live on this earth.  That was the experience of the apostle Paul too.  If you read Romans 7, you can hear his frustration with this.  He says, I want to do what is right and pleasing to God.  But I struggle.   In my heart, I love the law of God and I delight in it.  But in my life a different story is often playing out.  This is why he says in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  There’s a struggle.

Throughout history this has been the struggle of Christians.  There’s a medieval book which expresses this well.  The book is The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.  A Kempis got a lot of things wrong in this book, but there are still some good insights.  This is one of them.  He writes:

How great is the frailty of man, ever prone to evil!  Today you confess your sins; tomorrow you again commit the very sins you have confessed!  Now you resolve to guard against them, and within the hour you act as though you had never made any resolution!  Remembering, then, our weakness and instability, it is proper to humble ourselves and never to have a high opinion of ourselves.        

You can sense the frustration in those words too.  But the frustration brings us somewhere:  it brings us to a frame of mind.  It brings us to humility.  When we see our remaining sinfulness, we’re reminded that we’re not yet perfect, not anywhere close.  We have a long way to go.  That puts us in the proper frame of mind as a Christians.  We ought to be humble people, recognizing our great need for a Saviour.

Because we see our sin, we also grieve over it.  Second Corinthians 7 speaks of this.  Paul had to rebuke the Corinthian believers for some sin.  This had caused them to grieve and, says Paul in that chapter, that was a good thing.  It produced repentance leading to salvation.  Grieving over sin is therefore good and necessary.

However, it’s important to see that Paul speaks of two types of grief over sin in 2 Corinthians 7.  There’s a worldly grief.  A worldly grief is only oriented to the horizontal plane.  Worldly grief is sadness because you got caught.  Worldly grief is sadness because you were embarrassed.  Worldly grief is sadness because you hurt yourself with your sin.  Worldly grief revolves mostly around you, but it could also involve people around you.  The important thing to see is that worldly grief is restricted to the horizontal.  It doesn’t take God into account. 

Loved ones, that’s where godly grief differs.  Godly grief is heartfelt sorrow that has God in the picture first and foremost.  David understood this.  We sang Psalm 51.  That Psalm was written during David’s repentance over his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah.  David had hurt a lot of people with his sin.  Not only that, but he’d brought a lot of shame on himself.  But then in Psalm 51 he says something remarkable.  He recognizes in verse 4 that it was against God that he had sinned.  He had offended the holy God who loved him.  That’s what breaks his heart.  Now that he sees clearly again, he sees that sin is a first of all an attack on God.  We’re attacking the one who has created us and loved us.  This is how we respond.  With sin.  Godly grief over sin recognizes this.

Then we also feel hatred for sin.  When we see how sin displeases God, when we reflect how much we’ve been loved by God through Christ, we hate our sin with an intense hatred.  Sin is so despicable, so vile.  It’s irrational and self-destructive.  The great Puritan theologian John Owen once compiled a list of the ways in which Scripture describes sin:  disgrace, fraud, blasphemy, enmity, hatred, contempt, rebellion, injury, poison, stench, dung, vomit, polluted blood, plague, pestilence, abominable, detestable.  Right now, here in church, we have a moment of clarity about this.  Sin is to be hated like we hate nothing else.  We need to have more of these moments of clarity, not only on Sundays in church, but throughout the week.  Sin is to be hated.  You need to remember that tomorrow and the day after, just as well as today.  We need to pray that the Holy Spirit would always help us to see this clearly.  We don’t want to go back to slavery to sin.  We want to be free in Christ to live for God. 

That brings us to the other, more positive emotions and mindset involved in daily repentance.  Those come in the coming to life of the new nature.  The gospel promises that God won’t despise a broken and contrite heart.  The gospel says that God will forgive all our sins through Christ.  Being reassured of grace is meant to bring us to a place of joy, a place where we love God and have a renewed desire to serve him.   Now we look to the present and the future and we see a life coming increasingly into conformity with God’s will.  That excites us – that delights us. 

