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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Repenting means fighting every day to live free from our history
Text:LD 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 75

Psalm 51:1,2

Psalm 119:43-45

Hymn 1

Hymn 80

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,

Some time ago I read a story about a girl named Sophie.  Her first years were awful.  She’d been abandoned by her parents and lived on the street.  Later she was in and out of foster homes, some of which were abusive.  But then one day she was adopted.  She became someone’s daughter.  She now had a mother and father.  

On her first day with her adoptive parents, Sophie was nervous.  She was afraid of getting beaten.  When it came time to eat, she stuffed food in her pockets just like she did when she was out on the streets.  She was aloof and suspicious of everyone in the home.  It took a long time for Sophie to adjust to being part of a family.  But a year later, things were different.  Her new mother said, “She crawled into bed with me last night, because she was having a bad dream.  She curled up next to me, put her head on my chest, told me that she loved me, smiled, and went to sleep.  I nearly cried with contentment.” 

As soon as she came into her adoptive family, Sophie had a new identity.  She was legally part of this family and her surname reflected it.  But it took time for her to adjust to this new reality.  What she did and how she thought were still affected by her old life.

Something similar happens with Christians.  In Christ we have a new identity.  We’re adopted children of our heavenly Father.  We’re part of his family.  This is reality for all believers.  Yet what we do and how we think, what we love, are all still affected by our old life.  Our old sinful identity is hard to break free from.  Our history is one of awful slavery.

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 and we have a new identity.  Sin no longer has dominion over us, because we’re under grace.

The problem is that we often drift back to our old ways of living.  Even as Christians we can feel drawn back to sin, just like an adopted child might at first want to go back to the streets.  Every day we have a struggle to live out our new identity as adopted children who have been set free from misery.  Every day we have to struggle to get it out of our minds that the sin we once lived in is better than Christ.  This fight 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, our history with 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 how repenting mean fighting every day to live free from our history.  We’ll learn about how this battle involves:

  1. Our inner life
  2. Our outer life

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’ll 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.  That’s 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.  I once read the story of someone who’d been a smoker for some years.  Eventually he realized that as a Christian he needed to break free from this slavery and with God’s help he did.  But every time he could smell cigarette smoke, he felt the old desires coming up in him again.  Just at the smell, he’d want to have a smoke.  The pull was strong and he had to fight it.  Even though he was no longer addicted, that old sin still made its presence known in his life.  That's frustrating for a Christian.  It’s frustrating whether it’s smoking or any other kind of enslaving sin.        

But here’s the thing:  the frustration brings us somewhere:  it brings us to a frame of mind.  It brings us to humility.  When we see how easily sin attracts us, we’re reminded that our hearts are still fragile and stained with sin.  And if we give into those sinful desires, we’re reminded all the more 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.  In the week ahead, I encourage you to reflect this on every day.  Each day this week, start a habit of thinking about how sin is so despicable, vile, irrational, and self-destructive.  Will you commit to doing that for at least the next seven days?   Hopefully it’ll grow into a habit beyond that.  Indeed, every day 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 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’s 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 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 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 action, our outer life. 

We’re like the adopted child learning what it means to live in a loving and healthy family.  We don’t have to do what we did when we were on the streets.  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, more and more we 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.  That’s 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 there’s a social media app that’s leading you to sin, that’s always a bad influence on you, get rid of it.  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’s 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 how 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.  Some of you already 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 fight to live free from our old identity, our history as sinners.  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 that used to define us.  It’s a fight to live like people who are free in Christ, to be who we really are in him, to live as adopted children of God.  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.  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.  Thank you for adopting us into your family as your beloved children.  But Lord God, we still feel in ourselves that struggle with sin and with our past identity.  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.  We pray for those who are fighting with sins that are particularly powerful and enslaving.  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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