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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:True repentance is essential for true Christians
Text:LD 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 7

Psalm 103:1,2

Psalm 103:4-6

Hymn 1

Psalm 92:1-3,6,7

Scripture readings:  Jeremiah 3:6-25, Acts 11:1-18

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,

Do you ever feel like there’s a battle raging within your soul?  There’s what is good and right and pleasing to God.  There’s the thing that you know you should do.  There’s the thing you know that you shouldn’t do.  But you feel drawn to the evil.  You’re tempted to go the way  of sin.  At times you do.  You give in to sin.  But you know that it’s wrong.  You hate it.  You confess it to God and ask for his forgiveness.  Then the battle starts all over again.  Does any of this sound familiar to you?  If it does, it means you’re a normal Christian.  Because Christians are those who have a battle raging in their lives.  Christians are at peace with God through Jesus Christ, but they are at war with sin.  That’s normal. 

That war has been described in several ways throughout the history of the church.  There was a Roman poet in the early church named Prudentius.  He lived in the 300s and into the early 400s after Christ.  Prudentius wrote an epic poem about spiritual warfare.  He called it Psychomachia.   This poem is all about the battle that every true Christian wages.  From the poem you can tell that Prudentius was writing from personal experience.  He wrote about the “savage wars that rage within our bones.”  This is all about what Paul wrote in Romans 7, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  But the beautiful thing about this poem of Prudentius is that it’s not defeatist or fatalistic.  In this poem, the Christian does come to experience growing amounts of victory over sin.  Through the power of Christ, there is hope in the battle.

The battle can be summed up in one word:  repentance.  Repentance is the Christian’s life-long war against sin.  So long as we live on this earth, we are called to be repenting.  Day in and day out, this is what a Christian life looks like.  There is faith in Jesus Christ, but there is also an intense struggle with our remaining sinfulness.  This struggle, this repentance, is essential for Christians.  It’s part of the definition of a true Christian.  A true Christian is someone who battles against sin. 

With the help of Lord’s Day 33, we’ll be learning from the Scriptures about repentance this afternoon.  We’ll see that true repentance is essential for true Christians.  There are four questions we’ll look at:

  1. What is repentance?
  2. What causes repentance?
  3. What is the purpose of repentance?
  4. What are the effects of repentance?

When we get into the definition of repentance, one thing is clear right from the start:  this is something that doesn’t take place just once in a person’s life.  This is something that’s going to be happening repeatedly, over and over.  You can see that in QA 88 if you pay attention to the exact wording:  “It is the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new.”  It’s not the death of the old nature and the resurrection of the new.  No, it’s the dying, a constant dying, and the coming to life, a constant coming to life.  There’s an ongoing process here.  This process involves something dying and something else coming to life. 

What’s dying is our old nature inherited from Adam and Eve.  All Christians have the remnants of a sinful nature and those remnants don’t disappear all at once.  In his wisdom, God leaves them with us so that we would learn to do battle against them in dependence on him. 

What does this dying look like?  It involves sorrow over sin.  I have offended my Father who loves me.  I have done the thing that my Father hates and that breaks my heart too.  It also involves growing hatred for sin.  I see how sin is destructive, how it destroys me and it fills me with revulsion.  I want to spit on sin.  And since it grieves me, since I hate it, I’m also going to increasingly run away from it.  Not just walk away, but run, flee. 

I don’t know about you, but there are some sounds that drive me up the wall.  Nails on a chalkboard, the sound of someone playing around with a balloon, Styrofoam.  I just can’t stand those things.  When there’s something like that, I try to get away as quick as I can.  I’ll even run.  That’s the way sin has to become to us.  When we hear sin, see sin, think sin, we can’t stand it and want to get away as quickly as we can.  We may not be there yet.  But this is what we should aim for.  This is what we should pray for. 

Repentance also involves the coming to life of the new nature.  Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”  We want to experience that in growing measures.  What does it look like?  It involves joy in God through Christ.  It’s the joy of knowing the love of your heavenly Father.  It’s the joy of being reconciled to God through the blood of the cross.  It’s the joy of knowing that through Christ you are God’s precious child and nothing can take that away from you.  That joy leads you to love God and want to please him with good works.  You delight in doing the good things that please God.  You aim to follow God’s law, not out of duty, but out of delight.  Not because you have to, but because you want to. 