You see, brothers and sisters, our joy ultimately comes from knowing that we’ve been received back into a healthy relationship with the Father.  It’s the kind of joy you find in the parable of the lost sons in Luke 15.  When the younger lost son was received by his father, the father was glad.  But so was the lost son! Verse 24 of Luke 15 says, “They began to celebrate.”  There was music and dancing – you can be sure the younger lost son was just as happy to be back in a relationship of fellowship with his father.  

We have this joy because we know there is a restored and healthy relationship.  Because we’ve been made right with God through Christ, because our sins have been forgiven, there are no obstacles between us and God.  We’re not only on speaking terms, but on loving terms.  We’re in a healthy relationship again and we’re going to live in this relationship – faithfully and gladly following the ways of our Father.  That gives joy. 

How does that kind of joy express itself?  That’s an important question.  There are people who say that the joy of faith will always show itself with a happy face and a cheerful disposition.  Christians are always whistling and singing.  The joy we have in God through Christ can express itself that way.  But it’s deeper than that.  Just like godly sorrow isn’t superficial, so also godly joy in Christ isn’t superficial.  This runs deeper than having a permanent smile on your face and a song on your tongue.  Because let’s be real:  sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes there’s really tough stuff.  Can you still be joyful as a believer in the middle of difficult circumstances?  If we define joy as being happy in appearance only, it might be hard.  But if we understand joy as something that runs deeper than pain or pleasure, then perhaps there can be true joy even in hard times.  Even in the most difficult circumstances of life, we can have joy in God through Christ – knowing we are accepted in the beloved.  That’s not to say that we always do – many believers struggle with finding joy in difficult circumstances.  But it’s not impossible – we can pray for it and strive for it.  And when we repent, we’ll know our repentance is sincere when we not only grieve over our sins, but also experience the joy of knowing our sins are forgiven, that we’ve been received by God in grace. 

Our struggle to live free begins on the inside with our emotions, thoughts and attitudes.  But it’s not going to stay there.  It’s also going to come out in our actions. 

We’re like the prisoner who’s been set free learning to survive as free people.  We don’t have to do what we did as prisoners.  We can live in healthier and wiser ways.  There’s another way you could think of this.  Imagine someone who has suffered a stroke.  The stroke has left him paralyzed, unable to use his legs.  His head says “walk.”  His heart wants to walk.  He has the desire to walk.  But the connection between the head and the legs has been damaged by the stroke.  A stroke victim can often go for physical therapy.  The legs have to be taught to respond to the stimuli from the head.  That’s our story.  If we’re in Christ, we’re united to him and he really is our head.  His desires become our desires.  Through daily repentance, we’re in spiritual therapy to have those desires turn into concrete actions.  So not only do we love God’s will, but we also actually begin to do God’s will. 

In our lives, we more and more flee from sin.  Instead of running to it, we begin to run away from it.  In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, Christ taught us the principle of radical amputation.  This is a concrete way of fleeing from sin.  He said that if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  If your right hand causes you to sin, lop it off.  He wasn’t saying that we’re to literally pluck out our eyes and chop off our hands.  What he meant was that believers are to get rid of whatever might be in their lives that is causing them to sin.  Chop off those things and flee from them.  There are all kinds of ways you can apply this.  For example, if you have friends who lead you to sin, who are always a bad influence on you, you need to get rid of those friends and find new ones.  That’d be a concrete way of fleeing from sin, a concrete form of radical amputation.

But fleeing from sin isn’t enough.  Repentance also involves positive actions.  It involves living according to the will of God in all good works.  Let’s take that apart piece by piece to see what it really means.

Daily repentance involves living according to the will of God.  This is about what characterizes our lives.  This is about our way of life.  Our normal mode of operation, so to speak.  First John 3:9 says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”  Believers aim to make godliness their practice, their way of life.  Yes, as I mentioned earlier, we will fall short.  We’ll still sin and sometimes even grievously.  But believers don’t continue in sin.  They don’t make it their habit.  It’s not their usual way of living.

