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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:God calls us to relentless repentance
Text:LD 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 61

Psalm 32:1,2

Psalm 25:1,4

Hymn 1

Psalm 149:1,2

Scripture readings:  Psalm 38, Ephesians 4:17-32

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 our Lord Jesus,

Christ changes everything.  The gospel changes everything.  When someone comes to faith in Jesus Christ, a remarkable change takes place.  To illustrate this, I did a little search on Google for the phrase, “Before I knew Christ I was…”  Listen to some of the results:

  • Before I knew Christ, I was filled with hate, anger, shame and I was an alcoholic. My life was headed for destruction and I am sure that I would be dead today if I had not come to know Christ.
  • Before I knew Christ . . . I was lost, empty, alone, broken, afraid & never enough.
  • Before I knew Christ I was a very angry woman who held onto grudges like a safety blanket.
  • Before I knew Christ I was hopeless, lost and confused.  
  • Before I knew Christ I was full of self: self-reliant, self-focused, self-centered.

When the Holy Spirit miraculously transforms a heart and brings someone to faith in Christ, that person becomes what Scripture says is a new creation.  The person filled with hate, starts to become loving.  The person who was angry finds peace and joy.  The one who was hopeless becomes hopeful.  The person who was full of self gets turned outward.  The lost are found and the confused find clarity.  There’s a break with the past and a brand new start at believing and living differently.

The living differently is what’s in focus with Lord’s Day 33.  Repentance is living differently.  Repentance is part of what distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian.  Non-Christians never repent.  But Christians repent and they do it all the time.  The early church father Tertullian once wrote, “We were born for nothing but repentance.”  Tertullian was exactly right.  For us as Christians, repentance is not just something that takes place once.  Repentance is a vitally important ongoing aspect of being a Christian. 

Article 29 of the Belgic Confession is well-known for describing the marks of the true church.  But it’s sometimes overlooked that the same article also describes the marks of Christians.  Christians not only believe in Jesus Christ, but they repent as well.  They “flee from sin and pursue righteousness, love the true God and their neighbour without turning to the right or left, and crucify their flesh and its works.  Although great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their life.”  In other words: repentance.  One of the marks of a Christian is that he or she is relentlessly repenting from sin as long as there’s a pulse.  This afternoon we’re going to spend some time learning about what that involves.  We’ll see that as long as we live on this earth, God calls us to relentless repentance

This repentance involves:

  1. The dying of the old nature
  2. The coming to life of the new nature

In Scripture, repentance is portrayed in several related ways.  One is with the idea of a u-turn.  When you repent, you take a 180 degree turn.  You turn from sin, and you turn to God.  You turn from your wickedness and unbelief and turn with faith to Christ.  You turn from evil to righteousness.  Another way repentance is portrayed in Scripture is with the idea of a change of mind or change of heart.  When you repent, your thinking is changed, what you love is changed.  You think and feel differently about sin, about yourself, and about God.  Both of these are good, biblical ways to speak about repentance.  However, our Catechism works with another biblical way.  Our Catechism speaks about the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new nature.  This dying and coming to life is found in Scripture in places like Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3.

QA 89 concentrates on the dying of the old nature.  Now you have to realize that there’s an assumption in that question.  The assumption is that Christians have to contend with what’s left of their old nature as they live on this earth.  That is a biblical assumption.  If you read Romans 7, you’ll hear Paul writing about his struggle with sin.  He cries out in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  That was the apostle Paul’s experience and it’s my experience, and yours too, I’m sure.  Though we have peace with God through Christ, we still have a war going on.  The war is with a three-headed monster: our own sinful desires, the temptations of the world, and the temptations of Satan.  As long as we live on this earth, there is no peace with this three-headed monster.  As we long as we have breath, we’re called to relentlessly do battle with sin.

Someone once compared the left-overs of the old nature in a Christian to a dormant volcano.  When we lived in southern BC, on sunny days we could often see Mount Baker off in the distance.  Mount Baker is in Washington State, just across the border from BC.  Mount Baker is a dormant volcano – it hasn’t erupted since the 1800s.  But deep within Mount Baker, there’s still fire and lava.  It could one day erupt again.  Christians are the same.  We have the remnants of that old destructive nature within each of us.  Without God’s grace restraining it, it could erupt with destructive consequences.  Yet there are little rumblings and spewings of sin that remind us of what could easily happen apart from grace.      