So the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new.  That’s how the Catechism defines repentance for us.  It’s a good biblical definition.  You could think of Ephesians 4 which speaks of the putting off of the old self and the putting on of the new self.  Colossians 3 speaks in the same vein.

However, the Bible does have more teaching about repentance and how to define it.  We could think of what we read from Jeremiah 3.  That passage definitely speaks about repentance, but you don’t read about the old self/new self, or old nature/new nature – at least not explicitly.  Instead, the Holy Spirit speaks here in terms of turning or returning.  That’s another biblical way of defining repentance – turning from sin and turning to God, or returning to God.  Repentance is a u-turn, a 180 degree turn around.  In Jeremiah 3, God says to Jeremiah that faithless Israel has committed spiritual adultery and has not returned to him.  Neither has treacherous Judah – although she made a show of it.  Her return was “in pretense” according to verse 10.  We’ll come back to that in a moment.  Throughout this chapter, God calls his people to return, to repent.  What would that look like?  It would involve acknowledging guilt (verse 13).  It would involve acknowledging that Yahweh is God (verse 22).  It would include recognizing that idolatry is delusional (verse 23) – that’s fantasy stuff, not reality.  Finally, returning to God includes acknowledging that salvation is in him (verse 23).  It’s turning from sin and turning to God.  If we think in the New Testament terms found in the Catechism, the turning from sin falls under the dying of the old nature.  The turning to God falls under the coming to life of the new nature.  Both elements are here in Jeremiah as well.  This two-sided process is how we define true repentance. 

Notice how we’re learning about true repentance.  That implies that there is also a false repentance.  And there is.  It’s in Jeremiah 3 in verse 10.  Treacherous Judah did not return to God wholeheartedly, but in pretense.  They made a show of returning to God – it was just half-hearted and therefore only a show.  With their words they said that they were coming back to God, but in their hearts they held on to their idols.  That teaches us that true repentance is whole-hearted repentance, sincere repentance.  False repentance is half-hearted.  False repentance is when you still harbour love for your sin in your heart.  You just go through the motions, say the right words, but inwardly you know you’re going back to that sin.  That sin is important to you and you want to have both God and your sin.    

Loved ones, is your repentance genuine?  Is it whole-hearted?  Or do you just repent in a half-hearted way?  If you look at the way you’ve been dealing with sin in your life and you see that it’s not what it should be, what should you do?  This is what you must do.  Pray to God for true repentance.  Pray to God and ask him to give you the gift of tears over your sin.  Pray and ask him for hatred for sin.  Pray and ask God to make sin like nails on a chalkboard to your heart, so that you’d flee from it.  Listen, if you desire this, if you pray for this, God will hear and he will start working this in your heart.  But if your repentance has been half-hearted and you hear all this and you say, “I don’t care.  It doesn’t matter.  Nothing’s going to change with me.”  If that’s your attitude, then I have to say that you should be questioning yourself whether you’re truly a Christian.  Because true Christians truly repent, and when their repentance isn’t what it should be, they wish that it were otherwise, they pray for it to be otherwise.  Loved ones, let’s all be praying that God would be giving us repentant hearts, hearts that are growing in seeing sin, hating sin, fleeing from it.  That he would give us repentant hearts that find their joy in him, their love and delight in obeying him.

Let’s go on to our next question:  what causes repentance?  Here we actually have to begin with a Who, rather than a what.  Who causes repentance?  Here I’ll refer to what we read from Acts 11.  In verse 18, after hearing Peter’s report, the church at Jerusalem praised God.  They said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”  Repentance is a gift of God.  God works repentance in the hearts of people when they’re first coming to faith in Christ.  He also works repentance in the hearts of Christians throughout their lives. 

