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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 a dying and a coming to life
Text:LD 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 96:1-4

Psalm 6:1,2,5,6

Psalm 32:1,2

Hymn 1

Psalm 57:1,4,5

Scripture readings: Psalm 6, Acts 2:29-41, Colossians 3:1-17

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,

Sometimes people speak the same words but they mean different things.  This can happen especially when you’re dealing with people from different cultures speaking what appears to be the same language.  Back when I was a seminary student, we had somebody boarding with us from Australia.  She’d come in the house as we were leaving and would ask, “How ya going?”  And I’d say, “Well, it looks like we’ll be taking the car.”  What she meant was “How are you?”  What we understood was “How are you going to be travelling?” 

That miscommunication can happen among Christians too.  Maybe someone from another church will ask you, “When were you converted?”  If you follow the way of thinking in Lord’s Day 33, you might answer, “Every day.”  However, more than likely you’ll recognize that they’re using a different definition of conversion.  They’re talking about the moment you first believed in Christ.  Our confessions usually refer to that as regeneration, or rebirth, you could say, “being born again.”  Lord’s Day 33 speaks about a process which starts with regeneration, but continues throughout the whole life of a Christian.  Lord’s Day 33 is about repentance or, as some call it, daily conversion.  This is another way of talking about sanctification, the process of becoming who we are in Christ.  In Lord’s Day 33, we confess that this repentance or daily conversion is a dying and a coming to life.

But even the Catechism seems to speak two different languages when it comes to this.  Back in Lord’s Day 16, the Catechism says that “Through Christ’s death our old nature is crucified, put to death and buried with him…”  But now in Lord’s Day 33, the Catechism talks about our old nature dying.  So, which is it?  Is our old nature dead or is it dying?  Has it been crucified or is it being crucified?  Is this a finished act or an ongoing process? 

And just to be clear, don’t blame our Catechism for making what appears to be a contradiction.  Because that kind of language is also found in the Bible.   What appears to be double-talk is even in the same chapter.  Like in Colossians 3.  In verse 3, Paul says that “you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”  In other words, like Paul says in Romans 6, your old nature has been crucified with Christ.  And then in verse 5 of Colossian 3, “Put to death, therefore, what belongs to your earthly nature.”  So, is our old nature dead or is it dying?  Is it a finished act or an ongoing process?

The answer is:  both.  And there’s no contradiction between the two.  A clue to help us understand this is found in the structure of the Catechism.  Lord’s Day 16 is found in the section on Our Deliverance.  We could say it has to do with our justification, our being declared right with God.  Lord’s Day 33 is found in the section on Our Thankfulness.  We could say it has to do with our sanctification.  So, from the point of view of justification, our old nature has been crucified with Christ.  It’s an accomplished fact.  But from the perspective of sanctification, the remnants of our old nature are still there.  Even though we’re justified, we’re still sinners so long as we live on this earth.  So, from this point of view, there is a call to put our old nature to death.  There is a process that’s still ongoing.  And it’s only in the hereafter that these two aspects become completely one.

Having cleared that up, we can learn about the elements of true repentance or daily conversion.  The Catechism tells us there are two:  the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new.  And these two elements express themselves in what goes on in our hearts and what lives in our actions.  So we’re going to learn this afternoon about how true repentance is a dying and a coming to life.

These two elements continually express themselves in:

  1. Grief and joy
  2. Hating and loving
  3. Fleeing and living

Not too many books have been written on the topic of repentance.  One of the best books ever written on the subject is by Thomas Watson.  The book is called The Doctrine of Repentance.  Watson was a 17th century Puritan, but don’t let that scare you off.  Watson was a powerful communicator and his books still speak clearly and powerfully to modern readers.  This was because Watson was a master of word pictures.  At one point in The Doctrine of Repentance he writes this:  “A woman may as well expect to have a child without pangs as one can have repentance without sorrow.”  Even today with c-sections, epidurals, and laughing gas, ask any mother and she’ll tell you that child birth always carries pain with it.  It’s the same with repentance:  true repentance always carries a painful sorrow with it. 

The Catechism makes the same point in QA 89:  “It is to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin…”  You can think here of what David says in Psalm 38:18, “I confess my iniquity, I am sorry for (or deeply anguished by) my sin.”  For another example, look at what happened to many of the Jews who heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:  they were cut to the heart.  Literally, Peter’s message stabbed them in the heart.  They felt grief for what they’d done to our Lord Jesus. 

We find that same kind of grief in Psalm 6.  This is a penitential Psalm, a Psalm written by someone who has sinned and feels sorrow, remorse.  David evidently committed some sin and experienced God’s anger as a result.  That’s clear from the first verse of the Psalm.  In verse 6, David writes about drenching his couch with tears and flooding his bed with weeping.  He mentions weeping in verse 8 as well.  It’s clear David was full of sorrow because of his sin and its consequences.  That partly shows us what repentance looks like.  Repentance includes deep and sincere grief over sin.