The question is what happens when we’re aware of those rumblings and spewings, when we see evidence that the fire still burns within.  That’s what the dying of the old nature is all about.  As a Christian, how do you respond when you’re aware of the ongoing presence of sin in your life?  Scripture teaches us first “to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin.”  The Bible teaches us that in several places, but this afternoon let’s take special notice of Psalm 38.  This is one of the penitential psalms.  This Psalm sees David confessing his sin and expressing sorrow over sin.  He acknowledges that his sin has resulted in God disciplining him.  We don’t know the exact occasion when this psalm was written – we don’t know the exact sin that David committed.  But it’s clear that it was something weighty and there were consequences.  It’s also clear how David felt about his sin.  He no longer loved it.  Instead, he hated it and he grieved with heartfelt sorrow over it.  Verse 6, “I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning.”  Verse 8, “I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.”  Verse 10 says, “My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes – it also has gone from me.”  This powerfully illustrates what the dying of the old nature looks like.  It’s to go to God in confession, acknowledging your sin, sorrowing over it, hating it, and fleeing from it.

This is something that has to be done not just once, but constantly in our lives.  So let me ask you directly, is that happening in your life?  Do you grieve over your sins because you have offended God with them?  Do you hate your sins and flee from them?  Can I tell you my honest answer to these questions?  My honest answer would be, “No, I don’t always have grief over my sins.  No, I don’t always hate my sin the way I should and flee from it.”  That’s the truth.  I suspect what’s true of me is going to be true of you too.

Is that okay?  Are we allowed to just go with the status quo here?  To say, “Well, that’s just the way it is.  Oh well, too bad.  Whatever.”  No, brothers and sisters, we can’t do that.  Repentance – the dying of the old nature – that’s something we need to grow in.  Remember:  it’s one of the marks of a true Christian.  As we mature as Christians, we want to grow in this area as well.  Where does it start?  It starts with earnest prayer.  When you see that your heart is not all that grieved with your sin and you know it should be different, you need to pray that it would be different.  When you see that sin is not consistently hated the way that it should be in your life and you know it should be different, you need to pray for the Holy Spirit to make it different.  When you see that the fleeing from sin doesn’t always happen the way that it should, pray!  It starts with prayer. 

But it doesn’t end there.  There’s a weapon that needs to be used on the leftovers of the old nature.  We talk about “dying” and “putting to death.”  We need a weapon to kill this enemy.  The weapon God has provided is his Word.  To make progress in our spiritual warfare, we need the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  We need to hear it preached, we need to read it for ourselves, we need to study and learn from it together in our homes and in our church family.  Listen carefully:  without the Word, there will be no dying of the old nature.  Because without the Word, how will you see your sin and learn to hate it?  How will you get a reality check as to what sin is and why it should be hated?  All of that comes through the Word.  Loved ones, don’t neglect the Word of God.  It’s a key part of the relentless repentance to which we’re all called.

So on the one hand, repentance consists of the dying of the old nature.  On the other hand, positively speaking, it also consists of the coming to life of the new nature.  Now when we speak in these terms there’s potential for confusion.  It would be easy to get the idea that Christians have a split-personality or something like that.  We’re 50% old nature and 50% new nature.  Or maybe 60/40 or 30/70 or whatever other proportion.  No, that would be a wrong way of thinking about ourselves.  We have to take Scripture seriously on this.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17, it says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”  If you are in Christ by faith, united to him, you are a new creation.  Yes, as I mentioned a moment ago, there are still leftovers from the old nature.  But they are dying and diminishing in power.  Our identity is in Christ, not in these remnants of our old nature.  An important part of repentance is coming to terms with that reality of being a new creation in Christ – taking what’s true in principle and making it true in practice.

You could think of it like someone who gets out of prison.  If someone’s been in prison for many years, they become accustomed to life in prison.  They get what’s called a jail-house mentality.  They know how to function on the inside.  But when they get out and have to live free, it’s often a whole different story.  Many people struggle with making the transition to living free.  Repentance is about our struggle to live free.  We are a new creation in Christ, we have been set free.  Our chains have been thrown away, the doors have swung open, and we are no longer prisoners to sin.  There was a life before Christ and it was slavery…now a new creation, free in Christ.  But how do we live in this new reality?  That can be difficult.  The old prison ways and habits were comfortable and familiar.  Prison is hard, but you get to know your way around.  Repentance is taking God’s Word and learning from it how to live free. 

Or you could think of the person who’s had a stroke.  Stroke victims often go to physical therapy to learn how to walk again or do other physical activities.  The nerve connections between the head and the body parts need to be conditioned and strengthened so that the body can function properly again.  We are like stroke victims learning to walk.  We want to get the proper connection between our head (Christ) and our lives.  This is the coming to life of the new nature.  It means that more and more our union with Christ our head is becoming evident in our daily walk of life.

That’s why the Catechism speaks about a heartfelt joy in God through Christ.  Looking to Christ in faith, we have a heartfelt joy in God, just like he does.  Our Saviour rejoices in his relationship with the Father.  It is joy and delight for the Son to live in communion with the Father.  He also rejoices in his relationship with the Holy Spirit.  The Triune God lives in a joyful communion.  Each of the three persons delights in the others.  As our new nature is coming to life in Christ, we begin experiencing the same joy, heartfelt joy in God through Christ.  We begin experiencing it now and later, when we are glorified, we will experience it fully.