Specifically, it is a work of God the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the one who works in our hearts and brings home to us all the benefits of Christ.  Psalm 51 is one of the penitential psalms – it’s a psalm that expresses sorrow over sin.  It expresses repentance.  You remember the circumstances in which Psalm 51 was written, don’t you?  King David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband Uriah put to death.  He tried to cover it all up, adding to his sin.  God sent Nathan the prophet to confront David.  David was brought to repentance.  He turned from his sin and turned to God.  Psalm 51 is the product of that.  In verse 11, David pleads with God not to take away the Holy Spirit.  David recognized that he needed the Holy Spirit for his repentance and for his life with God.  The Holy Spirit is the specific member of the Trinity who works repentance in our hearts.

We ought to remember that the Holy Spirit works through means.  He uses instruments or tools to do his work.  This is true for all his work, also when it comes to repentance.  The Holy Spirit has an instrument through which he works to bring us to constant repentance.  Do you know what that instrument is?  It’s the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  The Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures to convict us of sin and turn us from it.  Sometimes he’ll do that as your reading the Bible on your own, in your personal devotions.  I can remember several instances in my life where I was reading the Scriptures by myself, and suddenly I saw something in a passage that I’d never seen before.  The Holy Spirit convicted me of some sin in my life.  He opened my eyes to it.  He made me see it in a new way.  I knew I had to repent of that sin, sorrow over it, hate it and flee it.  All Christians experience this.  It can happen through personal Bible reading, but it happens also through the preaching of the Word.  Sometimes we hear the preaching of God’s will, his law for our lives.  Sometimes the preached Word pricks us.  We’re convicted of some sin.  It had never occurred to us that it was sin.  But the Holy Spirit through the preaching brought it home to us.  He made us see it.  He opened our heart to understand it and to have the right perspective on it and to move to action on it.  Or maybe it was at study club or in your family worship as the Bible was read and studied.  Loved ones, the key thing to get here is that the Holy Spirit always works repentance in our lives through the means of the Word.  If you want to look at David again and the Bathsheba incident, it’s there too.  The prophet Nathan brought God’s Word to David and that was how the Holy Spirit brought him to repentance.  It happened through the Word.  Do you see that?

Brothers and sisters, if you see it, then do you also see how important the Bible is for our lives as Christians?  Do you think the person who says they’re a Christian but never reads the Bible, do you think that they’ll be growing in repentance?  Do you reckon that the person who says that they’re a Christian, but doesn’t think going to church is important, do you reckon that person is going to be more and more hating sin and fleeing from it, living according to God’s will in all good works?  The Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures.  If you’re ignoring the Scriptures, with your personal devotions or with your church attendance, don’t be surprised if the Holy Spirit is not bringing you growth.  You’re neglecting the means that he uses to make you grow.  Loved ones, it’s far better to cherish those means and make regular use of them.  Be in the Word.  Study it for yourself daily.  Read the Bible with your family.  Be in church on Sundays both times as the Word is proclaimed.  Look, you need it, not only for gospel encouragement, but also for lighting the fire of repentance in your heart.

Now what’s the purpose of repentance?  As with all things, ultimately the highest purpose is the glory of God.  We could think of 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  So when you repent, you repent to the glory of God.  God’s glory is magnified when Christians repent.  When Christians turn from sin and turn to him, he is made much of.  We’re saying that he is worthy of this.  He is more precious and valuable than sin.  We want him.  We desire him.  We prize him highly through true repentance.

On the flip side, when we don’t repent, God’s name is blasphemed because of us.  If we are living a sinful life and we just don’t care, and someone finds out that we’re church-going folk, what does that say to them about the God we believe in?  It leaves people with a low view of God.  When you don’t repent, when you embrace a certain sin and you won’t leave it behind, won’t turn from it, you’re not glorifying God but making a mockery of him to the world.  How sad it would be if that were true of any of us!  Repentance is for the glory of God. 