But why?  Why should we have such deep and sincere grief?  The Catechism says it’s because we have offended God.  It should bother us that we’ve done that.  God created us to give him glory, to exalt him, but when we sin, we’re robbing him of that glory, that exaltation.  If we love God, that should trouble and sadden us.

Now there are right and wrong reasons for grieving over sin.  Second Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”  What is worldly grief?  Since it causes death, we should want to know what it is so we can avoid it.  What is worldly grief?  Well, it’s being sad over sin because we were exposed and had our pride hurt.  Worldly grief is being sad over sin only because it hurts us.  Worldly grief is superficial and deadly.  It’s deadly because it leaves you in your sin.  On the other hand, godly grief leads to salvation.  Godly grief is sorrow because of what our sin has to done to God and his glory through our relationship with him.  Godly grief is focussed on God.  That’s the kind of sorrow that’s a part of the dying of the old nature side of repentance. 

And on the other side of the coin, on the coming to life of the new nature side of repentance, we have a heartfelt joy in God through Christ.  This is a joy that comes from knowing we have been received back into relationship with the Father.  It’s the kind of joy we find in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15.  When the lost son was received by his father, the father was glad, so 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 lost son was just as happy to be back in a good relationship with his father. 

We have this joy because we know there is a restored relationship.  Because we have been declared right by 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 intimate, loving terms.  We’re in relationship again and we’re going to live in this relationship – faithfully and gladly following the ways of our Father. 

How does this kind of joy express itself?  That’s an important question.  Some think 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 way deeper than that.  Just like godly grief is not superficial, so also godly joy in God through Christ is not superficial.  This runs deeper than having a permanent smile on your face.  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 running 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’re accepted in the beloved.  We can have a deep sense of contentment knowing that God is our Father and we’re his children.  That’s not to say we always do – it’s not unusual for a believer to 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 that 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. 

Now let’s move on to two other ways this dying and coming to life express themselves.

Over and over again, the Bible tells us to hate sin.  Psalm 97:10 gives us one example, “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!”  So the Catechism faithfully summarizes Scripture when it says in QA 89 that the dying of the old nature means more and more we hate sin. 

What does hatred of sin look like?  Here I’m going to summarize what Thomas Watson writes about this in his book.  He puts it well when he gives four ways to recognize biblical hatred for sin. 

The first is that a person is totally consumed with hatred for sin in body and soul.  Even when Satan paints sin with beautiful colours, we still hate it.  Watson writes, “Suppose a dish be finely cooked and the sauce good, yet if a man hates the meat, he will not taste it.  So let the devil cook and dress sin with pleasure and profit, yet someone who is really repentant, who hates sin, will be disgusted by it and will not meddle with it.”  Moreover, a repentant believer hates the root, the stem and the fruit of sin.  He says he hates it with his tongue and he hates it with his heart and mind.  True biblical hatred for sin is consistent hatred. 

The second way to recognize proper biblical hatred for sin is that it’s hatred against sin in all forms.  Watson puts it this way, “He hates this serpent not only for its sting, but for its poison.  He hates sin not only for hell, but as hell.”

The third way is that true hatred for sin is relentless.  The one who hates sin declares war on it in his life and will never be reconciled to it.  Watson says, “Sin is that Amalek which is never to be taken into favour again.” 

Finally, where there is a real hatred for sin, we not only oppose sin in ourselves but in others too.  There are several examples of this from Scripture.  In the New Testament, in the beginning of the book of Revelation, the church at Ephesus was commended because she would not tolerate wicked men.  Paul sharply rebuked Peter for his behaviour, even though he was an apostle.  Christ whipped the money-changers out of the temple.  In the Old Testament, Nehemiah rebuked the nobles for their exacting unjust levels of interest and their profaning of the Sabbath.  Psalm 101:7 says, “No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house.”  Watson writes, “Those who do not hate sin are strangers to repentance.”  “Strangers to repentance.”  Do you know what that means?  If you’ve never hated sin, and have therefore never really repented, you’re not a Christian.  You’re not saved.  Listen, brothers and sisters, to be a Christian, you have to repent from sin.  To be a Christian, you must hate sin.  That must be part of your experience to be a true child of God.    

But then there’s the flip side and that’s found in QA 90:  a love and delight for God’s will.  The depth of our hatred for sin has to be matched by the height of our love for what God wants.  An excellent example of this kind of love can be found through many of the verses of Psalm 119.  Just listen to verses 47-48 as an example:  “…for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.  I lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I meditate on your statutes.” 