Daily repentance involves living according to the will of God.  This is about the standard for our actions as believers.  In QA 91, the Catechism draws out what is meant with the will of God.  That’s a reference to the law of God.  The moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments is our standard for living as Christians.  We’ve been freed from the curse and bondage of the law, but the law remains as a guide for our thankfulness.  As believers, we don’t follow our own ideas for how to please God.  We don’t follow the ideas of other people.  We follow God’s ideas, his will, as expressed in his law.  Since it is God we’re aiming to please and serve, it must be God who sets the agenda for how that’s to be done.

That reminds us that daily repentance must involve devotional actions.  If you’re going to struggle to live free from sin, you have to know God’s Word.  If we’re going to live according to the will of God, we have to know the will of God.  We get to know the will of God most completely and accurately by turning to his Word.  We need to pay careful attention as the Word is being preached.  Concretely, come to church prepared by getting to bed on time the night before.  If you have a hard time paying attention, consider taking notes from the sermon.  Perhaps some of you do that, and that’s great.  It’s true, not everyone gets the same benefit from doing that, but some do.  It can be a helpful way to focus on what’s being said.  It has the added benefit of giving a record of what you heard so you can reflect on it later.  And that’s a reminder again for us to aim to be good students of the Bible in our personal lives too.  Brothers and sisters, you need to be reading the Bible for yourself, studying it, meditating on it.  Also meditating on how it bears on your life.  You see, working with the Word of God is the spiritual therapy we need to establish the connection between our head and our legs, hands, the rest of our body.  Working with Scripture is the therapy we need to stimulate the new nature to spring into action.

Loved ones, there’s no doubt about it, being a Christian is hard.  It involves a daily battle.  It’s been said that we have peace with God through Christ, but this is a peace that starts a war.  The war is with our enemies, the devil, the world, and most of all with our own flesh.  We have a peace that starts a war, and every day that war needs to be fought.  It’s a fight to be free from the enslavement and imprisonment of sin.  It’s a fight to live like people who are free in Christ, to be who we really are in him.  That fight starts on the inside with heart, mind, and will.  It begins with our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.  But it carries through into the concrete ways we live each day.  All of this is hard.  We can’t pretend otherwise.  But we need to keep that in perspective.  We need to compare that with sin, what it promises and what it delivers.  Sin by its very nature is deceptive.  Sin looks easy and fun. It promises good times.  But in the end it bites you hard and destroys you.  Already in this life, it’ll mess you up and the people around you.  And afterwards it’ll leave you imprisoned forever under God’s wrath.  Loved ones, you don’t want that.  So instead, turn from sin every day.  Learn to hate it and flee it.  Bring it to the throne of grace and have your sin washed away through Christ.  Learn then to love God and to express your love through following his will, for his glory.  Brothers and sisters, “fight the good fight of the faith.”  Battle to live free.  AMEN. 


O merciful God in heaven,

We praise you for the freedom we have in Christ.  Thank you that through him, we’ve been set free from slavery to sin.  Thank you that, through Jesus, we need not fear judgment and condemnation.  But Lord God, we still feel in ourselves that struggle with sin.  We have peace with you, but war within ourselves.  Please help us as we fight that war.  We pray for the help of your Holy Spirit with daily repentance.  Father, we want to grieve over our sins, knowing how they offend you.  We want to hate our sins, knowing how they displease you.  We want to flee from our sins.  Please help us to put our old nature to death each day.  We also want to live out of our new nature.  We pray for that heartfelt joy in Christ, so that we love and delight to do your will.  Help us to be zealous for good works.  Please discipline our hearts and lives so that they are increasingly pleasing to you.  We pray for those among us with struggles that are especially difficult.  Please give more abundant grace so that no one among us gives up the fight.  We pray for your help to wage war against remaining sin in our lives, and to do it for the praise of your Name.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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