Because we look to Christ in faith and are united to him, we also have a love and delight to do the will of God.  Loved ones, look at the life of Christ described in the gospels.  One of the things that was clear about our Saviour is that he loved and delighted to do God’s will.  Psalm 40:8 says, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”  In Hebrews 10, these words are said to come from the lips of Jesus.  It refers to the will of God in relation to our redemption.  Part of that was the active obedience of Christ.  As he lived on this earth as one of us, he obeyed God’s law in our place.  We are all called by God’s law to perfect constant obedience and Jesus met that demand of God’s law for us.  That’s part of what the gospel promises:  you need perfect obedience and you have perfect obedience before God through Jesus Christ.  But his obedience is there in Scripture also to teach us about our life in him.  If you are united to Christ, what he loves is increasingly going to be what you love.  He loves and delights to do God’s will, if you’re united to him, what’s true of him more and more becomes true of you.  His love and delight become your love and delight.  He wanted to do good, you want to do good, to do what pleases and honours God.

So what does this coming to life of the new nature look like in concrete terms?  Well, we could think of what we read from Ephesians 4.  Paul lays it out there quite clearly.  He speaks of the putting off of the old nature, the first part of repentance.  There are certain things to put away and be finished with.  For example, verse 25 mentions falsehood, verse 26 mentions anger, verse 28 speaks of stealing and verse 29 speaks of corrupting talk.  But this passage also speaks of the coming to life of the new nature.  This new nature, says verse 24, is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  Really, it is after the image of Christ himself, the one who is our righteousness and holiness in the sight of God.  What does it look like?  Verse 25, “speaking the truth.”  Remember:  Christ, to whom you’re united, is the Truth (John 14:6).  Verse 28, “doing honest work” with your hands.  Remember:  Christ, to whom you’re united, worked with his hands as a carpenter for many of the first 30 years of his life.  Verse 29, talk coming out of our mouths that builds up, giving grace to those who hear.  Remember:  Christ, to whom you’re united, always had edifying and grace-giving words.  Verse 33, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.”  Remember:  Christ and his kindness, his tender heart, his willingness to forgive and be an instrument for forgiveness.  All of this is part of what the coming to life of the new nature involves – really it involves good works which grow out of our organic connection to Jesus Christ.  We’ll look more at good works over the coming weeks as we look at the Ten Commandments. 

But for now let’s focus again on repentance and this coming to life of the new nature.  How does this happen?  Is it a matter of just forcing yourself to try harder?  “I have to be joyful and live according to the will of God with joy and delight.”  No, loved ones, look at answer 91 for a second.  Look at the second line, “out of true faith.”  All of this begins with getting the gospel, not only in an intellectual way with your head, but with your heart and everything in you.  All of this begins with taking hold of Christ as your righteousness before God.  You need to look to him with a true faith and do it constantly and conscientiously, every day, without relenting.  The coming to life of the new nature just doesn’t happen without Christ and being connected to him through true faith.  You must constantly rest and trust in him alone as your Saviour.  And as you do that, then you also persistently study his Word and learn to discern his will.  You do that because you love him and want to serve him.  As you understand how he wants you to live, then you pray for grace from the Holy Spirit to live in these ways.  You pray.  Why?  You pray because you don’t have the strength in yourself.  You need help and not just a little bit of help.  You need a lot and that’s why you relentlessly go to the throne of grace and plead for it.  I can assure you that those kinds of prayers will be heard and answered.                                  

Loved ones, at the beginning of this sermon, I mentioned what Tertullian said, “We were born for nothing but repentance.”  Similarly, when Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses, thesis #1 read, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  Indeed, repentance is not just for the beginning of the Christian life, it’s not for the odd occasion; instead it’s to be constant and relentless as long as we live on this old earth.  May God graciously grant this gift to all of us.  AMEN.


Heavenly Father,

We thank you again for your Word to us this afternoon.  Please help us so that what we have heard remains with us.  Father, we pray to you for the dying of our old nature.  When we sin, please help us to see it and to have heartfelt sorrow over it.  Help us to grieve that we have offended you, our loving and gracious Father.  Please help us to genuinely hate our sins and flee from them.  Thank you for making us a new creation in Christ.  We also want to live as the new creation we are in Christ.  Please give us his delight and joy to live according to your will.  Father, help us always to look to Christ in true faith and live in union through the power of your Spirit.  We ask that the life of Christ would be seen in us always.  O God, please help us always to honour you with our thoughts, words, deeds, with everything we do and everything we are.                                 

* 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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