Many of you know what it’s like to be in love.  When you’re in love with something or someone, you do a lot of thinking.  For instance, you dream and imagine the next time you’re going to be with the person you love.  And so what does it mean to have a love for God’s will?  This is where we’re rich with our Reformed heritage.  We have this solid biblical practice of hearing the Ten Commandments every Sunday morning again and again.  There are a number of good scriptural reasons why we do that.  One of them is that it pile drives God’s Word into our hearts.  After you’ve heard the Ten Commandments Sunday after Sunday for several years, you should have them memorized.  You should be able to say them in your sleep.  When you love God’s will, you can use this piece of God’s Word you’ve memorized.  You can call it up in your mind and mull it over – reflecting on the delight and beauty of these Words and how perfect and righteous they are – how they point to a God who is perfect and righteous and holy.  Do you do that?  Do you meditate and reflect on God’s good will so you grow in your love for it?    

Listen, as part of the coming to life of our new nature, our daily conversion, we must learn to meditate on God’s Word, the Word we love.  You see, we haven’t just taken off the sin that we hate – so we’re left naked, so to speak.  No, we take off and we put on.  That’s what it says in Colossians 3:12 and following.  First we have to get rid of the old sinful desires, take them off.  Then we have to put on the new.  We have to clothe ourselves with God’s will for our lives – that will we love. 

Answer 89 ends by saying that the dying of the old nature takes place when we not only hate sin but flee from it.  In fact, those two things are connected.  If you hate something, but still stay around it, especially when you can do something about it – do you really hate it?  No, it’s pretty clear, if you really hate sin, you’re also going to take actions to make sure you’re not sticking around. 

The Catechism faithfully summarizes Scripture on this point too.  A couple of examples:  in 1 Corinthians 6:18, the Holy Spirit says, “Flee from sexual immorality.”  That’s a specific kind of sin, of course.  The command in 1 Corinthians 10:14 is more general:  “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”  The broadest expression is in 2 Timothy 2:22, “So flee youthful passions…” 

So, the dying of the old nature means we’re going to constantly turn away from sin.  Not just once, but every day.  And not slowly:  fleeing means we’re going to try to get away as quickly as we can.  Every day, when sin is there calling us back, we’re going to run away rather than tinker with it.  And this fleeing is not going to be like Lot’s wife, longingly looking back.  This kind of fleeing is not going to be fleeing some sins while still holding on to others, our little pet sins.  That’s a kind of half-turning that doesn’t fit the biblical picture of repentance.  Thomas Watson describes that kind of so-called repentance as being like a man with several diseases.  He gets cured of most of them, but still has terminal cancer in his lungs.  He’s still a dead man.   

So, biblical repentance means we’re continually fleeing from all sin.  But we’re also continually turning to righteousness.  Embracing it and running towards it.  A minute ago I quoted the first part of 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee youthful passions…”  That verse finishes with these words:  “and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  So, running away from evil means running after and pursuing a life according to the will of God in all good works.  That’s the positive side, the coming to life of the new nature expressing itself.  You can’t have repentance unless a person not only runs from sin, but also turns to the Lord and his will.  Somebody who is repentant will show it not only with what goes on in their heart, but also with what you see in their life.  Is that true of you, brothers and sisters?  Is repentance showing in your life? 

That’s the focus of the last question and answer of Lord’s Day 33.  What is it that you can expect to see in the lives of repentant believers?  Good works!  What sorts of things fit the definition of good works?   The answer focuses on the source, rule and purpose of good works.  The source is out of true faith.  Works good in God’s sight are those done by people who have a true and living faith in Jesus Christ.  They find their only comfort in life and death with the Saviour.  The rule of good works is the law of God.  Works that are good in God’s sight are those done in a way that fits with what the Bible says, rather than following what people think and say.  Finally, the purpose of good works is the glory of God.  Works good in God’s sight are those done so his name will be more and more lifted up. 

So, grieving and rejoicing, hating and loving, fleeing and living.  All those things together make up the biblical picture of repentance or daily conversion.  When we try, by God’s grace to see this biblical picture in our own lives, we begin to really experience the freedom Christ came to give.  It’s like Thomas Watson said, “True repentance, like nitric acid, eats away at the iron chain of sin.”  It brings freedom.  And with freedom comes rejoicing in God.  With freedom comes glory to the God of our salvation.  AMEN.


Dear heavenly Father, thank you for teaching us from your Word about repentance this afternoon.  This doesn’t come easily or naturally to us.  In ourselves we resist repentance.  We need your help.  So we ask for the Holy Spirit to work in each one of us gathered here.  Give us the gift of grief for sin.  Please give us the gift of hatred for sin.  Teach us to flee from our sin.  We pray that the Holy Spirit would help us to rejoice in you through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We pray that he would give us a love and delight to follow your will.  Father, please work in our hearts and lives so it’s obvious that we are living a life of repentance.  Please don’t leave us unchanged.  Transform us, we pray.  Please give us more holiness.  Please give us more godliness.  Make us more and more into the image of Christ 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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