Repentance is also for the purpose of our good.  God has arranged it so that the things which lead toward his glory also serve our well-being.  This is true also when it comes to repentance.  Repentance is for our good.  It’s in our best interest to repent and to repent quickly and regularly.  Why is that?   It has to do with the nature of sin.  As Christians, we recognize that sin is destructive.  When it comes to ourselves, sin is self-destructive.  When you give yourself over to sin, you’re destroying yourself, you’re destroying your relationships with God and with other people.  In its very nature sin is deceitful, sin is something that breaks down life, sin is something that corrupts everything that it touches.  Sin enslaves, sin bewitches, and sin entangles.  Sin creates violence, disruption, heartache, and death.  Sin ruins absolutely everything.  So why would you want to hold on to sin?  It’s suicide to hold on to the thing that will kill you.  It makes no sense to do so.  Realizing that makes us see that repentance is better.  Repentance is something we need.  Its purpose is to better our lives.

Because repentance leads to good works, God’s purpose in it is also to lead others to Christ.  Unbelievers are watching our lives.  If they see that the gospel has power to transform us through repentance, that can and often does get their attention.  Our godly walk of life, including our repentance, can be an instrument that God uses so that we can win our neighbours for Christ.   This can be true even in how we speak.  If we’re open with unbelievers about our struggles with sin, they’ll hear that as Christians we’re not claiming to be perfect.  They’ll hear that we’re sinners like they are.  We should always aim to come across with humility and never with self-righteousness.  If we’re honest about ourselves and our ongoing repentance, if we’re open about that, that communicates humility.  Not an “I’m better than you because I’m a Christian,” but “I’m a sinner like you, but I’ve found hope in Jesus Christ.  Don’t you want that too?”

Last of all, briefly, what are the effects of repentance?  What does repentance lead to? 

First of all, it leads us to love God and our neighbour.  As we turn from sin and turn to God, we increasingly reflect our Saviour Jesus Christ and live in union with him.  He was the one who loved God perfectly in his life on earth and still does today in heaven.  Jesus was the one who loved his neighbour as himself completely and consistently.  We want to reflect him with the affections of our heart and repentance leads us to do that. 

Repentance also leads us to a changed will.  Our wills want to want obey God.  We desire to follow what he says, because we love him. 

But then last of all, true repentance leads to action.  Repentance changes our affections (what we love), it changes our wills (what we want), and it changes our actions (what we do).  True repentance actually leads to good works.  When we truly repent, we begin to do those things that please God, done out of true faith, done in accordance with his law, and to his glory.  Repentance is not just about words, it’s not just about how we feel or what we want, it actually results in a changed life.  It has to.  It will. 

Brothers and sisters, this true repentance is essential for us.  The struggle with sin is what’s normal for a Christian.  When I say “normal,” I’m not saying that there might be exceptions.  I’m not saying that there are abnormal Christians who don’t struggle with sin.  No, the Scriptures teach us that all true Christians, so long as they live in this world, are in a battle with sin.  If you’re not in that battle, you draw the conclusion.  Look, you need to be in the battle with me and all your brothers and sisters.  The victory at the end is only there for those who’ve been fighting.  So, ask for the help of the Holy Spirit and make war, fight.  Fight with all your might.  Grieve over sin.  Hate sin.  Flee from it.  Find your joy in Christ rather than in your sin.  Love God and delight to do his will.  Simply put:  repent.  Repent today, and everyday.  AMEN.   


Heavenly Father,

We find joy in your love for us.  We know the riches of being your children through Jesus Christ and that’s a delight for us.  We exalt in the cross and how it brings us hope.  We’re thankful that we belong to you.  Please help us to appreciate our privileged place with you.  Father, please help us with your Spirit to hate the things that undermine that, to hate our sin.  So often we don’t see its horror the way we should.  Sometimes we get deceived into thinking that sin is more desirable than you.  Father, please change our hearts about that.  Make us hate sin, and grieve over it.  Please give us the gift of tears over our sins.  And we pray that how we feel about sin would also translate into action in our lives.  Strengthen us with your Spirit so that we run away from sin.  Help us to love and delight to do your will and then actually do your will.  Father, please continue your work in all our hearts and lives.  Please do not leave anyone here this afternoon unchanged.  With your mighty Spirit, help us all to truly repent and to truly trust in Jesus Christ as our Saviour.                                            

* 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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